Mayor John Fetterman (or Mayor John, as he likes to be called) is the -you guessed it- Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania. After coming to Braddock in 2001 to work in a youth program, he was inspired by the towns “malignant beauty” and decided to stay. Wanting some leverage to help revitalize the post-industrial town in disrepair, he ran for Mayor and won by one vote. Since then, he’s been on a misson to save the city that has lost 90% of its population and business since its steel industry left in the 1980s.
Braddock, Pennsylvania is a small town near Pittsburgh with a population less than 3,000 (down from a former population of 20,000). In its heyday, it was bustling and prosperous. However, because of America’s tendency to have a “laissez-faire” approach to failing cities (unlike its approach to failing banks), once the industry left town, there were few attempts to preserve the community. People left in droves and buildings lost so much of their value that landlords resorted to burning them down. The town, however, has not lost its strong-willed and they are the residents that give Mayor John hope to turn the area around. He believes that no community deserves to be abandoned.
Already having reached its low point, Mayor John believes that Braddock has no way to go but up. With a 25% unemployment rate, Mayor John’s vision is for Braddock to have a green-infused rejuvenation. He sees the abandoned steel plants and buildings as a foundation for a green energy sector. He sees the 1,000 vacant lots from demolished structures as spaces to institute urban agriculture (the town no longer has a grocery store). With an influx of wind turbine and solar panel production, the town would have jobs for its residents in a field that marks America’s future. Urban gardens would not only provide a healthy source of food for the community but would also provide kids with something productive to do- an alternative to getting involved in the streets.
Mayor John’s number one focus is to give Braddock hope, by focusing on improving its social justice. As he says, “everyone deserves to live in a community where they’re safe and where conditions are continually improving”. He has used art as one way to inspire the community and promote its expansion. His non-profit, Braddock Redux, helps run the Braddock Youth Project, a summer program for teens that teaches them silkscreening skills and how to create PSAs. It also offers a renovated art space with cheap rent to attract more artists to the community. Mayor John also supports graffiti art and has allowed local groups to make their mark in ways that enhance the community’s landscape. He believes that all of his efforts are part of a larger “organic grassroots community building”.
With median housing prices around $5,000, Braddock has potential for newcomers to start afresh. The Mayor’s website describes the town as: “richly historic, large enough to matter, small enough to impact, [presenting] an unparallelled opportunity for the urban pioneer, artist, or misfit to join in building a new kind of community.” Braddock and other rust belt cities represent a new “frontier” for 21st century development, which Mayor John sees in the green revolution. He doesn’t plan on leaving the town anytime soon and will continue to fight for its revival.