Friday, July 31, 2009

Urban News Vol. 47

Today's news has little to do with the methodology or increments of finance associated with other urban infill I've noted and commented on. Instead, a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shined light on an urban tragedy I had not been previously aware of in the process of relating the story of a small group that I feel espouse the correct philosophies and attitudes regarding community building.

First some background:

by David Streitfeld, New York Times

Article Key Points:
  • Population of Braddock, Pennsylvania under 3,000 after peaking near 21,000 in 1940.
  • Mayor John Fetterman encourages acquisition of cheap real estate with intent to rehabilitate the properties and the development of urban farms to employ area youths.
  • Despite a Master's Degree from Harvard, Fetterman directly invests in local properties such as a former church intended to become a community center.
  • Largest accomplishment to date is enticing an alternative energy company to relocate to the home of the first Carnegie Library.
  • 'If struggling communities don't preserve their architecture, there's no chance of any resurgence down the line.' -Fetterman

And today's news:

Making Old Steel Towns Shine
by Huyen, Vu, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Article Key Points:

  • The Transformazium, a community arts projects collective, is rehabbing an abandoned North Braddock church by hand, rejecting synthesized mechanical energy.
  • The group of five females have integrated themselves into communities where the risk of violent crime is four times the national average.
  • 'If I want my home to be safe, beautiful, sustainable, then it's up to me to do what I can to create that reality.' -Harrell
  • Great effort is going into sorting the construction waste materials for reuse and preventing pollution by contaminants.
  • Frugal lifestyles and hyperingratiation to resistant neighbors have begun to brighten the community and initiate simple sustainable practices.

The people in these articles are the true pioneers carrying out the most important work a idealistic urbanist could imagine. Ms. Harrell's quote encapsulates everything I believe in regarding urban living. The wide perception is that it is the role of goverment or police or socioeconomic factors to produce a 'safe,' desirable, and tight-knit community. The police are not the public's bodyguards. It is imperative that the individual takes responsibility for their own safety, providing a positive presence on the street, reasserting their right to traverse any public space in this nation, and defying not just the pre-programming of the consumptive American lifestyle and fear of the lower classes, but also those who seek to hold onto perceived power over a weary populace through intimidation and maintenance of the status quo.

The environmental principles espoused here go above and beyond what could reasonably be expected of urban rehabilitators and deserve an additional round of praise. Ultimately Braddock became a victim of automotive addiction. As noted in one of the articles, Braddock did not even suffer due to catastrophic loss of employment as was the case in so many other small Western Pennsylvania cities. The original Carnegie Steel mill is still operational and employing over 1,000 workers. Rather than producing a tremendous vitality in Braddock through reinvestment, the individual capital generated by this endeavour has been spewed across a much larger and inefficient landscape.

The story of American urbanism for the fifty years immediately following World War II has been one of convenience over principle, of economy and quantity over quality, of moving out at the first hint of trouble instead of working harder for societal stability, of simply building anew instead of stemming decay through reinvestment or hard work. Mayor Fetterman and these brave women have dug in their heels at what can only be considered rock bottom. I hope their efforts are a resounding success and serve as an example as we enter the backside of the resource depletion curve; our societal attitudes can simply no longer afford not to change.

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