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  • Remembrances of the Past, Concerns for the Future, and the Potential Resilience of a Southern Coastal Town
  • Gavin Paul Smith (bio)

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Summers involved swimming, diving from channel markers, crabbing, fishing, seining for shrimp and bait fish, windsurfing, and sailing. We roamed the neighborhood on foot or bike as the small town was easy to navigate, going from one friend’s house to another, stopping at common destinations along the way. Smith and friends standing on their handmade raft.

All photographs courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted.

[End Page 64]

Katrina, Ike, and Sandy—are these extreme events the new normal? The emerging realities of a changing climate, as manifest in sea level rise and more intense storms, further exacerbate risk in ways that we are struggling to understand and prepare for. The associated challenges are particularly acute in the multitude of small communities that dot our southern coasts. Yet for those of us lucky enough to call these special places home, living here provides a rich source of memories and a unique quality of life that is inextricably linked to the environmental conditions that are most threatened. As threats mount to this way of life, what can be done to help such places, and the memories they hold for current and future generations, endure?

In order to address this question, I will first offer my own autobiographical experiences associated with growing up in a southern coastal town and supplement them with historical accounts. Then I will discuss hurricanes Alicia and Ike, including how their effects on coastal communities were significantly exacerbated by a number of pre-event conditions, including unsustainable development practices that maximize economic gains at the expense of the environment and equitable decision-making processes—two pillars of sustainability. I will conclude with a series of recommendations that advance the concept of resilience, an idea that frames how we can adapt to living in an inherently hazardous and dynamic environment.

Nostalgia has often served to glorify an idealized past, belying a reluctance to change, accept more progressive ideas, or to take action to redress inequity. Here, nostalgia is intended to help elucidate concerns about the degradation of the natural environment and to inspire a new approach intended to sustain a unique way of life that is disappearing. These environmental changes can also provoke greater political activism focused on the preservation of place and the memories grounded there. Revisiting the past can inspire us to counteract unchecked growth, a disregard for nature, and the ensuing, largely predictable disasters that are particularly devastating to small coastal towns.

growing up in shoreacres, texas

I grew up in Shoreacres, Texas, located on the northwestern reach of Galveston Bay. My youth was spent exploring the bay, including its bayous, islands, and nearby shrimping villages. Summers involved swimming, diving from channel markers, crabbing, fishing, seining for shrimp and bait fish, windsurfing, and sailing. We roamed the neighborhood on foot or bike as the small town was easy to navigate, going from one friend’s house to another, stopping at common destinations along the way; the neighbor’s front yard where we played football, the soccer goal Dad and I built in our backlot, the neighborhood pier, and the “forts” we [End Page 65] constructed in the woods. We rode to nearby Kemah, filling our backpacks with shrimp just offloaded by shrimpers to boil with crabs we caught that morning.1


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I grew up in Shoreacres, Texas, located on the northwestern reach of Galveston Bay. My youth was spent exploring the bay, including its bayous, islands, and nearby shrimping villages.

On occasion we would sail or swim to what we called “the islands,” most of which were spoil banks located a couple of miles offshore. Getting to the islands by Sunfish (a small sailboat) or windsurfer was easy. Swimming was another matter, although not too hard, as most of us learned to swim at a young age. While Galveston Bay is shallow, rarely exceeding eight feet in depth, we tread water or floated on our backs when we grew tired as the bay’s muddy bottom didn’t offer sound...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 64-87
Launched on MUSE
2016-06-11
Open Access
No
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