The power of place in disaster recovery: Heritage-based practice in the post-Matthew landscape of Princeville, North Carolina

Lindsey Naylor, Virginia Fall, and Andrew Fox
Posted on: 2/05/2020 - Updated on: 2/05/2020

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This article examines shortcomings and possible improvements to standard post-disaster recovery processes through the lens of recovery in Princeville, North Carolina, the oldest black town in the United States. Princeville has faced existential challenges since it was settled in the Tar River floodplain in 1865, most recently in 2016 with flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew. The article describes the power of place attachment and the trauma caused by place-based disaster. It points out that significant rebuilding typically begins a full three years into a standard recovery timeline. And it argues that in the midst of that recovery process, our identification of significant landscapes—i.e., landscapes worth protecting and restoring—is too heavily driven by the object-oriented standards of traditional historic preservation. This article describes work coordinated by North Carolina State University design faculty in partnership with the town of Princeville to supplement abstract, top-down recovery processes with practice that is landscape-based and interactive, that marks histories and establishes concrete symbols of ongoing life, and that promises to help displaced communities to build social-ecological resilience and to heal. This type of work will only become more vital as more communities face climate-induced disasters and the need to rebuild. By describing the impetus and possible impact of NC State’s post-disaster work with Princeville, this article seeks to start a conversation about how our recovery processes can better recognize the power of place and the role of the land as a vehicle for resilience and healing.