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  • The Conditions of Coastality
  • David A. Plane (bio)

Presidential Address delivered to the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, 67th Annual Meeting, San Luis Obispo, California, September 11, 2004

Introduction: The Peculiar Academic Custom of the Presidential Address, Butterfly Collections, and a Grain of Salt

I shall begin my talk tonight by noting that a Presidential Address at an academic professional meeting is a rather peculiar tradition. Though the APCG President's address may not rank at the top of the list of peculiar regional customs (it's not as bad an idea as, say, slavery) still you have to wonder. Here we are, coming up on the very end of this fine conference. Presumably at this point you've already sat through innumerable paper presentations. Some of those you perhaps found rather stimulating; certain others probably left you with that special conference feeling. You know the one: that sort of glazing compound made up of too little sleep, too much beer, too much PowerPoint? And now, after ingesting and imbibing in a fine banquet feast here at the fun and funky Madonna Inn, how in the world can we sit still and subject ourselves to yet another ponderous academic paper? No wonder they call us eggheads!

Over the past dozen years I have served as the executive secretary of another professional association, one somewhat akin to the APCG: the Western Regional Science Association (WRSA). One of the numerous jobs that my august position with that group entails is working each year with the newly selected WRSA president in planning the presidential address at the banquet. I've come to a couple of conclusions as a result of those experiences—as well as from having sat in the audience for quite a few such addresses. My first contention is that the best talks are short (I promise this one's going to be a resounding success from that standpoint!). My second is that certain personality traits that help individuals become recognized scholars don't necessarily equip them to be good after-dinner [End Page 9] speakers. A lot of us are shy introverts, having spent our formative years sprawled out alone across our beds, noses in books, rather than getting out and about, being sociable. When given the big chance to write a presidential address, academics sometimes lack perspective: we fail to foresee that our colleagues might not be as intrinsically fascinated as we ourselves are in viewing every last specimen in our own personal butterfly collections.

So rather than present a longwinded peroration tonight about my own current research findings—describing every fascinating species I've recently collected—I'd simply like to toss out a few ideas that have been percolating up through my recent thoughts. I'd like to develop a few ideas about the current and future population geography and settlement patterns of western North America, about the evolution of the Pacific Rim as a region, and—perhaps appropriate for a talk here in "mid-coast" California—about what I shall term the "Conditions of Coastality."

But look, before we dive into that? Let me warn you: you should probably take everything I've got to say with a grain of salt. Because what does a shy bookish guy from Arizona know about saltwater and beaches, anyhow?

Coasts, Accessibility, Cores, and Current U.S. Internal Migration Patterns

A coast is the land next to the sea. But it's not necessarily just the beaches and the cliffs (which we sometimes refer to as the coastline); it's the region adjoining that interface. In the U.S., "The Coast" more often than not means the Pacific Coast. Not the Atlantic Seaboard, nor "The Shore," nor the Tidewater, nor Downeast. Historically Americans have talked of going out to the coast, of moving out west. But when the Boston dowager was asked what route she had taken to drive to Los Angeles, she sniffed "we traveled via Worcester."

The Northeast has had a long-term lock on considering itself the nation's core. The Pacific region, by contrast, is sometimes synonymous with the "Far West"; it's somewhere out there, way out past New Jersey—as far out as...


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