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John Fetterman

John Fetterman is an American politician who, as Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, led the urban rejuvenation of a post-industrial city.

A Reading, PA native, he first arrived in Braddock in 2001 to work with AmeriCorps, an American volunteer organization. He ran for mayor in 2005, winning by a single vote. He had never held office before that.

Braddock, a former industrial town, known for being the site of Andrew Carnegie‘s first steel mill was a robust city that was once a center of commerce for Western Pennsylvania. However, it was hit hard by the decline of the U.S. steel industry. The town lost 90% of its population compared to its peak in the 1920s and by 1988, it had no supermarkets, gas stations or ATMs. With the loss of economic opportunity, Braddock, declared a financially distressed municipality, was beset by problems common in the post-industrial landscape: unemployment, drugs, disinvestment, and crime. 

Fetterman’s approach was aggressive but fundamentally simple: he looked for opportunities to bring back hope and pride, beginning with a small, do-it-yourself approach, such as planting fruit trees, or making an outdoor pizza oven out of reclaimed bricks from an abandoned factory. He also offered up free studio space to artists in order to welcome in the ‘creative’ class.

His work in Braddock is an ongoing experiment; people, especially homesteaders attracted by the availability of low cost housing ripe for renovation, are moving back to Braddock. Crime has decreased. While challenges remain, the arc of Braddock represents fundamental lessons about how to reinvent place, and meet the challenges brought on by globalization, even in the first world.

In 2021, Fetterman announced his candidacy in Pennsylvania’s 2022 Senate election. He won the Democratic nomination with 59% of the vote and will face Republican Mehmet Oz in the general election. Generally described as a progressive, Fetterman advocates for health care as a right, criminal justice reform, strengthening the U.S.–Israel relationship, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and legalizing marijuana.

We had an opportunity to speak with John Fetterman about his thoughts on how to imagine a new future in a post-industrial landscape on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.

54 | Designing a Post-Industrial Future


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Pennsylvania" by Heart from their album "Fanatic."