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DHS Assists with Braddock, Pa. Revitalization

The content below may contain dated material as it was prepared for the media in advance of Pittsburgh’s hosting of the G20 in March 2010.

Braddock, Pennsylvania sits on the shore of the Monongahela River just upstream from Pittsburgh. In its heyday, Braddock was a booming industrial town, its success symbolized by the thick layer of heavy smoke that originated from miles of steel mills working around the clock. When the steel industry crashed in the 1980s, Braddock crashed as well. The population plummeted and the infrastructure crumbled. Were it not for the commitment of Braddock mayor John Fetterman, dedicated Braddock residents and private and pubic entities, that might be the end of the story.

Fetterman envisions a revitalized Braddock and he is putting his money and energy where his imagination is. He has called upon individuals and groups to join him and rise to the occasion of putting Braddock back on the list of the living.

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) and the DHS KEYS Service AmeriCorps members have become vital partners in this effort to revitalize Braddock. 

One of the first opportunities for KEYS members to be involved in Braddock’s revitalization occurred on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2006. Fetterman’s Braddock Redux purchased an abandoned church building in the heart of town with the goal of transforming it into a much-needed community center. KEYS members set to work. The Community Center is now a hub of activity year round.

Early in 2006, seeing the mutual benefit of partnering with the Braddock community, KEYS AmeriCorps established a youth program, the Braddock Youth Project (BYP), which would utilize KEYS members at the host site and benefit the youth in the Braddock area. In addition to providing academic support and mentoring, each year KEYS members design and implement service-learning projects and legacy projects that can “stand the test of time.” Year by year, the projects have added aesthetic beauty and growth potential to the rough corners of Braddock.

Green projects

2006 – Converted an abandoned, weed-covered lot into a productive urban garden.

2007 – Centre Avenue Playground was reclaimed and open for the Summer Lunch Program. KEYS also placed AmeriCorps members there to provide activities for the youth.

2008 – Allegheny County Department of Economic Development did a complete renovation of the Centre Avenue Playground including the installation of new play equipment.

2008 – Pumpkin Patch and decorative fencing

2009 – KEYS Green Crew assisted in extending urban gardens to residential property and many other green initiatives.

2009 – Green Roof to replace damaged roof on the last intact structure in Braddock capable of housing small businesses, residences or office tenants. 

2009 – Braddock Flower Farm rose from the weeds and rubble of vacant lots to beautify and provide a potential moneymaker. 

Art projects

2007 – Welcome to Historic Braddock ten-by-twelve-foot tile and mirror mosaic sign. Internationally recognized sculptor, James Simon, teamed up with KEYS members and Braddock Youth Project teen participants to design and build. The work was a unique collaborative effort sponsored by Braddock Borough, Braddock Economic Development Corporation, the Braddock mayor and KEYS. The frame was made by local ironworker, John Walters of Iron Eden using local scrap metal.

2008 – “Pond” mosaic in newly designed and constructed Braddock parklet at the Verona Street bus stop on Braddock Avenue.  Braddock Redux won a prestigious Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation grant to create and build the mosaic parklet. The parklet also houses mosaic totem poles designed by Simon and students surrounding school districts.

Building projects

2007 – The creation of artist and community space was begun with renovation to an abandoned church. The New York City based non-profit, Salvage Salvation was then able to use the space for an art installation.

2008 – Washington Ave houses were made functional to be homes for transition-aged foster care alumni and KEYS mentors.

2009 – Artists’ compound, fruit orchard, brick outdoor bread oven and apiary result from converting an abandoned parochial school, convent and grounds.