Mapping ambivalence: Exploring the geographies of community change and rails-to-trails development using photo-based Q method and PPGIS

Timothy Hawthorne, John Krygier, Mei Po Kwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As the literature on trail development suggests, recreational trail projects can generate conflicts and controversies, particularly when built on abandoned rail corridors through developed areas. These conflicts are often understood as "not in my back yard" (NIMBY) reactions, suggesting a spatial proximity to conflict which increases as one draws closer to the proposed trail. This research seeks to understand local residents' perceptions and reactions to recreational trail development in the City of Delaware (Ohio, USA). It addresses two spatially infused questions: Does the potential for conflict related to trail development increase as people live closer to a potential trail (the NIMBY factor)? Can important qualitative factors about favorable and unfavorable land uses including potential recreational trail sites be defined using a participatory methodology and then represented in GIS? The study used a mixed-method approach to collect and analyze qualitative data from a group of local residents. Each participant was interviewed and asked to sort 19 pictures related to trail development. After each of the sorts, participants were asked to explain why they ranked the pictures the way they did. Results of the picture sorts were then analyzed using Q method and mapped with GIS. The results show that spatial proximity matters in the context of trail development and potential NIMBY reactions to trails. Significant differences were found in the picture sorts that reveal the importance of proximity and location, although in a manner contrary to the assumptions in the writings on rails-to-trails. Through combining qualitative methods, Q analysis and PPGIS analysis, the research shows that qualitative place-based studies are capable of generating insights about the complexities of situated geographic change such as recreational trail development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1058-1078
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • GIS
  • Ohio
  • Q method
  • Qualitative method
  • Recreational trails

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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