On the morning of Sat., Aug. 6, Braddock was filled with caution tape, a swarm of people in reflective orange vests, and even some billowing yellow flags.
Some residents of this tiny borough -- only one-half of a square mile and, these days, just 3,000 people -- might've thought for a second that Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission demolition crews had arrived early. Perhaps 10 years from now, the long-planned Mon-Fayette Expressway could wipe out several square blocks in the steel town's riverside neighborhood nicknamed The Bottom.
But on this day, residents faced not bulldozers but about 25 architects, historians, borough officials and fellow Braddockers. They were creating a "Pre-Enactment," an almost theatrical depiction of the Mon-Fayette Expressway.
Architect/artists Christine Brill and Jonathan Kline hurried to outfit volunteers with orange reflective highway vests, and a small cabal of enlistees carried huge yellow banners down the borders of the area the Turnpike Commission would take by eminent domain to build the road. In the heart of Braddock, that area is two city blocks wide and several blocks long.
The pageant aimed to give a real, right-here-in-Braddock sense of the would-be superhighway's impact. The Pre-Enactment culminated Brill and Kline's project, Looking For Braddock's Fields, which was initially funded by Carnegie Mellon University's STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and continued via the couple's role as volunteers with the GroundZero Action Network. A future exhibit at CMU's Regina Miller Gallery will discuss their Braddock work in detail.
"I needed a pictorial and a walk-through," said Rev. Judith Moore, pastor of Braddock's Calvary AME church. "I think [most people] are in denial. This highway's been coming for 30 years -- their mother's mothers had this conversation."
That conversation arose once more during the event, as community members chimed in with questions and worries about the road. The pre-enactment also sparked reunions among those who joined the walk-through: "I grew up on River Street!" "I grew up on Cherry Way!" Both streets, close neighbors, are now half abandoned, ghosts of old immigrant hives along the Monongahela.
After the MFX processional, the discussion continued at the Braddock Carnegie Library, the first American one that Andrew Carnegie built -- in the town that was home to the industrial baron's first steel mill, U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson works, one of the few local steel plants still running today. There, Brill and Kline's six-foot-square, 3-D scale model of Braddock and the planned Mon-Fayette -- laid over the town in bright orange-and-pink Plexiglas -- was on display.
"I think it's coming whether we want it or not," concluded Charles Jenkins, a lifelong Braddock resident whose house stands to be wiped out by the road. "It can work for us, but if we do nothing it can work against us. Those of us who are still living here, we have to come together. We do have a say."--