No access

The beach is not for you, peasants.

Public health officials promote exercise and fresh air during citywide lockdowns, and virologists have said it’s largely safe to be outside as long as people observe physical distancing. But, as the Guardian reported earlier this week, 100 million Americans, especially people of color and poor communities, don’t have access to a decent park or public space, which includes beaches.

Now, as many communities in the north-east start to open up, they have decided to keep their shores closed to outsiders. In Connecticut, home to what Kahrl calls the country’s most “exclusionary coastline”, beaches are requiring residential passes to park near the shore. In Long Island, a cluster of suburbs near New York City, county officials have made it clear that people from the city are not welcome.

Wo. Not cool. Public land is public land. There are a number of city parks on the water in Seattle – some on Puget Sound, some on Elliott Bay, some on Lake Washington, one surrounding Green Lake; I’ve never been asked to show proof of residence at any of them. (There is also one private beach up in the northwest corner, and it annoys me. It’s fenced off.) Public land is public.

Oyster Bay, a quiet hamlet on Long Island with private beaches, normally allows non-residents to visit the beach on weekdays, but not on weekends. Throughout the pandemic, however, all of its beaches have remained closed to outsiders.

Joseph Saladino, the Oyster Bay supervisor, said the hamlet has erected barriers at the local train station, and entry points to the beach to make sure that only residents can enter. “We understand the beach offers a place for recreation but also an emotional renewal of sorts,” Saladino said. But he said the restrictions were necessary to keep the capacity under 50%, and protect the residents who pay taxes in Oyster Bay.

People in Manhattan pay taxes in Manhattan, that doesn’t give them the right to keep everyone else out of Manhattan. It doesn’t work like that.

Public space advocates agree there is a real risk of beachgoers posing a threat to public health – young people in Miami during spring break in March, for example, ended up spreading Covid-19 to other parts of the country because the beaches were completely unregulated and had no distancing restrictions.

Unlike parks, many beaches have also been at least partly closed throughout the lockdown, and when they open people might seize the opportunity in droves. “I think there will be a flood of users,” Walker said.

But the solution, she said, is not restricting access to beaches. It’s continuing to open more public spaces, like pedestrian roadways, and coming up with community-driven, creative ways to remind people to take precautions. In Detroit, for example, there was a project to open urban beaches for residents. And Walker pointed out artists making public health signs instead of law enforcement.

You could also have maximum occupancy rules but apply them to everyone, local or not. Public land is public land.

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