How Geography Influences Politics in Central Florida

Central Florida is a region of the United States that encompasses the Tampa Bay area and the Orlando metropolitan area, with a population of over 15 million. Different sources give different definitions for the region, but it is generally said to comprise the central part of the state. The two metropolitan areas blend into the Lakeland area to form a larger adjoining population center, often referred to as the I-4 corridor. Central Florida is primarily a plain with significant amounts of open space and more than 1,500 lakes and ponds.

There is a mix of wetlands, cypress forests, oaks, maples and pines, pastures, prairies and coastline. Major lakes include Lake Apopka, Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake East Tohopekaliga, Lake Louisa, Lake Monroe, Lake Jessup, and the Butler chain of lakes. There are more than 100 miles (160 km) of coastline in Central Florida along the Atlantic coast. Major beaches include Canaveral National Seashore, New Smyrna Beach, Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach and Indialantic Beach, near Melbourne.

Central Florida has a subtropical climate with dry and mild winters with an average maximum temperature in Orlando of 22°C (71°F) and an average winter low temperature of 9°C (49°F). Summers are hot and humid with high temperatures of 33 °C (92 °F) and low temperatures of 24 °C (75 °F). Summer heat peaks generally arrive in early June and continue until early October. The combination of high temperatures, high humidity and opposing sea breezes from the Gulf and Atlantic coasts results in significant thunderstorm activity from June to September in inland counties.

As a result, Central Florida is often referred to as the thunderstorm capital of the United States or Lightning Alley. At the end of the Civil War, aside from livestock, cotton, and coastal land, much of Central Florida was wetlands. A major drainage project funded by businessman Hamilton Disston was necessary in the 1880s to make these wetland areas available for settlement. The hard sand of Volusia County's beaches lent itself to auto racing starting in 1903 before paved roads were common which resulted in the area's reputation for cars and racing. Ormond Beach was a popular spot for lovers of fast cars after the beginning of the 20th century because the beach was ideal for going fast.

The same beach had led to the development of a resort by Henry Flagler which later attracted Flagler's former business partner John D. Rockefeller who had a winter house in Ormond. During and after World War II, the United States Air Force established several training facilities and operational bases in Central Florida mainly for aviation activities followed by space exploration sites. In the late 1940s, the United States military established a missile test center on Merritt Island near Cape Canaveral. When later in the 1960s NASA sought a long-term base to launch spaceships it chose this site because of its access to the test center and nearby communities.

NASA purchased more than 100,000 acres (400 km) of land for the Kennedy Space Center. Deltona was developed in 1962 as a community of planned retirees and is now the largest city in Volusia County. The Lamme and Oldakowski survey identifies several demographic political and cultural elements that characterize Central Florida and distinguish it from other areas of the state. While people from all over the state associated their area as part of the South people in Central Florida didn't usually identify their area as part of Dixie while people from North Central Florida did. The people of Central Florida generally didn't consider their region to be part of the Bible Belt. Central Florida's geography has had an immense impact on its politics over time.

From its wetlands that were drained for settlement to its beaches that were ideal for auto racing to its climate that allowed year-round military operations to its subtropical climate that made it attractive for retirees - all these factors have shaped Central Florida's politics over time. The region's geography has been instrumental in creating an environment conducive to economic growth as well as providing opportunities for leisure activities such as auto racing or beach-going. The region's geography has also had an impact on its political culture. People from Central Florida don't usually identify their area as part of Dixie or as part of the Bible Belt like people from North Central Florida do. This reflects how geography has shaped politics in Central Florida over time by creating an environment where different political views can coexist peacefully.

Désirée Lejeune
Désirée Lejeune

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