Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Studies and Public Affairs


Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs

First Advisor

Kellogg, Wendy

Subject Headings

Environmental Management, Public Administration, Public Policy, Urban Planning


This study explores the governance of an urban watershed using a combination of interpretive approach and resilience framework. The key idea within resilience and social ecological systems (SESs) discourse is to link 'human systems' (e.g. communities, society, economy) with 'natural systems' (e.g. ecosystems, biophysical elements) and to understand the interconnections and feedbacks between these systems. Under resilience thinking SESs (e.g. urban environmental) are viewed as complex adaptive systems, therefore, adaptive governance is key for maintaining long-term sustainability of these systems. With this study, I examine the case of the Cuyahoga River in Northeast Ohio, an urban watershed with legacy pollution and water quality issues, which in the recent times has also been recognized as an icon in water management. To do so, I conducted an interpretive analysis using a combination of political ethnography, interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA), and social network mapping. Specifically, I conduct a characterization and analysis of an urban watershed, bringing the resilience and SES frameworks to the study of urban SESs. I also develop a conceptual framework for analyzing urban watersheds based on SES dynamics and resilience attributes that are critical for building adaptive capacity, explicitly focusing on governance and management influences. Further, I explore what the networked approach to watershed governance in the Cuyahoga River watershed mean to the governance actors in terms of building long-term adaptive capacity. I suggest that using approach and through continued dialogue and discourse, governance actors create and bind policy meanings that overtime transforms governance. I suggest that the lessons drawn from this study will provide insights for watershed managers, public agencies, and non-governmental organizations to enhance their long-term capacity-building mechanisms and processes that support watershed planning, policy development, implementation and decision-making.