Revitalizing the Rust Belt

The declining fortunes of rural one-industry towns is a common story throughout much of Canada and the United States, but perhaps nowhere has been hit harder than the “Rust Belt” in the American Northeast and Midwest. The decline of the steel industry that began in the 1970s and 1980s drastically changed the economic fortunes of once prosperous towns and cities throughout those regions, and the recent recession was a final nail in the coffin for many of those places.

One town fighting against those forces is Braddock, Pennsylvania, located just outside of Pittsburgh. In 2001, having lost over 80% of its population from the boom of the 1940s, a 6’8”, 370-pound, Harvard-educated youth worker showed up to help local kids get their GED. Four years later, he would be mayor of Braddock and starting the slow path to revitalization through participatory community-based projects geared around urban agriculture, youth engagement initiatives, and creativity-led revitalization.

Below is a video from PBS on ‘American’s Coolest Mayor’ and his approach to revitalization in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Are there lessons that be applied in your community?