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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute


The Meaning of Place Recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

RONALD L. SCHUMANN, III

Advisor:  Dr. Susan L. Cutter

 

ABSTRACT

            Recovery is a post-disaster period of adjustment when individuals, households, neighborhoods, and communities work to overcome the effects of a disaster and regain functionality.  Recovery is a multi-scalar process whose outcomes are manifested in the physical landscape; however, assessments of the meaning, progress, and outcomes of recovery are specific to individuals who view the landscape from an embodied perspective within the local social hierarchy.  Common recovery measurement techniques used by emergency managers, planners, local leaders, and hazards scholars approximate recovery with reconstruction of the physical infrastructure or repopulation of residences.  These longitudinal quantitative proxies may claim to represent the status of community recovery, but do they truly represent the ways in which residents assess their own recovery?

            This study poses three research questions: 1) What does recovery of place mean to local residents? 2) How do local residents assess recovery progress and recovery outcomes? 3) Are there differences between these participant recovery assessments and recovery indicators based on quantitatively derived secondary data?  Using a feminist, intersectional approach in sampling and analysis, this work elucidates residents’ perspectives about long-term recovery after Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Coast to build upon conceptual recovery knowledge.  This study employs a mixed methodology consisting of photo elicitation, participatory mapping, recovery indicators, and self-organizing maps.  In doing so, this research demonstrates the utility of a bottom-up approach for understanding recovery that is complementary to top-down approaches focused on recovery policy implementation.

            Findings show that memory and mobility guided the formation of residents’ recovery meanings and assessments, and these shifted between short-term and long-term recovery.  Place attachment, life stage, and migration experience factored heavily into residents’ recovery perspectives.  In resident’s eyes, businesses overwhelmingly exemplified speedy recovery while public and community features represented the success of recovery outcomes.  Although indicators of home repair, reconstruction, and repopulation held merit in identifying where spatial recovery disparities existed, this study illustrates that the inclusion of bottom-up, place-based knowledge is essential to understand the complexity of recovery disparities present in the landscape.

 

Dissertation funded by the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement grant through the Geography and Spatial Sciences Program (#1301830)