community + cultural info

CLEAN AND GREEN: A Radical Strategic Plan for Lower Braddock


“Change is the only constant. Hanging on is the only sin.”

Denise McCluggage (b. 1927), U.S. race car driver. As quoted in WomenSports magazine, p. 18 (June 1977). 




  1. Change is the Only Constant  


Today, Braddock is facing the exact same problems it has been facing for over a half of a century. Encroaching poverty, crime, deteriorating neighborhoods, collapsing buildings, loss of businesses, unkempt streets, unkempt yards, polluting factories, litter, a financially challenged infrastructure, an eroding tax base, a sense of continuing doom, and a promise of salvation just around the corner of the next annual budget – when times get better or when a dream comes true. Braddock was once a bustling, robust center of commerce – industry, retail, and arts, - of political and civic reckoning. It had what is commonly, but never lightly, referred to as community. But the community has fallen and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, with all good intentions, have not been able to successfully transition the community from an industrial economy to a service economy. 


If change is the only constant, the important question becomes how is it that Braddock has managed to evade the laws of physics, remaining stuck in sameness for over fifty years? As the quote above reveals, there must be some sin associated with this hanging on to the old at the expense of a community struggling to regain its vibrant heritage. Treading on a thin ice flow, we could point fingers at local politicians succumbing to false hopes rooted in false promises of vested corporations. We could point fingers at vested corporations arguing that one person working is better than no person working. We could point fingers at state bureaucrats who over time have acclimated themselves into schemas of bureaucratic security that feed off tax roles that feed off feigned justice in the name of capital improvements designed to fail. We could point, but what would be the point in that. Let us acknowledge the sin and move on. 


  1. Struggling to Emerge into the Future 


In tailoring an emergence strategy for Braddock it is important to review successes and failures of communities that have suffered and overcome similar stagnation. It is also important to develop a realistic scope in conjunction with a realistic timeline. It is also important to acknowledge that the scope of the projected transformation, or the “vision” take into account core value judgments. Is the community after jobs? If jobs, should it be manufacturing jobs, research and development jobs, retail, consumer service or commercial service jobs? Or should the community focus on quality of life – a consumer driven tax base – realizing that workers that export their skills to neighboring communities still bring their paychecks back home to their home community. Or should it be a combination of commercial and consumer concerns? 


There is an emerging cultural and economic transformation taking root in Urban America. The media cry constantly reminds us that the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer, but the statement offers a skewed proportionality unless it is also noted that the rich and the poor segments of the population are not growing as fast as the middle class segment. Our society is experiencing a dwindling rich class, however, the rich that can hang onto money are hanging onto larger and larger portions. There is also a dwindling poor class, however, the remaining poor class is getting poorer. Maybe a more appropriate way to state the media cry is that the middle class population is expanding and the delta between the poor and the middle class and the delta between the middle class and the rich is widening.  


As we have learned from our studies, it is in the delta where opportunities are found and where change is most fluent. An accurate economic definition of middle class is having enough money to modestly get by with a few dollars left over for discretionary spending. Pooled, this discretionary spending opens opportunities for leisure or convenience spending. The market dynamic of this increase in discretionary spending has fostered rapid deployment of an ever-growing service industry. This service industry trend couldn’t have appeared at a better time, especially, when we factor in that the manufacturing of goods has been exported overseas. 


Braddock is situated in what is known as the Mon Valley. One of the few rivers that flow south to north, the Youghiogheny River, flows into the Monongahela River, which meets up with the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River. Braddock grew up on the banks of the Monongahela River approximately nine miles upriver from downtown Pittsburgh. The entire Mon Valley has vacillated in the transformation from an age of dirty steel manufacturing to an age of information, research and development, and a service sector driven economy. Arguments have been made that high paying steel jobs are more desirable than lower paying service jobs. Communities along the “Mon” have repeatedly succumbed to this reasoning. What the communities have lost sight of is that these leftover rehabilitated steel manufacturing plants have been retooled by a service industry that has enabled the manufacturing process to drastically reduce the need to employ large numbers of steelworkers. The mills, although burning cleaner than they have in the past, still pollute, leaving the community hostage to a questionable environment. For the most part, the improvements and retooling that has been done on these remaining steel plants has occurred on the interior. The dilapidated outdated rusting metal exteriors of these plant structures are surrounded by coke ash, slag, and other waste products too numerous to mention. These industries, when approached to clean-up the vista, cry that the cost is too much and that it would be more economical to go overseas, implying a threat of eroding a debased tax base all the more. For fifty + years these implied cries have stained the Mon Valley with rust, cinders, and sumac trees. The increasing middle class fled, literally, to greener pastures, leaving the poor who are getting poorer to stand alone against these manufacturing megaliths of political and economic clout. Is it any wonder that successive attempts to reinvigorate a sense of community are met with disillusionment and a sense of “only-what-we-can-do-today” despair? Viewed from this “stuck in the middle” mindset, the task of change is overwhelming and daunting when the uncertainty of tomorrow is matched up against the certainty of squeezing one more sure dollar out of today’s steel.



  1. Turbulent, High Velocity Markets / Marketing



Sacrifice a dollar for prosperity. In a society that has relegated pollution and industrial waste as dirty mementos of the past, a community that does not project a “Clean and Green” image is bound-up with those dirty mementos and the community, itself, is relegated to the past. What are the chances for a community that is relegated to the past to move forward into the future? It’s a slope that can’t be climbed. A bulldozer is required to level the mountain or, in the least, reduce the taper of the slope. Maybe the time has come to prune away the past. The tree that grows in Braddock is not steel. The roots are the same roots that settled Braddock in the 1700’s. The roots are people looking for a place to live, a place to prosper, a place to raise children, a place to live and a place to die, a place to faithfully call home. Over the years the tree has become so overgrown with vines of steel that it has become hard not to think of the laded limbs as a tree of steel. Tear away the vines. The tree is alive, longing for sunlight and virgin soil. 


We are talking major landscaping, turbulent tilling. The stakes are high. The recovery period long, but surely not as long as the stagnated demise. One of the dilemmas, now facing Braddock, is that real estate investors have anticipated the logjam of demise breaking for almost as long as the demise has existed. Properties, appear abandoned, overgrown with weeds and collapsing roofs, yet the price that would induce the owner of the property to sell is three or four times what modest investors are capable of paying. The polluting factory, across the street, diminishes property values while it raises property values at the same time in anticipation of the day the polluting stops.  


There is evidence all up and down the valley that the polluting will, indeed, one day stop. The question for fifty years has been, when will it stop? When the questions, all along, should have been, how do we speed up the process? How do we promote the change? How do we leverage the change? How can the change catapult us into the future and into renewed prosperity? Rather than brace against change, a cleaner strategy would have been to anticipate change by taking offensive measures rather than defensive measures. 


J & L Steelworks, four miles downriver from Braddock, has been replaced by a research and development office park. Two miles downriver from Braddock the Homestead Works have been replaced by an upscale outdoor mall and housing development. One mile down river from Braddock, 400 acres lay leveled waiting for development. Two miles upriver, the Duquesne Works are being transformed into a bustling light manufacturing and industrial park. In the neighboring river communities that have managed transformation, it is the wrecking ball that finally broke the logjam of demise that has kept these communities flooded with false hope and repeated despair. 



  1. Strategies of Anticipation and Leveraging Creative Destruction for Sustained Rapid Transformation












The goal of the above initiative is to break the cycle of repeated disillusionment that is rooted in undelivered promises. The most important aspect of the above initiative is sustainability over time. The community must witness Clean and Green changes for a long enough period so that a true belief of “what can be” begins nourishing the roots the community. It is anticipated that “buy-in” by existing commercial interests is dependent upon residential buy-in, which is dependent upon local leadership commitment. 






While the above strategies are necessarily dependent upon seed money or government assistance, the more important goal is to begin shifting governmental subsidies and foundation grants away from local government coiffures and into the hands of the grass roots initiatives on which this strategic plan banks. The investment must be in community if we are to succeed in realizing a community return.