Assessing Impacts of Rural Gentrification on an Appalachian Community in Watauga County, NC

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Brandon Scott Saunders (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:
Christopher Badurek

Abstract: Appalachia is a region of contradictions. While Appalachia resides in the wealthiest country in the world, it is characterized by a poor population that appears unable to keep up with the demands of modern American life. Explanations for this observation have traditionally been either a Culture of Poverty model or a view of Appalachia as a domestic colony of the United States. This research uses the domestic colony model to understand modern Appalachian experience in Watauga County, North Carolina. In particular, it examines the impact that newcomers have on old-timers’ ability to reproduce their native Appalachian culture. Previous work has identified two distinct drivers of rural gentrification, one being amenity or recreation based and the other being primarily an extension of suburban sprawl. Most research on rural gentrification has focused on housing areas in the mountain west where patterns have been characterized by very low density developments or hobby farms. On the surface, patterns emerging in rural western North Carolina’s Appalachian region appear to be similarly driven by natural amenities. However, rural landscape change in this region indicates more dense development patterns and stark land value contrasts. This research therefore uses mixed methods analysis to determine the nature of socioeconomic change to the primarily rural Watauga County. This research integrates Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis, quantitative assessment of housing density changes, and qualitative data gathered from interviews with six old-timers in the Triplett community, a relatively underdeveloped section of the county, and six newcomers to Watauga County. Comparison of interviews with old-timers and newcomers indicates differing perspectives on land ownership, land use, and the overall direction of development in Watauga County. Responses generally varied by the length of time the family has been established in Triplett. Triplett residents also voiced concern over land ownership as they describe newcomers as persons who value land ownership solely as an economic asset rather than a lifetime commitment. In addition, many residents report development in Triplett has occurred at a much slower pace, leaving residents of the area far behind others in the county in terms of income and access to more urban amenities. However, resentment and appreciation intertwine in this community as several residents have also reported benefiting financially directly from the region’s exurban growth. These interviews are placed within the context of countywide housing property value change and demographic transition. Results from this triangulation approach indicate the Triplett community residents’ perceptions of remaining underdeveloped and being left further behind economically to be strongly associated with quantitative evidence and GIS analysis of housing density changes and growth rates. This study provides a portrait of recent experiences in Watauga County that may be characterized as rural gentrification.

Additional Information

Saunders, B.S. (2010). Assessing Impacts of Rural Gentrification on an Appalachian Community in Watauga County, NC. Unpublished master's thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2010

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