Recent Ohio University graduate Maddie McGarvey is the only member of her family to be born and raised somewhere besides Pittsburgh. That connection piqued her interest about the city and was part of what led her to document the historical place.
After researching the steel town and talking with her family, she discovered that Pittsburgh, a once-booming industrial city, is going through a phoenix-rising moment.
With the help of 20th-century tycoons such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, Pittsburgh’s economic prosperity peaked in the middle of the 1900s.
But by the end of the century, foreign competition and lower demand ruined the steel industry, and the city’s population dwindled almost to 1900 levels.
In an attempt to rise back to greatness, McGarvey says the second-largest city in the state is creating a new name for itself, focusing on the arts and rebuilding the community it once had.
“Pittsburgh is now rising out of the ashes of the steel mills into a modern-day renaissance,” she said.
McGarvey set out to document small moments in Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities.
“The most challenging part about shooting this story was trying to illustrate the concept of revitalization,” McGarvey said. While the spirit of Pittsburgh has changed, the physical appearance has not.
“It’s drawing in a huge new art and music scene, the cost of living is low, and creative people who want to make a difference are flocking to Pittsburgh,” McGarvey said. “Braddock is a good condensed example of the phoenix-rising attitude in the Pittsburgh area.”
The small town of Braddock, just east of Pittsburgh and home to Carnegie’s first steel mill and free library, may sound familiar.
Levi’s clothing company produced several commercials featuring members of the town and their unique mayor, John Fetterman, emphasizing the power of community and issuing viewers to “go forth.”
Once 20,000 strong, Braddock now claims no more than 3,000 residents. It is trying to change that number.
“When you dig deeper, you notice there is a close community of young people living there and taking advantage of the thriving art scene and cheap rent,” McGarvey said.
“There is definitely a sense of urban renewal in Braddock, with abandoned buildings being converted into art installations, old abandoned lots into community gardens and artists and musicians moving into inexpensive housing with the idea of working less and putting more effort into projects they care about,” she said. “I think they are well on their way but, like the rest of Pittsburgh, still a work in progress.”
McGarvey spent 10 days traveling around Pittsburgh and its outlying towns and walked away with a story filled with quiet moments and signs of life.