Urbanization and barrier islands

Source" beg.utexas.edu

Source: beg.utexas.edu

Barrier islands provide a critical (and fragile) natural defense against wave action, swells, storm surges, and coastal storms. In the United States these unique geological features border the Gulf Coast of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, while on the Atlantic Coast they can be found from Florida northward to New York State. They can also be found along portions of Mexico’s Gulf and Caribbean coasts as well as around Cuba. While found around the globe, long barrier islands do not seem to be quite as prevalent of a geographic, geologic, or topographic phenomenon outside of North America.

Developed barrier island - Source: licensing.pixels.com

Developed barrier island – Source: licensing.pixels.com

For those cities located either wholly or largely on barrier islands, there are a number of specialized planning issues which are unique to urban settings, not the least of which is the need for large-scale emergency evacuation plans in event of a tsunami warning or due to severe storms such as hurricanes and Nor’easters. Other important planning issues which are unique to many island communities, but particularly narrow barrier islands, include, but are not limited to:

  • Access to/from the mainland is necessary via bridges, causeways, tunnels, air service, or ferry.
  • Limited land available for transportation corridors paralleling the coastline which can lead to congested traffic during peak periods.
  • Limited options for on-island public water well resources and/or sanitary sewer treatment facilities.
  • Finding inland locations necessary for sanitary waste disposal.
  • Preservation and conservation of the fragile ecosystem which protect the nearby mainland from storms.
  • Potential for flooding and inundation from rising tides, from increasing ocean levels, and from storm surges coming from multiple directions.
  • Dune protection and beach erosion.
  • Rare flora and fauna on the islands as well as the adjacent bays, marshes, lagoons, and tidal flats.
  • Extent of impervious surface coverage.
Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico - Source: com-hd.net

Satellite view of Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico – Source: com-hd.net

Here’s a list of the largest cities in North America which are located totally on or almost entirely on barrier islands along with their 2010 population or most recent estimate (minimum 2,500 residents). Whenever possible, cities which became situated on islands due to human made projects like the Intracoastal Waterway are not included in the list.

  1. Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico: 169,466
  2. Miami Beach, Florida: 91,026
  3. Coney Island (part of New York City), New York: approx, 60,000
  4. Galveston, Texas: 47,743
  5. Atlantic City, New Jersey: 39,558
  6. Hilton Head, South Carolina: 37,675
  7. Long Beach, New York: 33,395
  8. Sunny Isle Beach, Florida: 20,832
  9. Fort Walton Beach Florida: 20,597
  10. Marco Island, Florida: 16,413
  11. Wilmington Island, Georgia: 15,138
  12. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: 14,118
  13. St. Simons Island, Georgia: 13,381
  14. Destin, Florida: 13,264
  15. Key Biscayne, Florida: 12,832
  16. Isla Mujeres, Mexico: 12,642
  17. Ocean City, New Jersey: 11,701
  18. Fernandina Beach, Florida: 11,592
  19. Cocoa Beach, Florida: 11,325
  20. Ventnor City, New Jersey: 10,650
  21. Satellite Beach, Florida: 10,333
  22. Cape Canaveral, Florida: 9,988
  23. Brigatine, New Jersey: 9,450
  24. St. Pete Beach, Florida: 9,346
  25. Palm Beach, Florida: 8,649
  26. Skidaway Island, Georgia: 8,341
  27. Indian Harbour Beach, Florida: 8,290
  28. Ocean City, Maryland: 7,102
  29. Longboat Key, Florida: 7,082
  30. Oak Island, North Carolina: 6,783
  31. Treasure Island, Florida: 6,768
  32. Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina: 6,683
  33. Fort Myers Beach, Florida: 6,676
  34. Siesta Key, Florida: 6,565
  35. Sanibel, Florida: 6,469
  36. Margate City, New Jersey: 6,354
  37. Lauderdale-by-the Sea, Florida: 6,391
  38. Isla Aguada, Mexico: 6,204
  39. Miramar Beach, Florida: 6,146
  40. Surfside, Florida: 5,744
  41. Wildwood, New Jersey: 5,325
  42. Madeira Beach, Florida: 4,320
  43. Indian Rocks Beach, Florida: 4,179
  44. Mary Esther, Florida: 4,141
  45. Isle of Palms, South Carolina: 4,133
  46. North Wildwood, New Jersey: 4,041
  47. Holmes Beach, Florida: 3,836
  48. Port Aransas, Texas: 3,380
  49. Kitty Hawk, North Carolina: 3,272
  50. Wildwood Crest, New Jersey: 3,270
  51. Melbourne Beach, Florida: 3,137
  52. Tybee Island, Georgia: 2,990
  53. Seaside Heights, New Jersey: 2,887
  54. South Padre Island, Texas: 2,816
  55. Nags Head, North Carolina: 2,757
  56. Indiatlantic, Florida: 2,755
  57. Pensacola Beach, Florida: 2,738
  58. Folly Beach, South Carolina: 2,617
  59. Bal Harbour, Florida: 2,613

Nearly all of the communities listed above are part of a much larger urbanized region such as New York City, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Houston, Corpus Christi, Savannah, Charleston, Pensacola, Melbourne, Fort Myers, Naples, Brownsville, and Atlantic City. Any localized planning efforts associated with the developed barrier islands must also take into account the regional impacts to adjacent and nearby mainland cities.




This entry was posted in cities, economic development, environment, geography, Geology, history, humanity, infrastructure, land use, Mexico, nature, North America, planning, pollution, rivers/watersheds, spatial design, Statistics, sustainability, tourism, urban planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Urbanization and barrier islands

  1. Erin Bierly says:

    Hi Rick! I used to live in #11. Quite a different experience to live there…locals commented they had their own unique ecosystem! Still not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Thanks for the lowdown. I learned something new today! 🙂

    Greater Savannah was on that list 3 times (Skidaway, Wilmington and Tybee). LOTS of congestion due to the limited roadways between the marshes. I miss the smell of the marsh air…it even made the shower water smelled like an outdoor shower indoors…pretty cool.



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