Conserving the rural landscape of the texas hill country: a place identity-based approach



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Landscape change induced by population growth and urban development is impacting the ecosystem goods and services provided by open space, which is essential to supporting many urban and rural populations. Conserving open space cannot be attained without obtaining public support especially in a state like Texas where most open space is privately owned. This dissertation was aimed at exploring the role of place identity as an intrinsic incentive for landowner involvement in conserving open space threatened by landscape change. Four objectives addressed in this research include: 1) defining place identity and identifying its underlying dimensions; 2) developing and refining a place-identity scale; 3) developing and testing a conceptual framework to explain the relationships among commitment, place identity, behavior/behavioral intention to manifest place identity, and perception of landscape change; and 4) drawing implications for open space conservation. Identity theory and identity control theory were applied to conceptualize place identity and develope structural models for hypothesis testing. Place identity was defined as comprising meanings that individuals ascribe to a place through their interaction with that place and become defining elements of their self-identity. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used in this research. Results from semi-structured interviews with a convenience sample of landowners in the Texas Hill Country were used to develop the place-identity scale. Survey data from randomly selected Hill Country landowners were used in confirmatory factor analysis, mean and covariance structure analysis, and invariance testing based on the covariance structure to test and refine measures, to compare differences between landowner groups, and to test hypotheses. Findings suggested that identity theory and identity control theory provided valuable insight to place identity in the face of change. Results also supported a model of place identity comprised of cognitive and affective dimensions, and identified variations among individuals in their affective place-identity. Moreover, findings indicated that both dimensions exhibited different effects on identity-related behavior/behavioral intention under the influence of landscape change. Implications were provided for engaging landowners in open space conservation. This dissertation addresses several research gaps, and also raises questions important in understanding and applying place identity to promoting conservation.