In recent years, Pittsburgh has become the envy of the Rust Belt. After years of hard work, the city shed its grimy, “Hell with the lid off” image and recast itself as one of America’s most livable (and attractive) cities. Today it’s a midwestern tech hub, a center of higher education, and a national health care leader.
Drive 15 miles east of downtown and the story is grimmer. In the small town of Braddock, once a thriving community of laborers and immigrants manning some of the most important mills in the country, there’s no end in sight to the city’s post-industrial downward spiral. When big steel retreated overseas, it left shattered lives, splintered communities, and a fractured civic identity in its wake. Decades later, the Great Recession further crippled the town. By 2010, a city that boasted a population of more than 20,000 in 1920, had only 2,159 residents.