River People: Survey Themes

After analyzing my survey results I have picked up on three major themes, and come to one game changing conclusion. The first theme was the most obvious in re-reading my surveys, and also the most straightforward: almost all participants said that they valued the protection of the river highly, but that current efforts are lacking. In my final paper, there is a section detailing the environmental history of the James River over the past 40 years which comes to a similar conclusion. The recognition by river users of both the importance of protecting the James and the difficulty we are having in implementing the necessary measures shows an environmental awareness across the board that is fairly exciting, and could be indicative of change.

The next theme was a sense of community based around the river. The phrase ‘home away from home’ was used several times, and there were many less blatant references to the river’s importance. In the case of Richmond, VA especially, many participants cited the James as a defining feature of the ‘river city’. It seems that people (or at least people who are on the river) believe that the James is an essential aspect of Richmond’s character, with many citing general importance while others directly focused on economic and tourism benefits that the river provides. This coalition of people forming around a natural resource was an unexpected aspect of my study, but one that has been exciting to analyze and tie in to my conclusions.

The final theme that I found was a less apparent one, but perhaps the most interesting: the role of the James River as a free, egalitarian place for people to access nature. Several of my respondents talked in fair detail about how the presence of the river allows for free access to the river for everyone. One respondent said it’s “…a really important tool for interacting with nature for everybody, be it poor people, middle income, rich. But not just nature in itself, it’s also a tool for fun, a lot of these people I see down here come from all ugly industrial Midlothian, and they take a bus to the river, and they’re more than building a community they’re building a home.” This theme is one that I had vaguely planned on working into my paper, but I had not expected such blatant statements to this effect.

Finally, here is my game changing conclusion. I began this research in an attempt to discern differential regards for the river as a result of differing interaction. As the three themes above may have indicated, I found no significant variation in attitudes towards the James River among different types of users. Initially, I was fairly disappointed. However, with further thought during the process of writing my final paper, I have come to be fairly excited by this conclusion, which I will further discuss in my final two posts (Future Research and Final Product Summary).