The University of Arizona

Historical waterscape trajectories that need care: the unwanted refurbished flood homes of Kinston's devolved disaster mitigation program

Daniel H. de Vries, James C. Fraser


Abstract In 1999 Hurricane Floyd pummeled the eastern portion of North Carolina (NC, U.S.A.), and in its wake many localities participated in federal home acquisition-relocation programs in flood-prone areas, with shared and devolved governance. This article reports on one such program that was conducted in the City of Kinston, where a historical African-American neighborhood called Lincoln City was badly flooded by water containing raw sewage from a compromised wastewater treatment plant upstream. Afterwards, some of the acquired homes were relocated to an adjacent area populated by middle-class, African-American families. The article explores to what extent political devolution of flood mitigation disempowered residents to deal with this crisis in their waterscape. Combining a framework from medical anthropology regarding the logics of choice and care with historical political ecology, it illustrates how devolved government policy led to a continuation of the waterscape's discriminatory history after the buyout program, with no recourse for local citizens as the program worked through a logic of choice that demarcated responsibilities. Understanding this case requires a historically informed assessment of social impact, in which the chosen flood mitigation measures are critically assessed using tools from historically-informed political ecology, leading to a longerterm logic of care where needed. Keywords: Devolution, flooding, path-dependency, waterscape, buyout, mitigation, care, choice

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