Reflexive Gentrification of Working Lands in the American West: Contesting the 'Middle Landscape'


  • Jesse Abrams University of Oregon
  • John Bliss Oregon State University
  • Hannah Gosnell Oregon State University


The scenic rural landscape of Wallowa County, Oregon has attracted attention from affluent urban populations who value the physical setting and sense of rural authenticity of this remote setting. Since at least the 1990s, Wallowa County has experienced a wave of real estate investment by amenity-oriented populations, some of whom relocated permanently to the county and some of whom visit their properties only seasonally. Here, we apply the insights of rural gentrification scholarship to questions of land use and management. Specifically, we draw upon recent work on actor-oriented gentrification to highlight the ways in which land use is implicated in the reflexive processes of place (re)creation by gentrifier populations. In this case, many landowner-gentrifiers were acutely aware of their potential role in transforming the local landscape in ways which diminish local authenticity. An emergent discourse of "working lands" served as potential common ground for the imaginaries of both gentrifier and long-term resident populations. At the same time, landowner-gentrifiers instituted subtle but significant changes to land use practices in an attempt to reconcile their interests in consumption and protection with their interests in maintaining more traditional productivist practices. We interpret the working lands discourse as a manifestation of Leo Marx's concept of the "middle landscape," situated between the extremes of unpeopled wilderness and runaway capitalist production. Keywords: land use; amenity migration; land ownership change; rural gentrification; reflexivity