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.

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