Thinking about the land. Understand perceptions of exurban development in the Swannanoa Valley through a PhotoVoice project (Buncombe County, North Carolina)

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Presenter/Primary Author: 
Anne Sourdril
John F. Chamblee

Social scientists, policymakers, and the public need to understand how inhabitants of exurbanized areas think about and perceive their land. This study used a combination of the PhotoVoice and participatory GIS method to capture these perceptions. Our results show that while exurban development is commonly discussed as a phenomenon related to “sprawl”, people do not actually perceive development as systemic, but instead focus on development patches that are located in restricted locations. As a consequence, they focus on the protection of nearby land – creating associations and relationships with their neighbors – and thereby providing at the same time a revitalization of their community and territory. While these approaches do support increased social networking and some local environmental protection, they do not necessarily foster the creation of policies with broader impacts.
Key words: exurban development, rural land-use changes, local community, mountain landscape, place perceptions, PhotoVoice method, participatory GIS.