Friday, April 29, 2011

European Parliament Member Drawn to Braddock’s Revitalization and Activist Mayor John Fetterman

When European Parliament member Sandrine Bélier came to visit the United States through the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), she had a wide range of choices of cities to visit. She chose Pittsburgh as the final stop on her three-week trip.

In particular, she wanted to go to Braddock, the struggling steel town 10 miles southeast of Downtown, and she wanted to meet Mayor John Fetterman, who has attracted attention around the world for his efforts to revitalize the beleaguered town and create jobs while reducing the environmental impact of the energy and manufacturing industries.

As a member of the Europe Ecology political party and a representative from the Lorraine region of northeastern France, also a former steelmaking center, Bélier wanted to come to the Pittsburgh region to study how others have balanced job creation and environmentalism in a declining industrial economy.

After visiting New York, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Bozeman, Montana and Portland, Oregon, Bélier got to meet Fetterman this week and witness first-hand the challenges he faces and some of the solutions he has proposed.

“He was the main reason I wanted to come to Pittsburgh,” Bélier said through an interpreter. Her visit to Pittsburgh was designed by GlobalPittsburgh under the auspices of the IVLP.

Meeting in the cavernous living room of Fetterman’s loft-like home in a converted warehouse, with his wife and young son quietly blowing bubbles nearby, Mayor John, as he is known by many of the locals, explained how Braddock has gone from one of the richest communities in the region 100 years ago to one of the poorest. He told his visitor how the population went from 20,000 in the 1950s to 2,100 today. He told about going to buy a playhouse for children in a public park, and finding that the structure cost more than some houses in the community.

He compared notes with Bélier about the difficulties of overcoming years of industrial decline, and trying to change attitudes among blue-collar workers about potential opportunities created by environmental preservation and clean energy.

“These guys don’t generally think of themselves as environmentalists, but then when you say that the steel they are making could be used in wind turbines, and that clean energy could create more jobs for them, then they start to get it,” Fetterman said.

Bélier and Fetterman discussed their concerns about the threats of climate change and possible hazards of the fracking method used to extract natural gas. Fracking is used in the Marcellus Shale gas deposits in Pennsylvania, but it has been banned in France until June due to environmental concerns.

"Climate change has become a political issue instead of a political issue," he said. "And that has to change before we can accomplish anything."

The two agreed on the importance of better communication and cooperation around the world about the problems and solutions to developing clean energy and raising awareness of the challenges associated with creating jobs without causing long-term damage to the environment.

They then walked a few blocks to an urban farming facility operated by Grow Pittsburgh, which supplies organically-grown produce to local farmer’s markets and to area restaurants. The Braddock farm, which sits on two city blocks in the shadow of the massive Edgar Thomson Works of U.S. Steel, demonstrates the different aspects of the transformation taking place in Braddock.

During her three-day stay in Pittsburgh, Bélier also met with George Jugovic, Regional Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, Honorary Consul of France in Pittsburgh; Gloria Forouzan, Marcellus Shale Liaison in the office of Pittsburgh City Council Doug Shields; Lauren Horne, Regional Program Manager for the Labor Climate Project; Hillary Bright, Regional Field Organizer for the Blue Green Alliance; and Rob Witherell of the United Steelworkers of America. She also toured the Gamesa Corp. wind turbine manufacturing facility in Ebensburg, Pa.

For more than 50 years, GlobalPittsburgh, formerly known as the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors, has forged relationships between the Greater Pittsburgh Region and the global community through citizen diplomacy – connecting people and institutions in the region with audiences around the world through a wide range of hosting, training, networking, educational and outreach programs and services. For more information, go to www.globalpittsburgh.org.

- Thomas Buell, Jr.
tcbuell@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. Great story! Its nice to see international recognition for a persistent guy who just did what he thinks is right despite making some negative local waves. Nice to see the practicality shining through the scorn from unconventional ways.

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