Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Patricia Freeland

Committee Members

Robert Cunningham, Robert Gorman, David Ostermeier


Marion County, Tennessee was formed in 1817 and currently all seven cities within its boundaries combined account for 34,202 (thousand) acres. Within a short period time, Marion County will experience over 40,000 (thousand) acres of traditional forestland being converted to private, rural residential development. These former forested tracts are all located in remote areas of the county with very few existing public services. The intent of this dissertation is to demonstrate how government structure and funding mechanisms result in a type of rural sprawl that is rapidly fragmenting thousands of acres throughout Tennessee and the United States as timber companies sell their forest lands to private developers. This dissertation contends that local governments in Tennessee are not designed by state statute to address the public need of open space and recreation; nor does their fragmented institutional structure result in well-planned decisions related to growth. As a result, private development interests appear to determine how land is divided and utilized in the rural counties of Tennessee and specifically the South Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.

This dissertation will explore how devolution has created a climate whereby local officials support and encourage rural growth for the rational purpose of revenue production, without considering the potential negative consequences of unplanned growth. The first case study of this dissertation outlines a series of actions taken by various governmental actors in response to a recent drought situation where towns were running out of drinking water, while rural water lines were being extended to new development. The second case study chronologically outlines specific actions taken by governmental units to consider whether to sell recreation land for private development. The third case study chronologically outlines a series of actions taken to limit sprawl through conservation with the support of local officials. Each case study occurred simultaneously in one county with interrelated governmental actors and events.

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