Books for the News, Cartography and Geography

Eroding Shores, Eroding Boundaries

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Last weekend’s New York Times magazine featured a fascinating article about the clash among property lines, public land, and the tides of the Gulf in the coastal community of Destin, Florida. The article raises some important questions. Who owns the beach? Does private property trump public good? And what happens when Mother Nature washes away property lines? In the piece, titled “A Stake in the Sand,” author Andrew Rice chronicles the legal battle seaside homeowner launched against the state of Florida; rather than pump in new sand to replenish the eroded beach, the home owners preferred to allow natural erosion to runs it course and, in so doing, keep their beachfront off limits to the tanning masses. As Rice writes:

This “nourishment” program, which involves an expensive process of dredging and pumping submerged sand back onto beaches, has been around for four decades and is one of Florida’s more popular public initiatives, a lifeline for many communities in a tourism-dependent state. So it came as a great surprise when, in Destin, the prospect of restoring the shore ran into fierce opposition. The battle over the beach, featuring charges of extremism, selfishness and dirty dealing, started as a typical squabble at town hall. But last December, it culminated with an argument before the United States Supreme Court. The legal case is complicated, but at its crux, it presents a conflict between private property rights and the public interest, one in which the court is weighing abstruse issues of eroding and accreting power.

The thought-provoking article has all the hallmarks of a case-study from one of celebrated geographer Mark Monmonier’s books. In fact, the dispute in Destin overlaps with two of the prolific author’s recent works. In 2008, the Press published Coast Lines, a look at the challenges posed by irregular land-water boundaries perturbed by tides and storms. And next month, Monmonier will offer No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control. Here, he explores restrictive cartography—maps that impede where we go and what we do—and shows how much boundaries influence our experience—from homeownership and voting to taxation and airline travel. For those Destin homeowners who put up “Keep Out” and “No Trespassing” signs or who seek to redraw the coastlines with their litigation, and for anyone fascinated by human nature’s need to grid and control our environment, these books are essential reading to contextualize this debate.
After you finish reading Rice’s through provoking article, be sure to check out all of Monmonier’s books. By looking closely at cartography, Monmonier reveals hidden agendas and eye-opening surprises in the seemingly innocuous lines on maps.