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City of Champions A portrait of Brockton MA

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Friday, January 29, 2010

By Mary Beth Meehan

American cities don’t die; they change. Global forces push and pull – industries move and take their jobs with them, economies shift focus, wars around the globe drive people from their homes – and our hometowns struggle to keep their balance.

This work is a study of my own hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts. Brockton is a place, with a many-layered history and deeply felt pride, that is undergoing its own transformative change. Through photography, I am trying to understand the city as a living organism, to reflect this dynamic process, and to evoke the emotional charge behind it all.

In Brockton, a landscape that was once enlivened by shoe factories now fades and crumbles. Old timers remember proud moments in their self-nicknamed “City of Champions” – native boxing champ Rocky Marciano at his homecoming parade! – and feel resentment, anger at their city’s decline. Many have moved out: the neighborhoods built by the last century’s immigrants – Italian, Irish, Lithuanian, Greek – are pocked with foreclosure, bankruptcy, and crime.

But immigrants are still coming! Compared to the ravages of Haiti or the wars of Guinea-Bissau, Brockton is a relatively safe place to plant one’s self, to nurture seedlings of progress and hope. Like grass growing up from a crack in the sidewalk, new life finds a way, its roots get established.

Radical things happen: a bright Cape Verdean restaurant sprouts on a dark corner; an empty shoe factory becomes a Haitian church; the first elected black official – the first ever in the city’s history – takes office.

With photographs, I am trying to chart this complex moment, as decay and rebirth wrestle on a landscape that I love. From the Irish politicians desperate to hang on to control, to the fading middle class I knew as a child, to the newcomers uncertain in their new home – I am trying to reflect the struggle in Brockton in a way that is real, deep, and intimate.

Posted in: Gateway Cities   Jobs and Economic Security   Strong Communities

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