Date of Award
Master of Science
Sprawling low density housing and retail developments characterize the growth patterns of many communities nationally. These patterns of development have been associated with impairments in ecosystem services that are critical to the functioning of social and natural systems. In response to the negative implications of these patterns, watershed initiatives are taking place across the U.S. These initiatives are characterized by participatory decision making processes involving diverse community interest groups. Studies have indicated that leadership and social capital contribute to the success of these initiatives. A qualitative assessment of community capacity for sustainable watershed management was conducted in two Lower Kaskaskia River watersheds. The study communities of Belleville and O'Fallon, Illinois are located in the eastern metropolitan region of St. Louis, MO. The primary concerns of community managers and planners are related to managing growth and its negative impacts on economic, social, and natural capitals. Six research questions drove this capacity assessment: (1) How do diverse community managers and residents define community health, (2) What role does the natural environment play in perceptions of community health, (3) What are the perceived effects of urbanization on the study communities, (4) What are community stakeholders' beliefs about the level of environmental protection within their communities, (5) What are stakeholders' perceptions of their communities' ability to solve problems and (6) What are critical indicators of community capacity to engage in sustainable watershed management. Study findings suggest that healthy natural environments are an essential element of healthy communities. Indicators of community capacity for watershed management were identified by participants. This list of indicators can be used as a tool by residents that have identified a need for a watershed initiative in their community. Key findings suggest that developing a sustainable vision, networking between groups, and leadership play important roles in the successful implementation of community based watershed initiatives.
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