How to Bring Back the Rust Belt, One Town at a Time

Alexis C. Madrigal



John Fetterman stands out in a crowd. Standing 6'8" and built like an MMA fighter, he has a shaved head and a long, grey-flecked goatee. His forearms are emblazoned with tattoos.

But what's really been catching people's attention is Fetterman's record of success in revitalizing Braddock, Pennsylvania, the site of Andrew Carnegie's first steel mill, and one of the many towns suffering from the collapse of the American steel industry. Since the 70s, the town had lost 85 percent of its residents. Homicides and other violent crimes became regular events. 

During the Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate's five years as the town's mayor, homicides and police calls have fallen. New businesses are arriving. Braddock Farms is growing produce on abandoned lots. Levi's likes the town so much, the company featured it in its advertisements and will donate $1 million over the next two years to community projects. As for Fetterman, he's not the kind of politician seeking higher office. One of his tattoos is the number 15104, Braddock's zip code. 

I caught up with Fetterman in the lobby of his hotel here in Aspen for a quick video interview. Apologies for the background noise (and that annoying fan over his shoulder). 

There are a few images embedded into the video. Thanks to flickr users kaanah and juehuayin!

(You'll hear me reference my own hometown, Ridgefield, Washington, and its post-industrial problems. There's more on that at the Port of Ridgefield site.)


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