The Climate of Art Fairs

20 07 2013

art fair stormIt’s Art Fair week in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This can mean only one thing… ridiculously hot, humid weather with no overnight relief, and at least one torrential thunderstorm. Thousands of people from across the country flock to this city every year to display and explore the many arts and crafts that fill the streets for four days. You might not find the art-on-a-stick you were searching for, but one thing is certain. The unpredictable weather is the only predictable thing about this climate!


art fairDespite the cold winters and stunning springs, summer here never ceases to amaze me with its dripping humidity, rivaling Houston. We either get comfortable 70s for highs, or 95 and humid. There’s little in between, it seems. Meanwhile, denizens of the mitten are battling to maintain their Midwestern niceties after 6 days in a row of excessive heat warnings. We’ve lost our cool.

While folks love to live here because of the ever-changing seasons, it also makes it harder to adapt. They say that if you don’t like the weather in Michigan, just wait 5 minutes. It’s true, it is highly variable. This also means that by the time you’ve figured out how to live in one set of conditions, the rules change. How are people supposed to be expected to know the precise conditions in which it makes sense to open your windows to allow a cool breeze in, or when to close them to keep out the heat?

This is where some other climates have an advantage. When you live in Texas or Thailand, you have a pretty good idea of what conditions you will face each and every day, with a slow and gradual transition between summer and ‘winter.’ There are tried and true methods to beat the heat, including a plunge into the icy cold spring-fed waters of Barton Springs. Just a quick dip in this conveniently dammed-up river will cool you to your core, and leave you feeling refreshed for the next several hours.

climate fan

In most northern states, you can depend on a warm summer, but rarely does the humidity slap you in the face the way it does once it’s crossed the great lakes. So, we crank up the A/C, suffer through power outages, and complain on Facebook. Within a week- two at the absolute max- it will be over. And we will have learned nothing about living in extreme weather.

One of the predominate conversations currently taking place in the sustainability realm is talk about adaptation. Our global conditions are warming, permanent changes are happening to our climates as we know them. Hardiness zones are creeping, with warmer weather plants thriving where they never used to grow. And if we don’t learn to adapt to our new reality, we face a very rough future. We can no longer simply say, “Turn off your A/C” and expect the world to go back to ‘normal.’ No, now we must both mitigate the conditions AND adapt our own designs to reflect our climate change conditions.

climate heatSo, as sweat rolls down my back, I learn to walk on the shady side of the street instead of the sunny side, and instead of getting in my hybrid car and driving half a mile to get breakfast. I wear lighter, more casual clothing at work to moderate my own body temperature instead of wearing a suit and cranking down the thermostat. As a planning commissioner, I learn to demand more shady trees lining sidewalks in my community. As an architect, I suggest that new developments incorporate rain gardens into their site plans to buffer the severe rain events that are growing ever more common and overloading our cities’ infrastructures.

I may not be able to teach the world, but we can teach each other. Go move your temperature from 72 to 78 and sit under a ceiling fan. You’ll be amazed how comfortable you can be, and how much electricity you will save when you take the time to learn, and adapt, to our changing climate.



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