Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In Praise of Food

So many have asked what I think on it all... and I had a really really long rant-like comment on the news coverage of the buzz over a new restaurant being planned for Braddock... but even I am getting tired of my rants. So we will try and keep it short.....

I honestly say yay for the restaurant and sincerely the best of luck. Let us all just not use the idea of a funky new restaurant to rationalize the lack of effort to address the more fundamental issues of the Mon Valley. Braddock remains a place where real estate prices have only recently dropped to levels not seen in an advanced industrialized country anywhere, where theft of interior pipes is a real factor forcing residents to leave , it is a municipality built on century old geography and where sheer lack of fiscal capacity inhibits any chance to build a better community. Policy defined Braddock's fate, not some unstoppable deindustrialization that is not our fault.. likewise it will take changes in real policies to change Braddock's path in the future.

All the hard news stories of late paint a picture of the situation in Braddock getting worse if that is even possible. Our iconizing of the shell of a municipality reinforces many of the notions that we need to get past before real change happens. In many ways our focus on a few funky stories over the years really just distracts us from the harder questions we collectively don't want to answer. In fact I really feel a lot of the coverage of Braddock in recent years has gone so far as to enabled a feeling that we can place it into the "it's getting better" box despite the contradictory evidence of all hard metrics I know of and objective observation.  Like the cupcakes that were going to save us all at one point, it really is much much harder than that. 

I guess I do take issue with any comparison of Braddock to Lawrenceville a decade ago. Let's skip the fundamental difference that Lawrenceville is a neighborhood within the city of Pittsburgh and that matters a lot.  In no way did Lawrenceville have to support its own police, fire, nor any other municipal services... all by itself.  Braddock's very problem is that it must exist as a self-sustaining municipality and its lack of fiscal capacity creates many of the problems it must overcome.  Then don't forget that Lawrenceville a decade ago was a neighborhood built mostly around a hospital many knew would not survive long and in all likelihood leave a giant monstrosity of an empty shell sitting there indefinitely if not longer. The decision to put Children's Hospital where it now exists was a turn of events quite unexpected to all concerned. The hospital was actually slated to be built on 2nd Avenue and the machinations of fate shifted the geography only at the last minute. The real estate speculation in Lawrenceville can be dated to the announcement that Children's Hospital would be located on the site it now stands. Braddock may indeed be Lawrenceville of a decade ago.. but without the prospect of a major new hospital being built there. To pretend that and sheer proximity to a strengthening Downtown or Oakland is not a big part of the Lawrenceville story is in itself folly. The truth today is that the next round (and for those still in denial, there will be future rounds as well) of transit cuts will cut off most of the meaningful access of Braddock to the employment and service cores of the region.  Lawrenceville, and lets throw in the South Side Flats, are some of the most accessible neighborhoods to Downtown and/or Oakland.  I hope the new pioneers in Braddock have cars or are otherwise self-sufficient. 

Many missed this article.. or at least I didnt sense the buzz around it like most mentions of most Braddock in the national media. Maybe because it was so anti-funk.  So if you missed it read the New York Times earlier this very month: A Steel Town’s Chronicler and Conscience .  That or some other views on Braddock from some of its native denizens such as LaToya Ruby Frazier's: Demystifying the Myth of the “Urban Pioneer”

So be happy... and eat heartily.


Blogger BrianTH said...

If that was short I can understand why the rant was deemed too long.

Anyway, Braddock actually does have a pretty good location, much better than the vast majority of the "Mon Valley"--if nothing else, Sousa's restaurant may help more people understand that.

Not being so inclined to pessimism, I think Braddock could get on a legitimate recovery trend if at least two things happened: the Carrie Furnace site was redeveloped, and the East Busway (or at least a designated Rapid Bus line) was extended into Braddock.

Speaking of pessimism--I don't think it is helpful to treat the state's proposed dismantling of public transit in Allegheny County as a law of nature either. That is also a policy choice, and it is being driven by who we elected to state government. Such things can change, and rather than simply accept our fate, I think we should fight it by fighting for a better state government.

And in the meantime--Corbett has suggested he would consider modifying the state's funding cuts this summer, if PAT's new union contract meets with his approval. In fact, supposedly three-way discussions between the County/PAT, the union, and the Corbett Administration have been ongoing. Again, rather than accept the current scheduled cuts as a fait accompli, I'd suggest anyone who cares about these issues do what they can to create the best possible chance of those negotiations resolving in a constructive manner.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 8:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Tattoo This! said...

Given the gush of positive Facebook comments on the PG article, including from local officials like Peduto, those who might cast a gimlet eye at Sousa's Folly do so at their peril. Great publicity for his other restaurants though. Did the article say where his kids will attend school? My money's on Propel Homestead Braddock Hills, right up 6th Street. Say, maybe Sousa really is on to something ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 9:31:00 AM  
Anonymous TT! said...

I mean, Propel Braddock Hills ... he'd have to cross a bridge to get to Homestead.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 9:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I echo the comments made and bring to the table that it reads that all of this development is tax payer funded...can I have that deal too? No mention is made of how much Mr. Sousa's skin is in the game. No doubt that the residents of Braddock should have a place to eat however not at the cost of the taxpayer ...what does it tell us that no fast food nor other eatery even considers Braddock as a viable market? I no way impinge the hard work of Braddock's mayor however I think this development is folly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger joe said...

I'm telling you I had an epic comment prepared and lost it in the preview.

It involved a plea for more of us to actually visit Braddock, and then there was something about structural lag and Braddock and the dissertation to be written.

Also a link (rescued) to this fine youtube video on the Netroots Nation visit to Braddock in 2009 -- to work a farm. The video is quite inspiring.

Thus inspired, I thought why not more such van trips...maybe organized by the restaurant. Better yet, how about barge trips? Powered on calm days buy hundreds of stationary bicyclists peddling up stream (flanked by kayak guides) from Birmingham and Old Allegheny and Bloomfield and Friendship and Point Breeze and South Oakland (whole families of bikers and paddlers!)

Ended it with a link to Braddock's own JB Corey.

Seriously, how many others of that era wrote colorful tales of business dealings with Mellon and Carnegie...and encounters with Lincoln during the war.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 11:01:00 PM  

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