The nature of gentrification: Urban environments and redevelopment in the Inland Northwest

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Robert M. Wilson


Urban geography, Environmental history, Gentrification, American West, Urban renewal, Nature

Subject Categories



This dissertation examines the role of the urban environment in contemporary gentrification processes. I contend that urban scholars have ignored the physical environmental dimensions of gentrification, and by so doing have overlooked critical insights into the economic, environmental, and social outcomes of this contemporary redevelopment process. Theoretically situated within the urban environmental theories of environmental history and political ecology, urban geography research, and regional literature on the American West, I argue that nature acts as a veneer for urban capital accumulation processes. Specifically, I examine how nature matters in gentrification processes in three ways: (1) as residents use nature as a tool for wielding social power; (2) as environmental imaginary; and (3) as a dynamic material actor. I use a variety of sources, such as government reports, personal interviews, oral histories, newspaper research, and archival documents, to compose a narrative of urban environmental change in Spokane, Washington and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho since the 1970s.

After introducing the dissertation's objectives and reviewing the literatures into which it intervenes in Chapter One, I go on, in Chapter Two, to examine Spokane's urban renewal in preparation for Expo '74--the environmentally-themed World's Fair. This chapter explores how downtown elites used the greening of the city center as a political ecological catalyst to stimulate the gentrification process. Chapter Three examines the politics of urban lake views in Coeur d'Alene, an environmental amenity which is central to the political ecology of building height, tourism development, and residential property taxes. Chapter Four addresses the role of environmental imaginary in the gentrification processes of Coeur d'Alene by examining three interrelated narratives: the California migration to Coeur d'Alene; the urban smoke incursions from agricultural field burning practices on the metropolitan fringe; and the urban politics of battling the negative place images associated with Superfund designation. As Chapter Five of this dissertation explores, environmental disamenities such as brownfields are often an important factor in gentrification processes. Chapter Six provides a synthetic conclusion that examines how urban nature--including environmental amenities, disamenities and imaginaries--shape gentrification processes.


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