“I can make your neighborhood the next Lawrenceville,” this probably well-intended developer told me a year ago. I chuckled staring at this stranger and replying,
“We don’t need another Lawrenceville.”
Another developer called a few months later wanting to build riverfront housing where, “people can park their boats.” I also chuckled.
“Some people don’t even have cars? Have you ever been to Braddock?”
Even before I was mayor my worst fear was pricing these resilient amazingly astounding people out of their homes. That’s what happened to Lawrenceville. They redeveloped so nicely and so quickly without the people that created the culture of the neighborhood that the heart and soul was forgotten. Interestingly enough you can redevelop the hell out of a community but if you don’t get the input from the people who were already there, than that’s erasure at its core.
Someone asked me: Is Braddock the new Lawrenceville and I said I sincerely hope not. What happened to the people that were already there was terrible. There has to be a better way to redevelop than price everyone out. I would not be able to sleep at night if that happened to my hometown.
Braddock is about thirty minutes from the city of Pittsburgh with a population of about 2100 hard working individuals with a median income of a little under $25,000. The only things keeping Braddock from becoming the next Lawrenceville are the residents that are stronger than the steel being produced all day and night and the council who believe in well intended slow and steady development over blanked ill-intended redevelopment. Great examples of this cultural erasure is Lawrenceville’s neighbor East Liberty. I very briefly lived on that side of town before it was what it is now and guys when you try to recreate culture but force the people who created that culture out, it doesn’t have the same feel. You can’t create culture it has to create itself organically. There is no amount of organic magic cupcake shops that can create culture in the recreation of a community’s identity.
When Braddock Councilwoman Tina Doose approached me with the idea of the Braddock Business Community Round table, I was sold. This idea of community redevelopment utilizing the resources and aspiring entrepreneurs that were already there was brilliant. Braddock Business Community Round Table started in February 2019 and ran on a bimonthly basis. We hosted free workshops on how to get capital, how to write a business plan, how to acquire property, and even paired the aspiring entrepreneurs with established ones in the community. Who better to help this imitative then your neighbors?
Over the months it was like watching businesses mature from an infant idea to a tangible toddler. What made this idea so exceptional and experimental that it was an idea that came from the Braddock Business Community Initiative (BBCI). The BBCI was born from the blight on Braddock Ave. There was a lot of property that owed tens of thousands of back taxes for property that sat vacant for decades all on Braddock Ave. After speaking with Allegheny County on what could be done, this idea of allowing Allegheny County to step in and purchase the property erase the back taxes was born. We hope it will be enough that we gave the community the tools to have stake in their community through the round tables. When these round table graduates purchase their first property for their business we know that the learning curve doesn’t end there that’s why Allegheny County is working with Braddock Borough to ensure that the mentoring continues because owning a business will always have learning opportunities. Braddock wouldn’t want these mostly first time business owners to have the opportunity to sink or swim because we want them all to swim if they’re willing to put in the work to do so.
If this works I foresee many other communities giving it a go. Braddock doesn’t have to be the next anything. If all goes well I hope it’s the next Braddock. Think of this slow yet steady redevelopment phase as its renaissance. Braddock is hitting the reset button and utilizing the community to raise itself up from its own ashes. Even the artist lofts are including Braddock artists’ first because these people have helped make the community as colorful as it currently is. That’s what will make us different and I’ll keep trying as long as people keep trusting in me to avoid anyone trying to throw money at Braddock. Throwing money at Braddock won’t fix the issues long-term. You can’t throw a band-aid on redevelopment. It never worked in Sim City and it wouldn’t work now.
What can Braddock Residents who don’t want to be business owners do to have a stake in their community? The answer is they’re already doing it! Initiatives like the Vacant Property Recovery Program is already flourishing for Braddock residents who own properties. Many people have already purchased the land next to their house for sometimes half the price because beautiful property that’s on the tax roll is better than vacant property sitting dormant and growing wild vegetation. Beyond that look into joining a Borough Committee. Braddock passed its Home Rule Charter in the November Election and the charter is going to need a committee to oversee it and create what’s called its Administrative Code. Expect many committee opportunities to pop up over time. Even the BBCI has a committee of community business owners, leaders, and residents that oversee the selection process for which property goes to what person.
Who knew I would be living episodes of one of my favorite television series? I didn’t see myself living Parks and Rec with a full-time job.