A tale of two coastal cities

This week’s blog comes from Molly Davis, a TAMU-CC undergraduate student interning with Harte Research Institute’s Socio-Economics Group and Regional Resilience Partnership.

Handmade sign that says “If you have brought it with you, please take it home. Leave nothing but footprints. #KeepWalesTidy” in Pwllheli, Wales. Photo by Molly Davis

Corpus Christi has grown close to my heart. The more time I spend on its beaches and with its people, the more I appreciate everything this city has to offer. But it’s no secret that Corpus Christi struggles with harmful beach & water pollution. For example, the 2021 Texas ‘Safe for Swimming” report states that the surrounding beaches contain water with unusually high levels of fecal matter due to sewage and animal manure runoff, making many beaches unsafe for swimming. The ever-growing population, currently around 317,863, adds increasing stress to the environment. Texas’s Coastal Bend experienced intense population growth within the past 10 years, earning the title of the 3rd largest port in the U.S., and construction builds through more natural spaces in Corpus Christi to contend with this growth. Increasingly, movements in Corpus Christi are advocating for the city to prioritize the environment and several non-profit organizations are doing admirable work, but I wonder how the city can continue to integrate more environmentally-conscious efforts.

This Christmas, I traveled to another coastal city across the globe- a quaint town known as Pwllheli, in Wales. With a population of 4,344, the town is quiet until, like Corpus Christi, it becomes a tourist hotspot in summer. Pwllheli is rich in world history and home to impressive mountains and bewitching vistas. I explored its beauty and observed much less trash in the environment compared to back home. I wondered, what made such a difference between these two coastal cities in terms of care for the environment?

What I noticed were cultural differences in the relationship the cities have regarding nature. Research shows that many factors influence our environmental behavior– including socioeconomic status, education, age, gender, and income. Not only does the culture of city residents affect the environment, but tourists do as well. Laws concerning the protection of land also significantly influence a community’s ability to affect natural spaces. However, understanding how our values and behaviors impact the environment is complex, going much deeper than my visual observations.

Apart from the factors above, I believe the Welsh value the land because it’s a connection to their family history. Pwllheli has a very close-knit community, with family lines traceable in this same town through history. I sensed first-hand just how connected the city is when I visited my extended family there. Everyone I met in town was either family or a family friend; they probably spotted me as a tourist from a mile away! The closeness and familiarity of the community stood out to me-  residents share not only the land, but family history too. These multigenerational families have lived in Pwllheli for decades; their old homes remain intact while new generations inhabit them. With a population growth rate of 1.07%, you don’t see many new families migrating here. Corpus Christi also has its share of multigenerational families with ties to the land and sea, however these populations aren’t as obvious amongst the fast-paced city growth. Both cities are similar in their proximity to the sea and tourism industries, yet from my personal observations it seems Pwllheli’s residents aren’t ‘lost in the crowd’ due to rapid growth. And while Corpus Christi leadership is currently reprioritizing natural resource stewardship, to me it seems evident one of Pwllheli’s focus has always been its environment.

So, how does the size and culture of a population relate to how they value the environment? The answer is far from simple. In Wales, I observed the connection the land has in the Welsh identity, a deeply ingrained respect mirrored in the care its people give to nature. The land is highly valued and a source of pride, and the small population allows its ecosystems to thrive. This is not to say that Corpus Christi residents do not have similar values. Certain populations, such as in Indigenous communities (as seen through their environmental work in the Indigenous Environmental Network since 1990) continue to be a voice for the local environment as development continues. The late Corpus Christi historian Murphy Givens documented the stories of many local families, like ranchers and fishing families, that have cared for the land and sea over many generations. However, it’s challenging for an entire community to value the land as ‘part of their identity’ when a growing percentage of the population are new residents. Corpus Christi doesn’t share the luxury of a small population compared to Pwllheli, but there’s still lots we can learn from coastal towns worldwide and our own native population.

Mass consumption and pollution is normalized; changing our mindsets to center on the environment could be transformative. Integrating pride in healthy landscapes into our identity is essential to driving cultural change.

If you’re looking to inspire this mindset in yourself and others, listed below are some ways you can be involved with environmental stewardship in the Corpus Christi area.

Islander Green Team volunteered to clean the beaches of Corpus Christi. Photo by Julia Nicholson.

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