A lecture by Dr Gregory Simon, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver.
This seminar considers the interrelationship between (a) regional characterisations of fire-prone landscapes including scientific portrayals of wildfire and their associated risks and (b) resulting public sector management responses to urbanisation and Climate change. It presents a case study focused on the American West, and parts of California in particular where wildfire vulnerability around the region is growing due in part to policy framings that tend to overlook important economic drivers of social risk.
Suburban landscapes are lucrative landscapes. From land use extraction activities to private fire mitigation services, diverse groups extract profits from these areas, thus leveraging the suburban landscape as a source of prosperity and wealth. Over time, the generation of financial benefits has coincided with the production and maintenance of social vulnerabilities. Directly confronting these profit-seeking activities will require challenging the underlying socio-economic drivers that produce elevated fire activity. And yet, contemporary management and scientific discourses on fire tend to de-politicize landscapes of the American West and the social origins of fire disasters. Media reporting on wildfires, for example, allows certain explanations of regional social-environmental change to go unchallenged. Injurious and costly wildfires are "spun" as strangely natural and inevitable. Meanwhile, a series of corollary debates contribute to a process of re-politicisation – as other contested issues come to occupy the discursive arena of disagreement. We are left tinkering around the edge of the problem, constantly putting out little fires, instead of grappling with the root cause of the major blaze itself. This study also considers the use and implications of 'regional' designations in planning as a way of characterising and managing diverse and risky areas.
Organised by the RMIT Urban Research Centre in conjunction with the EU Centre at RMIT.