ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY / November 2001
governance and an array of possible actors, still does not consider the interplay between governing coalitions and the larger civic culture from which they emerge. In other words, it does not consider the forces behind the development of a particular governing regime.
Although different governing coalitions favor different combinations of interests and logically lead to different local policies, a more basic question begs to be answered. What leads to those par- ticular governing regimes in the first place? Obviously, history plays a large role. Each community has a unique political and economic history that shapes the current governing structure. But there is much more to how a particular community operates than just the governing regime. In short, the regime system is just one part of a larger way of doing things in a community, a larger civic culture. The limits of the conventional wisdom stem from lack of sensitivity to local civic culture. Analyses and conclusions are limited and presented out of context. Civic culture is significant and can be identified. Civic culture is important apart from the specific governing regime and helps explain how local economic development decisions are made, who is involved, and what policies result.
The concept of political culture has been explored in the political science literature for decades (see, e.g., Almond & Verba, 1963; Elazar, 1994; Jackman & Miller, 1996). It has been used to explain international, national, and state-level institutions, policies, and processes. To a lesser extent, local political, or more accurately, civic cultures have also been explored although usually tied to regime approaches and arguments. Yet, the earlier debates about culture offer much about local policy making in general and economic development policy in particular. Local civic culture is as a penumbra—its attributes and components defining what issues are problems, what solutions are possible, how decisions are made, and who is involved in decision making. Local civic culture embodies shared visions—past, present, and future—and is the essence of the local community. Civic culture shapes everything from governmental institutions to governing regimes and to the policies employed.
Each community reflects a unique civic culture, historically defined local systems for political and/or public action and processes for distribution of goods. It is thus possible that two communi- ties could have the same interests within the ruling coalition, yet because of different customs or processes, use very different economic development policies. In the same way, similar structures of local government—strong mayor or city manager, for example—may operate very differently in practice across communities because of differences in local culture. The potential differences in local civic culture are more important than many surface similarities in structure and even econom- ics. Indeed, to paraphrase Wallace Sayre, local governments may be similar in all unimportant respects—form of government, composition of tax base, and even makeup of governing coalition, for example. The fine distinctions in local culture—the habitus of how interests are balanced, prob- lems defined, symbols interpreted, goals envisioned, and decisions made—will have the greatest and perhaps most subtle effects on public policy. This broader approach to local economic develop- ment, including explicit attention to the nature and role of civic culture, will go a long way toward bringing greater wisdom to conventional knowledge.
Michigan cases. The Michigan cities selected for case analysis were Allen Park, Cadillac, and Romulus. Romulus and Allen Park are older suburbs of the city of Detroit, whereas Cadillac is on the western side of the state. Romulus is of particular interest because of its significant African American population as well as rela- tively high poverty and unemployment rates at the time of the survey. The governmental structure reflects a mix of reformed and unreformed elements, with a strong mayor and at-large nonpartisan elections. Because Michigan has a strong history of city managers as opposed to mayors, Romulus is important in that it contin- ues with the strong mayor form of government. Cadillac serves as a good counterpoint to Romulus in that it also had relatively high poverty and unemployment levels but a predominantly White population. Like most cities in the state, it has a city manager. However, the city council is composed of at-large and ward seats. Allen Park had low poverty and moderate unemployment at the time of the survey. It has a weak mayor form of gov- ernment and an administrator. It has at-large and nonpartisan council elections and is predominantly White.