welcome sean!

We’re excited that Sean Safford is joining us as a guest blogger on orgtheory this month.  Sean is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. His research draws from an eclectic mix of theoretical areas, including industrial relations, economic sociology, social movement theory, social networks, and management theory. Sean’s fantastic paper with Forrest Briscoe, “The Nixon-in-China Effect: Activism, Imitation, and the Institutionalization of Contentious Practices,” was recently published in the Administrative Science Quarterly special issue on social movements and markets.

Sean has a new book out that we’ll be discussing while he’s blogging at orgtheory. The book, Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt, compares two Pennsylvania steel towns – Allentown and Youngstown – that faced economic decline when the U.S. steel industry collapsed. The book assesses why Allentown was able to revitalize its local economy while Youngstown’s development efforts failed. Sean generates a rich historical explanation for the  differences between the two communities’ approaches to development, noting the distinct kinds of networks and civic infrastructure available for the revitalization efforts.  Sean’s book manages to speak quite clearly to a broad group of organizational scholars, including those who care about social movement theory, network analysis, and industrial relations.

Over the month we’ll be posting our thoughts about the book. You can post your own reactions either here or on our Facebook discussion board. Welcom Sean and we look forward to hearing more from you!

Written by brayden king

May 3, 2009 at 11:56 pm

10 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Welcome!



    May 4, 2009 at 12:34 am

  2. Thanks for guesting! Should be great!



    May 4, 2009 at 1:10 am

  3. I haven’t read the book, but I will take issue with the conclusion that Allentown has come back, or gone in a good and healthy trajectory. I am currently a candidate for Mayor of Allentown. None of the candidates is arguing that the city is well off. There is more crime in more places, though citizens have given up reporting it, because there is no police response beyond a report number for your insurance company, no attempt to solve or investigate. There are more vacant buildings on the Main business street than ever in my 57 year history in town. The offer of tax free zones hasn’t been enough to spur development, and that which has occured has been largely a commercial failure. New business as well as decades old businesses have gone belly up. The infrastructure is decrepit from lack of maintenance, the workforce is depleted, unemployment is double the state average.

    I wonder how bad Youngstown must be if Allentown is the good City!

    I contend it was the misguided poicies of the ’80s that led directly to this current state of affairs.


    Dick Nepon

    May 4, 2009 at 11:58 am

  4. Who says org theory doesn’t touch on practical issues?

    Welcome Sean.

    Welcome Dick.

    AS someone who lived in Bethlehem and Easton in the late 1990s (next door to Allentown) I am intrigued by the book’s topic. My experience is similar to Dick’s. OF the three rust belt cities, Bethlehem seemed more poised to rebound. It’s city center had more durable assets like historic buildings of the Moravian Church and College. Lehigh U, just across the river, also seemed to have more to invest in economic development.

    But I also had the sense that Allentown had been trying in the 1980s to do some urban renewal and it fell apart. The racial profiles of the three cities seemed stark too. If I am not mistaken, Allentown became the most Hispanic, Easton the most Black, and Bethelem split the difference. But I would need to check that against census data (maybe for my blog when I get around to it…)

    Easton ws my test case for a rule of thumb of urban decay: the pawn/tatoo metric. In it’s beautiful center city square, three out of four corners had pawn or tatoo shops. Although it was also maybe turning a corner by the late 1990s.

    Of course, Youngstown may be a lot worse!



    May 4, 2009 at 6:42 pm

  5. For the record, Youngstown is an OHIO town, Allentown in PA.

    For perspective, Youngstown lost just under 50% of its population between 1960 and 2000.



    May 4, 2009 at 6:47 pm

  6. Jordi – You’re right about the relevance of this book, especially given regional variance in the negative impact the current economic crisis is having on development. The book remains relevant while not skimping on the theory.

    Jeff – My bad. Sean knows the Rust Belt much better than I do of course.



    May 4, 2009 at 6:55 pm

  7. Ok, 50% population drop is an extreme event. I don’t think any of the Lehigh Valley cities had that.

    10 minutes and a few pennies of my tax dollars later, the census confirms.

    In 2000,

    City, % Affrican American, % Any Hispanic

    Allentown, 9%, 24%
    Bethlehem, 4.5%, 8%
    Easton, 14.5%, 9%

    I don’t have the trend data. But those are pretty stark differences and fit my on-the-ground sociologist hunch.

    I imagine cultural geographers or urban sociologists could have a field day with this datum alone.

    Nonetheless, the mix of perspectives in the book sounds fascinating and I am glad it is on my radar screen now.



    May 5, 2009 at 12:52 am

  8. Dick and Jordie,

    Thanks for weighing in. As natives you will find a choice I made very early on very very annoying: when I talk about “Allentown” I’m really referring to the whole Lehigh Valley. To Valley residents, this is grating as all get out. To people outside the Valley, it makes perfect sense. So when I refer to Allentown, I mean Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton and all of the little surrounding towns that fall within the ABE Metropolitan Statistical Area. Indeed, one of the key arguments in the book is that the Lehigh Valley’s relative success has resulted in part from cooperation across the towns. Again, from within the Valley, it might seem like there isn’t much cooperation at all, relative to other places–and certainly relative to Youngstown, er, the Mahoning Valley–its quite a bit.

    Finally, on the relative “success” of Allentown. The argument I make isn’t so much that the Lehigh Valley is a huge success. Its really that the Lehigh Valley has done well relative to other communities that had similar levels of manufacturing employement up until the 1970s. My findings were essentially replicated and confirmed in a study that came out of the Brookings Institution last year. So, if we are looking for outliers with respect to success, my argument is more that Youngstown–the Mahoning Valley–fell off the map, while Allentown–the Lehigh Valley–at least kept up with average.



    May 5, 2009 at 1:11 am

  9. Sean,

    How fun to be a native for once!

    I knew nothing of Youngstown, so I didn’t mean to disagree with your thesis.

    I look forward to reading the book.

    As an outsider when I moved there, I found it amusing that local elites referred to the Lehigh valley even as the phenomenology was mostly about fragmentation across the three urban cores and also the small towns that had become suburban enclaves. It really is a fascinating microcosm of a place. I think one of the counties is one of those bellwether counties for political prognosticating (Northampton?).

    Where I live now is struggling with building regional governance and collective action. The received wisdom is that local fragmentation of political authority at the commonwealth (more like common tug-of-war)is the problem. I wonder how that compares to the Lehigh Valley and Youngstown. Was there regional institutional entrepreneurship in the Valley?



    May 5, 2009 at 3:33 pm

  10. […] school and from someone who got his Phd at network-central, MIT. The answer to the question, why did Allentown fare so much better than Youngstown after the collapse of the steel industry, is a story about social networks. If you just skim […]


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: