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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Spatio-Temporal Changes in the Social Vulnerability of Charleston, South Carolina from 1960 to 2010

Matt Schmidtlein

Advisor: Dr. Susan L. Cutter



Changing social contexts contribute more to increasing U.S. disaster losses than changes in the physical characteristics of hazard events. Describing these social changes should therefore be an important part of disaster analysis. Social vulnerability approaches are useful for describing these social contexts, but little research has been done to characterize the temporal changes in spatial patterns of social vulnerability, particularly at local scales. This dissertation provides a spatial analysis of the temporal trends of social vulnerability. Using Charleston, South Carolina as a study area, two research questions were asked:

  1. What is the pattern of social vulnerability in Charleston, SC, and how has it changed from 1960 to 2000?
  2. What are the likely future patterns of social vulnerability in Charleston, SC in 2010?

To answer these questions, the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) was calculated for each decade from 1960 to 2000 at the census tract level for the Charleston-North Charleston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Plausible social vulnerability scenarios for 2010 were created using the bootstrapped upper and lower confidence interval bounds around predictions made for the SoVI constituent variables using linear regression approaches. Social vulnerability in Charleston was found to have a bulls-eye pattern, with low vulnerability in the historic urban core, surrounded by higher urban vulnerability, and then lower vulnerability in suburban areas. As urbanization expanded outwards, newer outer-ring suburban areas had lower social vulnerability, while the social vulnerability of older suburbs increased.

These patterns relate well to the historical processes operating in the study area. Areas of low social vulnerability are likely to continue to expand from the historic district and along the coasts in 2010. Higher vulnerability is also likely to persist in the balance of the urban core, as well as in the older, working class suburbs to the northwest of the Charleston peninsula. While the methods used in this analysis provided representations of vulnerability consistent with an understanding of the social trends in the area, they were complex both to apply and analyze. Future research should assess means of simplifying and validating these approaches.

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