Saturday, August 28, 2010

Braddock Misunderstood

While interesting as pictorial: Good Magazine's portrait of Braddock, PA starts out with an entirely flawed and oft-repeated premise.  The very first sentence is:
 "The once-thriving Rust Belt city of Braddock, Pennsylvania, saw 90 percent of its population leave town as its steel industry collapsed. " (emphasis added). 
Let's consider when was the "once"?  The continuing mythos of Braddock has that history really really off.  Braddock has indeed seen a roughly 90 % population decline, from over 20K in  to likely (my guess) between 1,500 and 2,000 today.  But in no way did the collapse of the steel industry define the timing of that decline. In fact Braddock today is the home of one of the key pieces of the steel industry that the region has retained, the Edgar Thompson Plant.  What is always overlooked is that steelworkers were fleeing Braddock long long before the jobs left. I put a time series of Braddock's population in a post last fall and it's real clear that the vast majority of Braddock's population decline happened long before 1980. So even when the steel jobs were there, Braddock had already lost its appeal as a place to live. To find the past "thriving" you probably need to go back at least 50 years at this point, maybe 60.  Makes me wonder.. will we be talking about Braddock's demise and the impact of steel a century after its peak population. Probably.

I'm not sure where the Braddock neo-mythos is coming from, but I have ranted on how little it has meant to Braddock in reality today.  Misunderstanding the timing of Braddock's decline has confused the issues surrounding what to do to help the residents of Braddock today, few and fewer of which have any connection to the steel industry of the region.


Blogger Andrea said...

AMEN. Just out of curiosity, though, what changes would you recommend for the efforts to help the residents of Braddock today? Is it that no one is talking about rapid transit, vs. jobs and urban reclamation?

Saturday, August 28, 2010 7:28:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

If I had that answer in any meaningful sense I would be in the miracle business directly. I just think that most policy, loosely defined, aimed at Braddock is counterproductive at best. Braddock actually gets a fair bit of aide per capita, yet I think it all is just serving to enable continue dysfunction. I thought that before the news last week on their borough manager somehow being able to embezzle effectively 10% of the borough budget. All despite the intense oversight of not just folks like Act 47/DCED, but the whole world these days who love to look at Braddock as symbol of something. Sentimentality keeps us trying to save what started out at their inception as very artifical boundaries. What's that buy you? Not much history keeps showing us.

Saturday, August 28, 2010 8:10:00 AM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

AMEN. The entire Commonwealth is filled with artificial boundaries that don't make sense. Yet, people fight tooth and nail to keep them.

You would be a real miracle worker if you could figure out how to break down those barriers.

Greater Phoenix--now the fifth largest metro in the country--has less than 30 municipal governments and ever fewer school districts.

Allegheny County (with 1/3 the population of Greater Phoenix) has how many cities, boroughs, and townships? 200+? (Wikipedia lists at least 225--and that doesn't include the 45 school districts, who knows how many public charter schools, and the nebulous, super-taxing entities called authorities).

There has to be massive inefficiencies and redundancy in such a morass of government. I wish those pushing to reduce the size of the legislature would look at little closer to home.

Anyone at the Allegheny Institute listening?

Saturday, August 28, 2010 1:42:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Yes, it seems to me the worst error the media makes with Braddock is that it conflates 'helping Braddock' with 'helping the people who currently live in Braddock.'

Sunday, August 29, 2010 6:14:00 PM  
Blogger Vannevar said...

Certainly one factor propagating the Braddock neo-mythos is the Levi's jean campaign, which is selling a perception of Braddock.

Sunday, August 29, 2010 9:02:00 PM  

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