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Book Chronicles State’s Geography

geo.jpgBy Jane Nicholson

BOONE–Everyone is a geographer at heart. Think of the times you have searched a welcome center state map or shopping mall display for the “you are here” arrow.

But while most of us are familiar with locational geography, we seldom move past a road map or atlas to explore the various economic, political and population patterns that occur in relation to state or regional geography.

Three Appalachian State University geography professors have done just that with publication of the second edition of “North Carolina: People and Environments.”

The 600-page book chronicles the state’s geography from a population, climate, economic and environmental perspective.

Authors Ole Gade, Art Rex and Jim Young call it a text for all North Carolinians. They say it’s a valuable resource for libraries, teachers, state decision makers, college students and homeowners – in short, anyone who seeks a geographic perspective of issues affecting North Carolina.

“The state is in the throes of changes that dramatically affect its natural environment and inhabited neighborhoods, not always in a positive manner,” the professors write in the book’s introduction.

“Geographers are concerned with people and their environments, how those relationships change over time,” Gade said.

The book chronicles the state’s population shifts, including African-Americans’ movement from rural to urban areas, the growth of the Asian population, and the almost 400 percent growth in the Hispanic population from 1990 to 2000.

“The Hispanic population now has moved beyond solely being participants in the migrant farm labor workforce in the coastal region. They are now a permanent fixture in almost all our counties,” Gade said. The Hispanic population has established roots across the state, including Spanish-speaking churches, food stores, restaurants and other businesses.

Equally interesting to the geographers is the emergence of a new urban development theme they call Main Street. This geographic area is defined as a 21-county band stretching along interstates 85 and 40 from Charlotte and Raleigh to Fayetteville. It accounts for 50 percent of the state’s population. It is larger in area and population than the Atlanta metropolitan region.

“This is where the economic development is occurring in the state,” Gade said. Instead of suffering from the “brain drain” that occurred during the 1950s, the state is attracting young, dynamic, well-educated people because of the diverse job opportunities along Main Street, he said.

Young created more than 250 maps for the book to illustrate the state’s growth. “Maps are major tools for geographers, so one of the things we wanted to do was use maps to illustrate some of the patterns that exist now and the patterns that have changed,” he said.

Rex contributed to chapters about the state’s physical geography and environment. “The thing I found most striking, as I see the state change, is how people have temporarily conquered nature. They are building on the very fragile and unstable coastal regions. And in the mountains, they are building on steeper and steeper slopes. Technology has expanded peoples’ roles here.”

The maps help illustrate the issues facing the state, including the urban sprawl that the authors say is devouring the landscape.

“It’s not just the issues of human population growth that are critical,” Rex said. We have to look at how we are going to move population, how an increase in transportation arteries, pollution from vehicles, will impact the state.”

Rex writes how the state’s fragile environment is being affected by industrial, agricultural, mining, forestry and population growth and development pressures. He writes that finding a balance between these often-competing factors is critical.

Gade, Rex and Young note encouraging trends toward protecting the state’s environment through growth in land conservation groups and conservancies in the state.

Also, the legislature created the North Carolina Smart Growth Commission in 1999 that recommended protection of the state’s wetlands and beaches, increased funding to protect farmland and build affordable housing, and encouraged local governments to coordinate land use regulations to manage growth.

“North Carolina: People and Environments” is available from Parkway Publishers in Boone (


Ole Gade, Department of Geography and Planning, (828) 262-7050

Art Rex, Department of Geography and Planning,

(828) 262-7057

Jim Young, Department of Geography and Planning, (828) 262-3000

Jane Nicholson, University News, (828) 262-2345

Picture Caption: Ole Gade, left, Art Rex and Jim Young are the authors of “North Carolina: People and Environments.” The Appalachian State University geographers’ book chronicles the state’s geography from the mountains to the coast. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)