On a recent trip with my family to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, I was struck by the difficulty we faced in finding access to the beachfront. Oceanfront property, consisting mainly of condominiums, hotels, and palatial estates, occupies almost the entire coast. While no one (as yet) has found a way to privatize the beach, since much of it spends part of the day under high tide, the net result in many communities is that legal beach access is restricted to property owners fortunate enough to afford the astronomical costs of oceanfront real estate, or to renters who can find reasonably priced lodging.
The community of Emerald Isle, which is located near the southern end of the Outer Banks, makes for a relevant case study. There are two public beach access points in the community, neither of which has a parking lot. Signs posted on the nearby streets warn would-be scofflaws that parking bans are vigorously enforced, and the visibility of the bubble-topped police cruisers reinforces that threat. Many of the business establishments feature similar warnings on parking restrictions, leaving travelers who wish to visit the beach without the legal means to do so.
Thus, can barriers to a “public” beach be created that, in effect, privatize it?