Sense of Place and Nature in Small Rural Towns

EPA Grant Number: U914927
Title: Sense of Place and Nature in Small Rural Towns
Investigators: Spencer, Kristen S.
Institution: Yale University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 1, 1996 through January 1, 2001
Project Amount: $102,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1996) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Social Sciences , Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice


This research seeks to characterize the relationship between the physical environment, cultural traditions, and place attachments formed by residents of small rural towns. I will analyze three factors: urban development patterns in and adjacent to the towns, local ecosystem health, and local storytelling that involves the natural environment. The objectives of this research project are to: (1) show that there is a statistically significant relationship between each of these factors and the formation of place attachments and to increase knowledge about the complex nature of place attachment; (2) develop a framework for assessing residents' and visitors' perceptions of, attitudes toward, and attachment to places as influenced by these factors; and (3) inform recommendations on incorporating the three factors into local environmental protection, rural development, and cultural preservation strategies.


I will examine four small towns in Virginia—Lexington, Buena Vista, Covington, and Vinton—to illustrate the effects of different development patterns, different storytelling techniques, and different levels of perceived environmental health on resident and visitor feelings of attachment to the landscape beyond the edge of these towns. Background information will be collected on each community to determine the relationship between town and surrounding natural landscape, patterns of development over time, including the town origins and major points in the development histories, planning practices which affect development and environmental protection, and community storytelling practices.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, urban development patterns, ecosystem health, place attachments, storytelling practices, planning practices, social science, Virginia, VA, rural towns., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Geographic Area, POLLUTION PREVENTION, sustainable development, State, decision-making, Economics & Decision Making, ecosystem valuation, Virginia (VA), belief system, urban planning, decision making, environmental priorities, environmental values, environmental impact comparison, environmental policy, culture and social practices, cultural dimensions of place, land use, behavior reactions

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1996
  • 1997
  • 1998
  • 1999
  • Final