Remembering Abandoned Places: Belonging through Informal Commemoration

Authors: Elyse Zavar*, University of North Texas, Sarah Roe*, Southern Connecticut State University
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: Buyouts, Disasters, Relocation, Technological hazards
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Roosevelt 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Following catastrophic events, some landscapes are left uninhabitable. In these extreme cases, the risk to future exposure is best mitigated through property acquisition and relocation, also known as buyouts. Buyouts can result from environmental disasters like severe floods or technological disasters such as the release of toxic chemicals. Whichever the cause, buyouts permanently remove people from hazardous landscapes. Following the relocation of people, the built environment is dismantled, leaving landscapes that range from ghost towns to open space. Yet for some of these disbanded communities, residents have found a way to remain connected to their former home and neighbors through commemoration. By examining buyout sites generated by anthropogenic forces we seek to understand how community culture continues through commemoration despite the loss of physical location. We consider how sense of place and belonging is constructed through commemoration as well as whose narratives are included in these commemorations and comparatively, whose are excluded. This research focuses on the experiences of three communities awarded federal buyouts due to technological disasters: Picher, Oklahoma; Times Beach, Missouri; and Ponca City, Oklahoma. Through these three sites, we analyze how commemoration recreates community and a sense of belonging to a place that no longer exists physically on the landscape while considering the spatial politics that influence the commemorative narrative.

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