Urban political ecology and exurban environmental knowledge in post-2008 southern Appalachia
Gustafson, James Seth
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This dissertation draws on urban political economy, urban political ecology, and science studies to examine the social and environmental consequences of urbanization in historically rural areas, especially the driving influences prompting new rounds of urban development in the countryside and as how communities draw upon different forms of knowledge to address the socioenvironmental burdens and benefits of exurban growth. More specifically, the dissertation examines how the 2008 financial crisis impacted the politics of environmental knowledge and uneven development in exurban southern Appalachia. I draw on my diverse training in qualitative methods of archival work, interviews, and participant observation; quantitative examination of parcel-level tax data and other socio-economic and socio-ecological data; and spatial analysis using GIS. The case study I use is a local policy controversy in Macon County, North Carolina, regarding the regulation of steep mountain slope development to prevent landslides. This economically peripheral region experienced rapid urban growth from 1960-2008 but lacked state regulatory or civil society capacity to address the economic, environmental, and social upheaval resulting from the decades of growth and the post-2008 crisis. With varying degrees of success, local residents had long attempted to mitigate landslides and other negative environmental externalities of urban growth in their historically rural area, but did so only under the auspices of massive capital investment via residential construction. I show that as the financial crisis constricted this influx of capital, it intersected with attitudes toward expert geological knowledge and non-expert knowledge of the landscape, thereby thwarting attempts to mitigate landslide vulnerability.