The culture of a place frequently determines its fate. And that culture, more often than not, has been set by its founders. It’s been widely observed, for example, that New York’s open, globally oriented, multicultural mercantile culture in part derives from the Dutch ethos of its founding era. A very different culture, interestingly, from the conservative one that was created later and equally successfully by a different group of Dutch settlers in western Michigan.
A number of books discuss the profound influence of culture on civic success. Sean Safford’s Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown contrasts that city in Ohio with the seemingly similar Allentown, Pa. Both were medium-sized steel cities that suffered badly from deindustrialization over the past half-century, but Allentown adapted much better. Safford ties this to the historical structures of the cities’ respective elites. Allentown’s elite networks were more open to the rest of the community, allowing the town to mobilize in ways the mostly closed networks of Youngstown could not.