Place-Based Conservation and Urban Waterways: Watershed Activism in the Bottom of the Basin

Publication Date

Spring 2010

Document Type



Decentralized management and citizen participation have been central tenets of water governance reform over the last two decades. However, representation and process in the bottom of the bottom-up transformation of urban watershed management too often replicate the values of the top-down administration it was meant to replace: economic efficiency and rational utilitarianism as understood by well-resourced political elites. This article presents an argument for building the capacity to accomplish equity in urban watershed management via experiential, symbolic, and identity-based means of social engagement. The watershed movement is spurred on by place-based activism, motivated by geographically rooted identification with a watershed's intrinsic value and worth. If equity matters in urban watershed management, then it matters profoundly who has the opportunity to form place-based relationships with urban waterways and their riverbanks and lakeshores. Drawing on examples from fieldwork in Los Angeles, this article argues that broadening the base and political power of urban watershed activism and thus the equity of decentralized modes of urban watershed management will rely upon diversifying the ranks of urban citizens who are deeply place-attached to the watershed.

Publication Title

Natural Resources Journal





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