Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown

Safford, Sean. Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt. Cambridge, Massachusetts; Harvard University Press, 2009.

The title of Sean Safford’s Why your Garden Club Could not save Youngstown is not in jest.  This book truly is an attack on the Garden Club of Youngstown.  It is commonly believed that economic factors beyond the municipality’s control led to its economic demise in the late 1970s (it was known in the 1950s that manufacturing steel in Youngstown cost 55% more than in nearby Cleveland).  But Safford argues that economies like Youngstown did not necessarily have to devolve over the last few decades.

The author uses the steel-dominated Allentown region, the Lehigh Valley, as a foil to the Mahoning Valley.  He argues that in 1970, Allentown and Youngstown were very similar in terms of economic concentration, access to markets, education, state and federal policy, and even histories.  Today, Allentown is now one of the fastest growing cities in Pennsylvania.  Youngstown population in 2010 has dropped to under 67,000, less than half of its peak of 170,000 in 1930.  Why Allentown?  All of Youngstown’s social connectivity was tied up in the Garden Club.   Continue reading