Unsheltered homelessness and urban hydrosocial relations: Embodied political ecologies of two Salt Lake City riparian corridors

Authors: Jeff Rose*, University of Utah, Sarah Hinners, Center for Ecological Planning and Design, Keunhyun Park, Utah State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environmental Perception
Keywords: homelessness, water, public space, political ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Political ecologists refer to the hydrosocial cycle as a series of socio-natural processes by which water and society make and remake each other, where water is produced in particular ways (Linton & Budds, 2014; Swyngedouw, 2004; 2009). However, supposedly “public” water spaces capture community attention in urban environments, as visible water is synonymous with notions of public space (Rewers, 2017). Publicly accessible waterways in urban environments, or what have been called “blue spaces,” are thought to provide health benefits, often to members of racially and ethnically minoritized and/or otherwise underrepresented communities (Haeffner et al., 2017). There exists an “urban hydro-culture” (Rewers, 2017, p. 99) that has an affinity for publicly available urban space with water as a central feature. How can we extend such analyses of water and waterscapes to include those that literally inhabit these spaces, those who are facing unsheltered homelessness? This research pulls data and analyses from user engagement with two urban riparian corridors in Salt Lake City – the Jordan River and City Creek Canyon – to critically consider the role of unsheltered homelessness in both shaping and conforming to hydrosocial relations within and across these waterscapes. Ethnographic interviews with individuals facing homelessness and survey data from outdoor recreation participants demonstrate the complex spatiotemporal ways in which urban waterscapes change meaning and production. Open, publicly accessible water is a corporeal experience, embodied differentially dependent upon both gender and housing status. We conclude by noting hydrophilic relations both outdoor recreation participants and individuals facing unsheltered homelessness.

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