Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cultural Geography: Youngstown

In the wake of my last post, I'm thinking again about what defines "Great Lakes" as an economic region. Youngstown is a city where the tension between the Great Lakes (Cleveland) and Appalachia (Pittsburgh) is most evident. Youngstown is located in a cultural shatterbelt:

One of these North American shatterbelts emerged within the struggle for independence of the English colonies, a civil war in which colonists split amongst themselves either for loyalty or opposition to the English crown. On the strategic level, the British faced rivalry from France and Spain, the former instrumental in assisting the English colonists to eventual victory and independence from England. The shatterbelt could not have formed had not the French decided to side with the colonists against their British masters and had not the colonists chosen to accept French involvement. And clearly the French were opposing the English on both strategic and regional levels, wanting to weaken the English colonial hold as a way to weaken the English in other world areas as well. Had not this shatterbelt appeared, North American independence would not have succeeded at the time, or at least would have been significantly postponed. and this shatterbelt later ended with eventual British acceptance of North American sovereignty over its Atlantic seaboard and the Ohio valley territories in today's Middle West.

Just as there are two (perhaps three) Pennsylvanias, there are two Ohios. The Buckeye State is torn between New England influences and Virginian westward expansion. Youngstown can claim the best of both worlds: Cleveland and Pittsburgh are at home in the Mohoning Valley.

Youngstown is a riparian industrial city with strong ties to lake ports of call. The similarities to Pittsburgh (along with proximity) are obvious. But the shared history with places such as Erie are less recognized. As an Erie native, I'm well versed in the mythology of Youngstown organized crime. You might think of Erie as the Y-town Riveria, at least in the recent past. Youngstown might be the northern most city in the United States claiming economic, political and cultural influences of the Great Lakes and Appalachia.

How about Indianapolis? Columbus?

1 comment:

The Urbanophile said...

Indiana is by far the most southern Midwest state I know. If you leave Chicago and drive south to say Peoria or Champaign, the voices you hear tell you that you are still in the Midwest. But if you drive south into Indiana, the minute you get out of Lake County (the first one you enter leaving Illinois), you hit noticeable southern accents. Just fill your gas tank at SR 10 if you don't believe me.

Indianapolis has a very strong southern influence, particularly on the South Side. My neighborhood (Fountain Square) is a long time Appalachian enclave. Back in 1970 or so the city actually commissioned a study to look at the area called "The Appalachian in Indianapolis". Today, there are still many "fresh off the boat" West Virginians and such in the area. It's a port of entry for Appalachians into Chicago.

Indy is interesting case. On the north side, there are areas that are indistinguishable from suburban Chicago in their appearance and the people you meet. On the south side, you find a lot of southern influence. I've always said that I-70 is the real Mason-Dixon line.

By the time you hit Southern Indiana you are in the hard core South, sans sweet tea and barbecue.

Ohio is a different case. I don't go to Cincy and Columbus that often, but when I do I hear far fewer southern accents than I do in Indy.

I'm not saying that the Southern influence is bad, btw. In fact, I'm on record as saying Indy should figure out how to exploit its north meets south geography and demographics.