Florida in the summer

Blogger Steve Kelman explores the cultural contours of South Florida, including its interesting architecture and strange traffic patterns.

I have been attending the annual World Congress of the National Contract Management Association (the professional association for contracting professionals in government and industry), and will write both a blog post and a column about what I learned about contracting. The conference was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and in this post, I want to make a few observations about south Florida in the summertime. (My mother-in-law and my best friend both live in south Florida, so I actually get there pretty often, including in the summer.)

The first is that the summer weather in South Florida is typically not much different from that in Washington or even Boston. It was hot and muggy during this trip, but not more so than D.C. -- which in fact, was generally a few degrees hotter. Nonetheless, there were a surprising number of radio ads -- more than I hear on the radio in Washington or Boston -- promoting products or services around the theme of doing something about the unbearable hot summer weather. It would be interesting to see whether climate change has reduced the summer temperature differences between Washington and Florida -- whether they used to differ more than they do now.

Second, but somewhat related, one can easily see why the United States has a higher per capita consumption of energy than virtually every other country with our standard of living. To come into hotels is to enter an icebox; I am guessing lobby temperatures were set somewhere between 66 and 68 degrees (or about 20 C for non-U.S. blog readers), which can be uncomfortably cold when wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Why should interior temperatures in the summer be colder than we consider comfortable in the winter? (I am guessing that many people set summer temperatures in their homes at 68 and winter temperatures at 72, in both cases requiring more cooling or heating energy consumption. Why should there be a difference?)

Third, the local housing economy is still in trouble. In Bal Harbour, just north of Miami Beach, the uncompleted skeleton of a luxury St. Regis Hotel with condos remains deserted and spooky. A woman seeking to buy a condo told me banks are reluctant to approve mortgages where the value of the seller's unpaid mortgage is greater than the value of the house.

I also noted that cars on the secondary roads were travelling very, very slowly, typically just a mile or two above speed limits. Unfortunately that is not the case on I-95, with its dangerous mix of 85-year-olds who shouldn't be driving and drug dealers trying to make getaways. It appears that police in South Florida are using moving violations as a revenue source in tough economic times.

Having said all this, South Florida in many ways is bustling. The buildings are a tribute to the wonders that interesting paint colors can do: Otherwise dull buildings are really sparkled up through the mixture of turquoises, tans, blues, and pinks one sees everywhere. A good deal of the modern hotel and office architecture is also attractive, with interesting ornamentation in the form of spear-like objects angled out of the tops of buildings and unusual shapes or facades.


And it was fun to visit West Palm Beach, whose mayor, Lois Frankel, a high-school classmate, has done a fantastic job of dramatically redeveloping the downtown of this once down-and-out and still fairly poor city. It has an amazing new library that is incredibly welcoming for kids and that reminds one more of a Barnes and Noble bookstore than a boring public space.