Sydney Pedigo


Sprawl and Protest in the United States: How Spatial Conditions Relate to Protest Size and Cause

Advised by by Daniel D’Oca

Existing scholarship has extensively researched sprawl’s effect on human life, from health to civic participation. However, changing suburban demographics that depict increasing poverty and minority residents raise concerns about sprawl’s impact on political engagement for these groups. Acknowledging research on the tactics and importance of civil resistance, this thesis investigates the intersection of sprawl with protest, a highly spatialized form of political participation, through analysis of protest events and tactics in sprawling areas. The introduction of a dataset that tracks protests through media reports as well as research scoring sprawl factors allows for quantitative exploration of this question. Over 28,000 protest events from the Crowd Counting Consortium’s dataset and 700 county- level sprawl scores from Smart Growth America were analyzed using R Studio and GIS, with regression analyses showing significant correlations between protest attendance and cause with several sprawl factors. Certain causes, such as racial injustice, immigration, and environment as well as the sprawl factors of streets, density, and mix of uses correlate with protest size when held constant for county population. Semiformal interviews with environmental organizers in Houston, Texas, indicate that sprawl impacts their strategies for visibility, event planning, and communication with potential supporters. These preliminary findings merit discussion on adaptation of protest tactics to further political action in sprawled areas. More research is needed to understand potential causation between sprawl conditions and civil resistance as these demographics continue to shift.

Sydney Pedigo, MUP. An illustration of the United States of America with the words "protest" and "sprawl".