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Mr. Mayor

John Fetterman is remaking a deserted rust-belt town for a new creative class. This summer, across the street from a sprawling steel mill, 800 people gathered in a renovated Catholic schoolhouse in Braddock, Pennsylvania, for the opening of the city's newest arts venue. On its face, there was nothing..

John Fetterman is remaking a deserted rust-belt town for a new creative class.


This summer, across the street from a sprawling steel mill, 800 people gathered in a renovated Catholic schoolhouse in Braddock, Pennsylvania, for the opening of the city’s newest arts venue. On its face, there was nothing unusual about the event. Staff from Pittsburgh museums like the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Mattress Factory museum mixed with young artists and curious townspeople, drinking Penn Pilsner while checking out the works of local painters and sculptors. But Mayor John Fetterman, 39, was awed. “If someone told me five years ago that eight-hundred-plus people would come to Braddock for an art opening at 10 o’clock at night on a Friday, I would have said, ‘What are you on, and can I have some?’”

Braddock, Fetterman explains flatly, is a mess. Once a thriving steel town of 20,000, the home to Andrew Carnegie’s first mill and first public library, Braddock has lost 90 percent of its population since the postwar boom. Now the city, 10 miles east of Pittsburgh across the Monongahela River, is a near ghost town of abandoned homes, boarded-up storefronts, and the accompanying social ills—poverty, drugs, crime. “People say, ‘Why would you come to Braddock? I hope you’re wearing your vest,’” says Fetterman. “So it makes a difference if folks come out and say, ‘I was there. I had a great time. I wasn’t harassed or asked to buy crack.’”

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