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Back to the Future: Kevin Sousa's Emergent Efforts for Community Renewal

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“Strength does not lie in what you have, it lies in what you give” (Traditional proverb, author unknown).

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In his book, Ecology of Commerce, author Paul Hawken states: “If they [businesses] believe they are in business to serve people, to help solve problems, to use and employ the ingenuity of their workers to improve the lives of people around them by learning from the nature that gives us life, we have a chance.”

If you’d have been in Braddock last Saturday for Kevin Sousa’s “Ecosystem Meet and Greet” event, you’d have left feeling like we do indeed, have a chance. In Braddock, our most recent restorative chance goes by the name of “Superior Motors”. Superior Motors is a new restaurant concept proposed by Kevin. The systems vision for the model of this restaurant is supported and enhanced by residents, non-profits, community-minded firms, volunteers, local foodies, and politicians alike. In this coming together of many hands, we will all have a chance to contribute to a new kind of gathering place that will not only create, but employ and nurture social and natural systems that Braddock already has in place.

The location of Superior Motors juxtaposes the linear, industrialist economic activity of Braddock’s United States Steel Corporation’s Mon Valley Works Edgar Thomson Plant with the restorative economic activity at the heart of Kevin’s plans for the new eatery. This evolution in economic planning comes from recognizing the need to transition away from the immature, industrial use of our ecosystems. Kevin is proposing an opportunity for what Paul Hawken has historically dubbed ecological succession: a conscious effort to employ truths that are valid for everyone in the community so that viable policy and action can result.

Kevin not only has experience opening successful urban restaurants, he is keen on embracing the spirit of the place. Each of his establishments is unique in character, and Superior Motors will be no exception. While duly moving away from the extractive practices of the industrial revolution, Kevin embraces the history of Braddock in the design of Superior Motor’s space. Diners will be able to watch the flames of the restaurant’s grill as they enjoy their meals with a panoramic view of the outdoor stacks flaming with the fires of the mill. The essence of Braddock is being celebrated alongside her becoming.

A huge part of Kevin’s vision is to provide a place that doubles (or quadruples) as a hub to strengthen the bonds amongst the residents and businesses of Braddock. In their struggle to regenerate a relationship of mutual sustenance with their town, a place-based love has emerged. In it’s unfolding, it has proven that becoming native to your land infuses a sense of contagious hope. This hope multiplies and diffuses, attracting more and more people to participate in the rebuilding of a once flourishing community.

Feeling the Braddock love, it made sense for Kevin to work on his relationship with the community by embracing “Kickstarter”, a new way to fund creative projects and nurse ourselves off of the “too-big-to-fail” banking model. Launching a project via the Kickstarter platform goes hand-in-hand with the theme of Superior Motors: involve as many people as possible in raising money to support the success of a restaurant that will, in turn, open its doors to support the wider community. Really - there was no other way to go, financially, for this venture that will take its place in a system of interrelated dependencies: flowers, bees, birds, produce, people, buildings, learning, repeat! It is the pay-it-forward model for thriving in a world in need of regeneration, but in possession of limited resources.

Kevin’s Ecosystem Meet and Greet gathering held simultaneously at the future site of Superior Motors and the home of Mr. and Mrs. Fetterman refreshingly celebrated and raised awareness about the needs and goals of the immediate, community stakeholders. An unusual and progressive economic model (bolstered by the concept of Kickstarter) was introduced and explained to those attendees who were more accustomed to the closed-door model of boardroom meetings centered around keeping shareholders happy and stakeholders in the dark. So many times a “rebirth of a town” slogan turns out to be nothing more than a grab for property; a subterfuge that cloaks concealed efforts of exclusionary gentrification. Kevin’s dream for Superior Motors is more inclusive of the backing of as many people as he can get the word out to. Slowly or suddenly, the “what’s in it for me?” instinct could evolve to a more natural “let’s do it to make all of us better” philosophy.

Superior Motors will perpetually serve to leverage community regrowth. Kevin has expressly stated that he wants to reach out to and help sustain as many community groups as possible. For example, a local architect, Studio for Spatial Practice, has provided the plans for the reclaimed industrial space. Braddock Farms, a Grow Pittsburgh venture, will provide the kitchen with fresh ingredients. A Braddock apiary, roof-top garden and flock of urban chickens will bolster the whole foods sourced from Braddock Farms, accomplishing a sense of food security by guaranteeing a market for a local foodshed. Local property owners are offering rent-free space and utilities, not only removing financial obstacles to the inclusionary restaurant, but also promoting education by using the free space to house interns or local artists. The interns will come from many schools of interest, including: chefs, community planners, and urban farmers. Braddock residents will receive a discount for meals enjoyed at the inclusionary Superior Motors kitchen. “Too-Big-to-Fail” is retracing it’s steps back to our cooperative roots of “It-Takes-a-Tribe”.

This collaborative vision and execution of Superior Motors is another vital step in regenerating community in Braddock. The keystone design theme of diversity for the future is being forged - not by the mill - but by the people who are falling in love and sticking around and discovering the benefits of restoring their neighborhood, their community, their town, their Earth. Babies, kids, moms, dads and neighbors all came together to make Kevin’s Ecosystem Meet and Greet a success. Generations uniting to share their hope for a chance - a chance to build something together.

Superior Motors Kickstarter ends January 6th, 2014. Please pledge money to help support this project that will - undoubtedly - touch you in some way. It’s a small world and it pays for all of us to acknowledge and celebrate how we are truly connected.



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