Beach towns younger but still very white
One real estate agent speculates that the high cost of living may be keeping minorities away from the beaches.
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001
A few more people. A lot more children. And, as has been the case for decades, the beaches are overwhelmingly white.
The color barrier remains real on the barrier islands: Of the 35,669 people who live in the 10 cities between Belleair Beach and St. Pete Beach, 138 are African-Americans.
The U.S. Census Bureau released its first batch of numbers Tuesday from Census 2000, and although more detailed information will be released periodically during the next year, the numbers already reveal a younger face for the Pinellas beach, though it's essentially the same color.
Redington Shores, for example, reported no African-Americans in 1990; in 2000, there were five.
The exception along the coast is Gulfport, which more than doubled its number of African-Americans -- from 391 in 1990 to 884 in 2000. Whites now make up 89.4 percent of the population in Gulfport.
The increase reflects a natural migration from the traditionally black neighborhoods of St. Petersburg, said Lou Brown of Lou Brown Realty in St. Petersburg. Brown, who is black, remembers being chased out of Gulfport and onto the St. Petersburg side of 49th Street as a boy.
In the past 10 years, the number of African-Americans living in Gulfport increased by 126 percent, and now they make up 7.1 percent of the city's population.
The barrier islands have been slower to change.
Brown said he thinks the low number of minorities could be blamed on the high cost of living on the beach, among other factors.
He suggested that although some overt racism may still exist in predominantly white neighborhoods like those found on the barrier islands, he blames the low numbers more on the fact that African-Americans historically have felt uncomfortable there.
Combine that with the fact that "no one wants to be a pioneer," Brown said. "There is the old perception, and it may not still be valid, but it was valid for so many years, that African-Americans just aren't welcome."
Tierra Verde has the highest number of African-Americans as a percentage of its total population.
Still, the number is quite low: 1.7 percent of that community's residents are black.
The increased number of children on the beaches, once the domain of retirees and seasonal residents, came as no surprise in St. Pete Beach, where the city has been working to improve its parks and dealing with traffic issues in neighborhoods such as Vina Del Mar, where young families are common.
Citywide, St. Pete Beach has 8 percent more residents. The under-18 age group, however, grew by 38 percent.
"Clearly, we see it each and every day, but it's hard to put it together," City Manager Carl Schwing said. "We have started a new life cycle in St. Pete Beach."
Other cities following the trend are Treasure Island, where the population grew 3 percent while the under-18 population grew 17 percent; and South Pasadena, where the population remained relatively stagnant with 2 percent growth while the under-18 age group grew by 48 percent.
Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores went against trend, reporting faster growth in their total populations than in the under-18 age group.
Those cities also went against the tide in Tampa Bay, where Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties all reported faster population growth rates among children than in the general population.
Countywide, the under-18 age group climbed 17 percent in Pinellas, compared with 8 percent for the total population.
In 1972, when Eddie Gayton was 7 years old and growing up among the retirees and rock lawns of the Isle of Palms in Treasure Island, he was an anomaly.
Now his 41/2-year-old daughter has plenty of children in their Isle of Palms neighborhood.
"I think she's pretty lucky. They're all about the same age, all these kids," Gayton said. "I had maybe four or five people between me and my brother's age group to hang out with."
For more information about Census 2000, visit http://factfinder.census.gov
Related Census 2000 coverage
Beverly Hills grows younger
Population surge washes over eastern Pinellas
Census surprise: City is shrinking
County's population blooming
Beach towns younger but still very white
Challenge zone sees population shrinking
Back to Census 2000