Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Floodscapes? A Reading of Space-Making and Place-Making Processes in Regions Affected by Flood Hazard

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Floodscapes? A Reading of Space-Making and Place-Making Processes in Regions Affected by Flood Hazard

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. The study of flood hazard has been a key theme within the spatial analysis of natural hazards. A number of authors have expanded on this tradition by adopting a society-oriented approach to risk perception. Thus a new framework has become available for exploring social response to risk and describing the relationship between human communities and hazards in terms of contemporary interpretative categories such as social representation and "stigmatization," the latter defined as the process by which media and social actors mark places affected by disastrous events as dangerous and unsafe sites. This literature has made a vital contribution to the geographical reading of flood hazard, showing how flood risk generates both space- and place-making processes. In this paper I discuss the relationship between these two processes, suggesting that the political response to flood hazard may be viewed as a hetero-directed strategy that influences place-making at a local level. I illustrate this perspective using a field research conducted in 2006-2007 on the Po River Basin in Piemonte, an Italian region with high flood risk that has been affected by a series of events in recent decades. Keywords: flood hazard, "floodscapes", Piemonte, space-making, place-making.

Between November 1994 and October 2000, Piemonte, an administrative region of northern Italy, was struck twice by widespread flooding. The first event mainly affected the southwest and central areas of the Po Basin, claiming--within these areas--considerable damage in 197 different municipalities, corresponding to approximately 3,700 square kilometers. The 2000 flood event, the largest in recent history, impacted the whole region, affecting in particular the north and the plain area straddling the provinces of Vercelli and Alessandra, known as the Asta piemontese del flume Po (Figure 1). Within these areas, the flood claimed major damage in 227 municipalities, corresponding to approximately 6,700 square kilometers (Regione Piemonte 2000a). Compared with major contemporary events affecting great European river basins (see Table I), both the 1994 and 2000 floods were low-magnitude and medium-scale events. However, in the area under study, the floods played a key role in the processes of space- and place-making. The term space-making specifically refers to the set of strategies, measures, and material objects through which political institutions act on areas affected by a series of floods in order to control, and to communicate their control, over future hazards. Place-making, on the other hand, refers to the set of processes through which social actors give meaning to the places where floods occurred.' These processes are influenced by their personal experience (Tuan 1975), by the social roles they play at local level, and by the interpretation they give to the space-making processes led by political institutions.

EVENT           COUNTRIES AFFECTED

August 1983     Spain

February 1987   Former USSR

May 1987        Poland

August 1987     Switzerland

November 1989   Spain

September 1993  France and Italy

January 1994    U.K.

November 1994   Italy (River Po basin)

October 2000    Italy (River Po basin)

October 2000    U.K.

August 2002     Germany, Austria Czech Rep.,
                Hungary, and Romania

Piemonte is a region vulnerable to flooding due to a number of climatic, morphological, and anthropogenic factors: the absence of a medium-altitude mountain range to act as a buffer between the Alps and the lower-altitude areas, the high number of torrential tributaries, the concentration of peaks of rainfall in short periods of time during spring and autumn, and the intensive use of plain areas along the rivers for agriculture and the extraction of building materials from the riverbeds (Regione Piemonte z000b). Consequently, during the second half of the last century, the region was affected by a long series of floods of varying magnitude and scale: some were linked to major events affecting the entire Po Basin such as those of November 1994 and October 2000, while others were more local, such as the events of November 1968 and August 1987. …

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