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Constructing Data Transparency at the Grassroots in Appalachia

Authors: Lindsay Shade*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Applied Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Legal Geography
Keywords: land reform, public revenues, data, transparency, Appalachia, extractive industries
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper I report back on an ongoing effort to organize community-based research on land ownership and public revenues in six states in Central Appalachia known as the Appalachian Land Study. The study builds on and updates a previous action research project undertaken in Appalachia in 1979 which found that about 75% of surface land and 80% of minerals (coal, oil and gas rights) is owned by absentee corporations who, despite their control of landed property and resources, contribute a minority of public revenues collected from property taxes. In the older study data had to be collected on paper, and the spatial analysis tools permitted by modern GIS were not available. Many in our coalition have had high hopes of improving the transparency around property rights and public revenues though the application of computerized technologies and shareable, interactive maps so that people might use the information to press for more fair taxation policies, raise awareness about what's behind the fall in public revenues in the context of coal's decline, and bring to light systemic and structural problems in rural areas that have limited access to land, housing, public space, and chronic under-investment in public services. This paper will detail the limitations of new technologies as well as pervasive institutional opacity in this effort to construct data transparency at the grassroots.

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