Visible but often ignored : a mixed methods study exploring blight and littering in rural areas.


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Scholars, elected officials, and civic leaders frequently debate about community blight, including how to identify it and address it. Blight refers to both the built environment, for example, buildings and infrastructures, and the natural environment, for example, landscape appearance and lack of litter or human-made debris on the land. Blight is an issue argued and discussed in urban areas for nearly a century. However, the existing research lacks the depth and breadth of information specific to rural blight, as most existing literature focuses on urban blight. The literature review includes research on and in urban areas and explores how blight in rural areas may be similar or different. The conceptual framework examines the literature through the lenses of the Broken Windows Theory and Empowerment Theory. This mixed methods case study demonstrates how residents and business customers deal with blight and litter conditions in rural Grundy County, identified as in extreme poverty by the State of Tennessee. Statistical analyses using multilevel modeling shows the predictive behavior of an individual’s littering and the connection to the presence of existing blight or litter. The mixed methods research highlights individual’s attitudes toward blight and littering behavior from their lived experience and how these experiences influence the littering behavior and the community’s quality of life. This Problem of Practice describes attitudes, behaviors, and influences relating to blight and litter in a rural area. The research results provide an understanding of the willingness of individuals to keep the rural area clean and maintained, as well as the relationship between cleanliness and other blight indicators, such as litter, dilapidated building, or deteriorating infrastructure. This case study reports the experiences of residents and business customers recording blight, litter, and littering behavior through a process of observation and interviews. This research focuses on the blight and litter phenomena in public spaces providing a foundation for understanding the social connection or lack of personal connection that these individuals have with their neighborhood. This study adds to research on rural blight by showing a correlation between blight condition and litter and a lack of sense of place and community engagement.



Behavior. Blight. Community. Engagement. Litter. Rural areas.