It Takes Leadership to Keep A Village

Last February, journalist Timothy P. Carney published a provocative book entitled “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse.”

It’s a hard hitting book that examines whether the American dream is alive, on life support, or dead.

The conclusion: it’s alive in places like Chevy Chase Village, Maryland where the author lives and dead in places across America where the jobs have disappeared along with the social ties that bind us as Americans.

I’m reading the book and it’s riveting.

Mr. Carney is a well-known conservative writer and I’m decidedly not conservative—still it’s good to expose your mind to other perspectives, especially intelligent ones.

Carney’s hypothesis is that the American dream dies in places that lose their sense of community. When the ties that bind no longer apply—be they church, service organizations, sports leagues, book clubs, neighborhood associations etc.—pretty soon the dream dies with it.

Humans are not meant to be unmoored.

We are social creatures and we are fragile.

Things happen to us.

Accidents, job losses, debt, fires, violence, addiction.

Cancer.

We are vulnerable beings. We grow old and frail, or we are young and unable to fend for ourselves. Sometimes we get sick and sometimes we lose our jobs and fall on hard times.

That’s when we rely on our family, friends, jobs, church, synagogue, service club and neighbors to step in and cushion the pain.

But, Carney argues, those things are fraying in America these days– at least in many places hard hit by economic hardship.

I saw a recent stat that floored me—1 in 7 children in America are growing up in households where one or more parents suffer from addiction. That piece of information was part of a story on what social scientists are now calling “deaths from despair.” There’s actually a category describing those who die from suicide, opioid abuse and alcohol poisoning.

Despair sets in when you lose hope; when there does not seem to be a viable alternative to the pain that engulfs your life.

There are whole towns and regions in America that feel this way. Hence, the divide in this country.

Sometimes I feel like we don’t live in the real world here in South Florida.

Nobody blinks when a Ferrari roars past, nobody thinks it’s odd to see homes in the Lake Ida neighborhood sell for $2 million plus, we take investment for granted as if its business as usual that someone can drop $40 million for the Sundy House and $28 million for a few old buildings on Atlantic Avenue.

We ring our hands over the silliest things but you don’t have to travel very far in our All America City to see poverty. There are families who can’t afford school lunches for their kids. We are no strangers to substance abuse and the ravages of the opioid epidemic. We have homelessness and plenty of despair in our community.

Still, I wonder about our focus and priorities.

Sometimes, at the end of a long day I will sit back on my couch mindlessly watching some reality show trying to quiet my brain until 9 p.m. comes and I can crawl up to bed only to get up at 5 a.m. and do it all over again.

I have a good life, so that’s not a complaint. I’ve been fortunate, lucky even. And for that I am grateful.

But there are times when I take a look at social media and watch the armchair trolls duke it out on all things Delray and it makes me aware of how far we’ve strayed from the place I discovered by happenstance in 1987.

We were a poor city back then, with no reserves, a weak tax base, high crime, dangerous racial divisions, a dead downtown, distressed neighborhoods and……a ton of potential.

Rather than succumb to despair, the community worked together and put in place a plan to revitalize the city. We were circling the drain but we would not be flushed away.

It was something to watch and thrilling to write about and experience.

Reading Tim Carney’s book and his description of Chevy Chase Village reminded me of that long ago Delray.

Chevy Chase has a senior committee, a speaker series, neighborhood parties, a strong volunteer base and a resilient network of organizations that bind the community together. It’s hard to get tickets to the annual school Christmas concert because the whole town wants to go to see “their kids.”

The African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” is a truism.

We talk often about being a village but I wonder if we truly know what it takes to act like one. Just what we are doing to make this a kinder, more inclusive place?

Usually discussions about being “village like” focuses on development and yes the quality, design and scale of development is very important.

But….

But there is more.

A whole lot more.

Building and maintaining a sense of community requires commitment and a constant effort to engage stakeholders and seek ways to bring people together.

What does that look like?

It means we have strong faith communities, town hall meetings, charrettes, engaged non-profits, a vibrant arts scene, involvement in our schools, community projects we take pride in, active neighborhood associations and events that draw the community. We have public spaces that are inviting and a wide variety of activities. We also take care of our own when bad things happen—as they inevitably do.

It also means that when we disagree we can do so civilly. We can let go if we lose a vote or if things don’t go our way. We don’t beat people up because we can. We don’t disparage their character or question their motives just because we disagree on one or a hundred issues.

None of this of course is rocket science. But all of it takes an effort. It requires leadership—true leadership which is not a position or a title but how you treat people and how you serve.

It requires dedication and a rock solid commitment to be there for the long haul.

There was a time when local government led these community building efforts.

We had a Community Improvement Department that helped to form and strengthen neighborhood associations. That amazing department conducted Citizen Academies, sponsored neighborhood leaders to attend national conferences so they could come back and help Delray and worked with local schools.

The Commission hosted community pot luck dinners and city government worked closely with non-profits.

And it made a difference.

It felt like a village.

To break bread with neighbors, to literally draw the future at a visioning session, to volunteer for a favorite non-profit, to enjoy seeing friends and neighbors at a festival builds community. And the list of community building/trust building activities goes on and on.

It feel like home.

Kind of the opposite of Facebook.

To be sure, there are plenty of great efforts happening now—the Delray Beach Initiative, EJS Project, Old School Square, Roots and Wings, Knights of Pythagoras,  the wonderful work being done at the library, Historic Society and Milagro Center, the hard work being done by our Chamber of Commerce and much more.

But, I don’t know too many people who would argue that the public square isn’t more toxic than it used to be.

The impact of that toxicity limits the pool of people willing to serve in public office. Oh, they may serve on a board or two, but they stop short of running.

Not that the public square has ever been safe.  It has always required thick skin—I can show you more than a few bruises myself. But this looks and feels different.

It has become more personal.

If I were running today—I’d make this election about culture.

What kind of village do we want to live in?
It’s a fundamental and important choice and it goes way, way beyond the latest development project.

And more important than any other decision we can make. If we choose right, we can meet any challenge and seize any opportunity. Choose wrong and it will be a long, ugly slide. I’d argue that we’ve been on that slide for a long time now. It is time for a reset. Before we squander the lead that we worked so hard to achieve.

MLK Day 2020

Today is MLK Day.
It’s a special day.
A day to reflect. A day to take stock. A day to look back and a day to think about our future.
We are challenged by this holiday and by the legacy of Dr. King to do more, be more, love more and envision a more perfect union.
We have come a long way but we also have a long way to go. We see that there are forces in our society that would take us backward. We cannot let that happen. Not as Americans and not as residents of our local communities.
I worry about race relations in our country. But I also worry about race relations in our city. I see the fissures. I see the cracks. I can sense the anger and the frustration.
We would be foolish to ignore it.
Division doesn’t just go away. It takes an effort to build bridges and to mend fences.  It takes both love and strength. One cannot exist without the other.
Below are ten of my favorite MLK quotes.
I hope you find as much inspiration in these words as I have throughout my life.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”
“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”

Playing The Infinite Game

Simon Sinek’s newest book is terrific.

The best things in life take time.

Relationships deepen over time— if we tend to them.

Gardens thrive with constant vigilance.

The same holds true for businesses, organizations and communities.

We have to play the long game. We have to avoid the day traders.

I recently finished a book by Simon Sinek entitled “The Infinite Game”—which implores us to take the long view.

In case study after case study Mr. Sinek shows us how businesses focused on the endless/infinite horizon succeed where those with finite or zero sum mindsets fail. Oh they may have initial success—a day trader hits every now and then—but they always peter out because the game never ends. We must always plan for the future beyond us.

This sounds logical but in a world that values the next quarter or the next election or the next big game it’s often challenging to think infinitely.

But we must. Or we will fail.

This past week, I read stories about how the insurance market in California is unable to underwrite the risk posed by wildfires.

I shared on my social media, a heartfelt video made by my daughter’s college friend who lives in wildfire ravaged Australia which has been consumed by flames that have killed perhaps a billion creatures.

Science tells us climate change is either causing or exacerbating these and other situations including sea level rise which Delray Beach City Commission candidates discussed in a forum last week.

It will never be opportune to address these issues, but it will be necessary. Chances are any investment made today won’t “solve” or “end” the issue; those tasked with voting to spend the money likely won’t be around to declare victory. It’s also likely that victory will never be declared, we will have to continually tend to Mother Earth. It’s an infinite game.

Some of you may know that I have been involved with and rooting for a local beverage company called Celsius for about 10 years now. I’ve worked directly for Celsius and now for a large investor in the brand.

We believe in the company and that’s important because it is hard to build an international brand in a crowded space.

Many entrepreneurs get into the beverage space because if you make it, the rewards can be great.

Vitamin Water sold for a few billion dollars.

But if you scratch just below the headlines of big sales, successful IPO’s etc. you’ll find that most successes were long struggles, with hits and misses, successes and setbacks. You’ll find that the best brand builders don’t start companies to flip them—they start something because they want to change the world and that passion burns deep in their souls.

They don’t cut corners, they don’t hold back, they don’t source inferior ingredients or build shoddy products.

They dare to dream, are often told they are crazy and spend lots of time wandering the desert wondering if their toil will ever pan out but also sure that their vision is spot on.

It’s a weird dichotomy.

At Celsius, we learned that success wasn’t about running one magical ad, creating a “viral video” or hiring a celebrity spokesman (we did all three) it was about building a brand brick by brick through sampling events, distribution, consumer engagement, listening to retailers and getting close to your fans and your detractors because both can teach you things you need to know.

Obviously, there’s a lot more but the mindset has to be infinite and long term.

This is especially critical in building cities and communities.

I’m an idealist, so watching politics at any level is a painful experience for me.

How can I phrase this?
The field attracts a lot of….never mind… that’s not nice.

Let’s just say, I see a lot of hacks dressed up as “leaders.”

They shout to win the day’s scrum, go to sleep and repeat.

They are day traders and they get nothing done.

We can’t afford day traders.

There’s work to be done.

We need to play the infinite game and we need big thinkers willing to do what it takes to move the big rocks.

 

 

 

 

Scaling Leadership

BocaLead’s goal is to inspire, mentor and lead.

I’ve written about BocaLead before.

I’m going to do so again because something special is being built on the first Thursday of each month at Boca Community Church whenever Pastor Bill Mitchell stands before a sold-out crowd and provides 45 minutes of timely, relevant and sage advice. He’s offering tools to not only grow your business but also to achieve personal growth and a stronger community.

The community part is important. Because the Pastor Mitchell’s goal is simple but profound—make Boca the best place to live, work, play, worship, grow a business and raise a family.

BocaLead’s aims to inspire, mentor and lead and that’s what hundreds of people get each and every month when they attend the lunch and now a newly added dinner event.

But if you have attended the event or read this blog, you know already know all that.

What you might not know is that BocaLead is about to ‘scale’ as they say in the business world.

Recently, the BocaLead team traveled to Chicago and threw a Boc Lead event before 100 leaders from cities across America. As a result, about 20 cities have decided to jump on the opportunity and soon Pastor Mitchell’s smart and deeply moving messages will begin to spread across America.

And folks, we need this message to resonate far and wide.

We are a divided nation. But then again we have a whole lot in common and a host of reasons to figure out how we can work together again.

By Bill Mitchell’s estimate, we disagree on about 20 percent of the issues, but share common ground on 80 percent. Sadly, the disagreements are preventing us from working together on the 80 percent where we see eye to eye.

That’s where the opportunity exists and its thrilling to see BocaLead take their model and curriculum across America. There are already several South Florida chapters, but this concept is too good not to spread and 2020 is the ideal timing to roll it out.

You may be wondering why this Jewish guy from Long Island is so taken with a Pastor from Boca Raton.

And that’s a good question. First, BocaLead— while steeped in values embraced by the church— is inclusive of all religions and the audience that attends consists of a variety of faith traditions and professional associations.

A quick look around the room at table sponsors reveals FAU’s College of Science, the Boca Raton Resort and Club, 4Kids, Habitat for Humanity and County Commissioner Bob Weinroth and Boca Mayor Scott Singer who recently filmed testimonials urging other cities to get on board the BocaLead train.

Another glance around the room reveals many of my Delray Beach friends—which is cool because Delray Beach is crying out for this kind of community building exercise. So is the rest of America.

We have lost our civility and with it our dignity.

BocaLead’s message is a counterweight to the rancor. It simply asks that we make Boca a better town. How can you argue with that?

Here’s to spreading the word far and wide. Wouldn’t it be great to see Boca become known for exporting goodness, leadership and inspiration. Lord knows it’s needed across our great country.

 

Reboot: Vulnerability & The Art of Leadership

Some books leave an impression long after you close them.

“The greatest gifts of leadership are its challenge to remember who we are and the opportunity to become the grownups we were meant to be.” – Jerry Colonna, leadership coach, author, mensch.

 

One of the best books I read last year was “Reboot”, an honest—often painfully honest– look at life and leadership by legendary business coach Jerry Colonna.

Colonna (no relation to my wife) left a highly successful career as a venture capitalist to in essence save his own life. He just wasn’t happy and it was killing him—literally.

What followed is a story of personal growth and “radical self-inquiry” that ultimately helped Colonna overcome his demons and re-invent himself as a go-to coach for entrepreneurs and CEOs.

“Reboot” is the kind of book that stays with you because of its rawness and honesty.

Colonna learned that the best path to happiness was to understand yourself and to confront the issues that keep so many of us stuck in a rut.

Sometimes that rut looks like failure and other times it looks like success with all the trappings—money, fame, titles, toys etc., but it’s still a soul-sucking pit if it drains you.

Colonna’s argument and it’s a good one is that you can’t be an effective leader until you know yourself.

Another favorite author of mine, the great marketing mind Seth Godin touches on a similar concept of honesty when he writes about leadership.

Godin believes that are two elements to successful leadership: “a willingness to be wrong and an eagerness to admit it.”

I just love that sentiment—because within that thought is the potential for growth and change.

And as yet another author of some renown put it: “progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

That’s George Bernard Shaw for those keeping score at home—and what a profound quote that is.

And it occurred to me as we enter another local and national election cycle that politicians are terrible at admitting that they got anything wrong.

Changing their minds is looked at as a weakness and you run the risk of being labeled a ‘flip-flopper’ or worse.

How tragic it is when you think about it.

Because progress is indeed impossible without change and a willingness to be wrong.

That’s true in politics and it’s true in business and it’s true in the non-profit world and it’s true in science and every other endeavor that has the potential to improve our world.

As Colonna says, we are given the opportunity to be the grownups we are meant to be, but only if we are willing to constantly examine our beliefs.

I recently had a great conversation with a new friend who is an entrepreneur who has had great success in a tough industry that I know fairly well—consumer products. We discussed what it takes to succeed, all the fires you have to put out, all the landmines you have to avoid and all the trap doors you will fall through because it is inevitable that you will. There is no such thing as an overnight success or a friction less glide path to success.

Yet we must try.

We must try if we are to progress. We must be willing to make mistakes too so we can learn from them and build a better future.

In the book Start Up Nation, which details Israel’s amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem, the authors describe how the Israeli mentality embraces failure—almost requires it—because investors and leaders there know that failure informs and strengthens. The old adage “what doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger” is true.

In a recent blog we talked about the upcoming campaign and predicted seeing the typical vapid messaging we always see—-“all development is bad, all developers are bad, my opponent is owned by the developers therefore he or she is bad.”

Every candidate has a plan to tame traffic (that we will never see), they are all against crime and for good schools and low taxes. They are for motherhood, apple pie and they love the environment.

Great.

But wouldn’t it be nice if we had leaders who told us what they’ve learned and who they are as people rather instead of just listing or in some cases manufacturing a resume?
Wouldn’t it be nice if they said they want to unite not divide and had an actual plan to try and do so?

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if they leveled with voters and shared with us their human stories and unique experiences which makes them qualified to lead our cities and our nation?

A guy can dream can’t he?
A good question to ask candidates if they show up at your door is;  what have you  failed at and what have you learned as a result?

It may give you a glimpse into who these people really are—certainly more so than the same tired messages we hear every cycle.

 

The Roads Not Taken

Neal Peirce

Neal Peirce died over the holidays and we shouldn’t let his passing go without a look back at his life and his influence.

Mr. Peirce was a journalist and researcher who studied cities, regions and states—not exactly a sexy beat but an important one because communities change or stagnate on the local level far from the gaze of Cable TV pundits and national media.

As a result, if you were a policymaker in the 80s, 90s and 2000s with a burning desire to make your time in  office count, you were most likely aware of Mr. Peirce and influenced by his work.

As an elected official in Delray Beach from 2000-07, I read every word he wrote, subscribed to his column and poured over his reports seeking ideas, insights and wisdom.

He was a hero of mine. And he inspired many other mayors I go to know through the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Florida League of Cities.

In addition to a syndicated column, Mr. Peirce was a partner in a firm called Citistates.

Cities, states and regions would hire the firm to study their communities and make recommendations on how to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities, some of them hidden.

About 20 years ago, business, non-profit and civic leaders in South Florida engaged Citistates in a unique effort that also included major regional newspapers which agreed to publish Mr. Peirce’s “think” pieces so that stakeholders could be educated on some of the opportunities and challenges we faced.

When Mr. Peirce passed during the holidays, I went back and read a few of the old newspaper columns including a wonderful piece on U.S. 1 that included recommendations to turn the auto-oriented highway into more of a neighborhood.

Peirce envisioned U.S. 1 becoming a new “Main Street” linking South Florida from the Treasure Coast to South Dade. He recommended that the Florida Department of Transportation reclassify U.S. 1 as a “local access road”, not a thoroughfare for moving traffic as a rapidly as possible.

“High speed traffic is the job of I-95 and other such arterials,” he wrote.

And he was right.

Delray took that advice and I was a policymaker at the time the decision was made to narrow Federal Highway. It was not an easy or obvious decision and the opposition to the plan was formidable—as were the proponents who wanted to make the road safer (there was a high incidence of accidents) and more picturesque. They argued that it made no sense to have a high speed freeway bisecting a pedestrian oriented downtown. We studied the issue for a year, studying speeds, looking at accident history and traffic volume before ultimately deciding to proceed with the project.

In my mind, it turned U.S. 1 in Delray from a highway into a neighborhood and gave the area a host of economic and placemaking opportunities.

Reading Mr. Peirce’s column on U.S. 1 I have no doubt that his thinking had an effect.

Peirce and his partner Curtis Johnson published a series of articles in 2000 in local newspapers on topics ranging from sustainability and traffic to New Urbanism and the difficulties of getting things done in a sprawling region with a vast variety of governments and players to navigate.

If you want to check out the articles that ran in the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald here’s a link. http://www.floridacdc.org/roundtable/index.html

If you read the pieces, you are struck by their continuing relevance and also by what wasn’t done.

Twenty years have gone by and we still haven’t addressed sprawl, environmental issues and affordable housing.

With Mr. Peirce’s passing, I can’t think of another journalist covering the urban beat that measures up. Governing Magazine had the great Otis White some years back and he did two major pieces on Delray Beach but he left the magazine and now that wonderful publication is going away too.

The newspapers that partnered with key non-profits to produce the Citistates project are a shell of their former selves. As a result, we no longer have a regional or community water cooler; a place to share ideas and create momentum for positive change.

Back in 2000, New Urbanism seemed like a logical solution to traffic, sprawl and environmental degradation and a chance to return some charm to what can be a cookie cutter landscape of bland design.

But in 2020, we see the same tired arguments against New Urban style development despite growing traffic and a lack of affordable housing and walkability. I cringe when I get vapid campaign emails from candidates decrying density in one sentence and vowing to save the environment in the next breath. Folks, sprawl like development is not good for the environment. It creates traffic, uses more water and will never create the amount of housing we need to help teachers, police officers and firefighters be able to live in our communities.

All of this may sound like the work of people like Neal Peirce doesn’t matter. That’s not what I believe.

I think crusading journalists and thinkers like Neil Peirce make a difference.

In 2000, Peirce wrote passionately about highway gridlock and the dangers of sprawl. If only we had listened and acted as a region, but I would argue Delray did listen and did act and that we need to continue with smart growth and community engagement practices.

Mr. Peirce had a prescription to address sprawl: utilize planning and community engagement to design a better future. He called for “mega charrettes” to bring the community to the table.

“Consider the 1.8-million-by-2020-population projection (I think he meant additional residents moving in not total population) and debate honestly, openly where the new growth ought to go. Even if a consensus wasn’t reached — and it might not be — the true, region wide issues would be a lot clearer.

 

How can the emerging technologies, starting with neighborhood planning programs, be made available to ordinary citizens, businesses, people interested in new development possibilities and futures? One solution: walk-in urban design centers in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, designed to marry the worlds of professional design and grassroots activism.

 

Ideally, architecture or planning departments from local universities would run these centers. Information on the whole gamut of planning challenges — from single transit stops or suburban neighborhood centers to growth corridors, waterfronts and affordable housing — would be available.

 

Such centers are already open and operating in such varied places as Chattanooga, Birmingham, Little Rock and Portland, Ore., with very favorable reports on their performance. For democratized development in South Florida, they might represent a dramatic breakthrough.”

Alas, it didn’t happen. But it’s not too late. Or is it?

 

 

A Peak Into Our Crystal Ball

Casey Stengel said never make predictions, especially about the future. Sorry, Casey.

Can you believe it’s 2020?

Didn’t it seem like only yesterday when we were sweating Y2K?

Well not only did our computers survive the millennium, they have become ever more ingrained in our lives.

The beginning of a decade is a good time to dream and to take out our imaginary crystal ball.

So here are some predictions and prognostications for the 20s…

Boca Raton:
Boca Raton will continue to flourish driven by the power of FAU and Lynn universities, the growth of the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, the successful execution of the Brightline deal and a refresh of Mizner Park with several new tenants.

Fueled by new investment, the Boca Raton Resort and Club will solidify its place as one of the world’s premier resorts hosting important conferences and attracting titans of industry who will fly into an ever busier  Boca Airport.

Boca’s decade will be marked by its strengths in health care, education and technology. It will become known not only for excellent health care, but also for medical research and education.

It’s “A” rated public schools, excellent parks system, great hospital and corporate base will continue to fuel the city’s growth and success.

Yes, we are very bullish on Boca.

Headwinds: traffic and affordability. Nothing new there. But big challenges nonetheless.
Opportunities: leveraging Brightline and bringing a pedestrian orientation to the downtown. Not easy but worth a try.
Stretch prediction: By 2030 FAU will play in a major bowl game and go deep in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Delray Beach: 

Delray can achieve whatever it wants to—or it can squander the decade. Sounds harsh…maybe. Still, history has taught us that this city works best when it has a North Star and goes after it. But only when it engages the community. There has been no large scale effort to do so since the Downtown Master Plan in the early 2000s. We are long overdue and deeply in need of a unifying vision.

Delray will squander the decade if the focus remains on petty politics and settling personal vendettas and if the grass tops ignore the grassroots.

Opportunities:
Getting something going on North Federal Highway.
Getting something going on Congress Avenue.
Attract private investment to West Atlantic East of 95.
Fix City Hall.
Empower city staff.
Build on the city’s many strengths-vibrancy, a strong brand, events, culture and restaurants.

Fix an aging infrastructure while interest rates are historically low.

Engage citizens.

Build on the city’s tennis heritage to create economic opportunities.

Headwinds and land mines:
There is a pressing need to focus on Delray’s public schools.
The city needs to ramp up economic development which is virtually non-existent.

There is a need to raise the level of discourse on important issues ranging from development and investment to how downtown can survive rising rents and the changing retail environment.

Stretch prediction:
Delray’s culinary scene will get national attention. We have some exceptional culinary talents in the city.
But we need to diversify and add some strong ethnic offerings.
Regardless, the future is not yet written. So if you don’t like what you see, or if you want to see something happen, get involved.

 

Things We Loved in December–Year End Edition

Community Greening, a Delray non-profit, was one of the year’s bright spots. Among the many projects completed by volunteers was an effort to plant 100 trees in a two-acre retention area in the Lake Ida neighborhood.

Things we loved in December 

Congratulations to Sgt. Steve Hynes who retired in  December to take a senior position with the Federal Emergency Management Agency based in Atlanta.
Steve was a fine officer and a good guy.
He contributed a lot to emergency management policy in Delray before returning to the road a few years back.
We’ve been friends for years and I always enjoyed our conversations about local government, organizational leadership and how things work (or often don’t) and why.
I wish him well at FEMA. It’s a good move. And much deserved.
Kudos to Delray based Community Greening, a wonderful non-profit that has planted over 3,300 trees at schools, parks and neighborhoods since 2016.
Recent highlights include planting more than 150 trees on the campus of Village Academy and creating a “food forest” in West Palm Beach with 53 fruit trees. How cool is that?
Good to see this wonderful organization grow bigger and better every year.
Congratulations also to former Boca police chief Dan Alexander. Chief Alexander started his new job as director of school district police.
He will do a great job.
Boca Lead continues to impress us.
Pastor Bill Mitchell delivers timely and useful messages the first Thursday of every month at Boca Community Church. There’s also a new dinner series the first Thursday as well if you can’t make the lunch meeting.
The event is a secular affair and attracts a wide range of business, civic, non-profit and educational leaders.
Check out Pastor Mitchell’s free e-books, they are terrific and think about getting tickets to Boca Lead. But hurry they go fast.
Also congratulations to Bill and his lovely wife Elizabeth  on his 10 years as pastor at Boca Community.  To access the e-books visit www.heisherebooks.com.
Random Thoughts
Happiness is Shake Shack on a beautiful December day. Nothing beats sitting outside and savoring a great burger.
I love the Corner Bakery…there I said it.
We bid a fond farewell to Coastal Tire and Auto Service which closed up shop in Boca after 52 years of loyal service.
Coastal Tire was a favorite of locals and they were successful in forging lifelong friendships with generations of valued customers. That’s a rarity these days.
The land was sold and that prompted the closing. We thank Coastal Tire for their half century of service. The moms and pops are local treasures and they are precious parts of the community that we should savor, support and celebrate.
Congratulations to the City of Boca on the Brightline deal. 
Visionary thinking + Strong leadership = a bright future.

Eliot Winokur has a lot to be happy about these days

The 75-year-old Delray Beach man won five swimming events in his 75 to 79 age group and placed third in the other in the annual Florida Senior Games. Oh and he set a slew of age group records along the way. Amazing.

When a container storing holiday gifts sprung a leak and ruined a slew of toys collected by the Delray Beach Police Department it could have been a disaster.

But thanks to big hearts and generosity, the community stepped up to replace the toys ensuring that hundreds of needy children would have gifts for Christmas. Bravo!

Congratulations to Roby & Suze on their return to Channel 12. 

The dynamic duo will bring their Rise+Live show to CBS 12 on January 3 at 9:30. That will be the regular time so make sure to tune in every Friday.

If you prefer to see these great personalities live and in person check them out every Friday at 8:30 at The Heart of Delray Gallery. 

The show also streams on YouTube, Facebook and their website.

Good to hear Coco Gauff will play an exhibition before a hometown crowd at the Delray Open. 

Also good to see the frivolous lawsuit against the event settled.

On a sad note, Joseph Segel, the founder of the QVC shopping network and a resident of Delray passed in December. He was a true pioneer of TV and retailing. There was a wonderful tribute to Mr. Segel in the Wall Street Journal. He also founded the Franklin Mint.

Some restaurant notes.

The bison burger at Harvest is terrific.

Caffe Luna Rosa makes the very best chicken sandwich.

We discovered Mana, a Greek restaurant in Boynton and it’s terrific.

Rose’s Daughter continues to impress.

The new renovations at Prime Catch in Boynton Beach are something to see.

Please support your local businesses especially those in Pineapple Grove impacted by the construction of The Ray Hotel. Can’t recommend Papas Tapas, Brule, Joseph’s Wine Bar and Christina’s enough. They are standouts.

Have a happy and safe New Year!

‘Tis The Season For Politics

Editor’s Note: We will be taking a few days off for the holidays but will be back with a year end blog on Dec. 30. Have a safe season and thanks for reading!

While most of us are immersed in the hustle of the holidays, others are busy gearing up for the local election season.

They are holding kick-off parties, gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot, raising money and plotting strategy—which typically means carpet bombing those who run against them.

Two commission seats are up for grabs in Delray Beach in March and after a year’s respite we can expect the fur to fly in the New Year.

Sigh.

Heavy sigh.

Call me jaded because I am.

But I don’t expect we will see the local version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates play out over the next few months. And that’s too bad because there is a lot to discuss.

I do expect that we will see a lot of nastiness, division and empty platitudes. When the dust settles we will probably see in excess of $300,000 spent on mail pieces, Facebook ads, signs and robocalls.

Most of it will be ignored.

Some of us will vote—probably more than a typical year (thanks to the presidential primary)—and life will go on.

We will hear lots about traffic, over-development, corruption and how the village by the sea has either been ruined or is about to be—unless of course you vote for so and so.

Sigh.

Candidates will promise to “fight” for us, they will accuse their opponents of being in the pockets of “greedy” developers (developers are always greedy and always corrupting) and they will talk about how they will tame traffic, cut taxes and stand up to “special interests” on behalf of the resident/taxpayer.

Even the candidates who raise money from developers will run anti-development campaigns. They think it’s their path to victory. I’ve always found it interesting and ironic that developers actually fund campaigns that rail against their industry and that calls them damaging and corrupt influences.

Can you imagine doctors funding mail pieces that say they will harm you?

The “principled” (“I can’t be bought!”) candidates will shun developer money and run a grassroots campaign. Some will actually do just that by knocking on doors and golf carting around town meeting voters. Others will ‘talk the talk’ but secretly accept developer money and squirrel it away in some political action committee or third party entity with a Tallahassee address and often no disclosure of donors.

Surrogates will battle it out on social media, essentially talking to each other in echo chambers too often devoid of facts, civility, context or reality. And I’ll say to myself: “self, that’s not what living in a village or a community is supposed to be about.”

We are not alone in our struggles.

America seems hopelessly divided as we head toward 2020—as if we are Democrats or Republicans, progressives or conservatives before we are Americans.

We are not.

Or at least we shouldn’t be.

There was a time—now long ago I’m afraid—where our hometown was a port in the storm. We were a community that worked together, identified problems and then got about the business of solving them. Imagine that radical concept.

 

Not every issue was resolved—maybe none were. And maybe that’s the point.

Maybe building a community is something you constantly have to chisel away at. We are never quite done are we? And isn’t that the fun and purpose of it all—to grow (responsibly), to evolve and to learn— hopefully together.

It sure feels like we have taken a wrong turn.

We’ve become more distant, nastier, more divided, less like neighbors and more like combatants.

It’s reflected in the tone of our politics. And there are consequences. Grave, expensive and lasting consequences.

I’ve seen friends who have proudly worked for the City of Delray Beach thrown out with the trash this year. I’ve seen others who left their jobs earlier than they planned for brighter pastures literally shaking their heads about current conditions.

We can deny it. Or we can own it.

But when you experience the level of turnover we’ve seen, I can assure you it’s not because things are great.

Public employees are not all about the money otherwise they wouldn’t be public employees. Nobody goes to work in local government to get rich and those that do will probably be arrested. Instead, they seek to serve and to be part of something bigger than themselves. Sure, there are clunkers out there but there are so many more talented, smart and dedicated public servants who work or have worked for Delray.

I sure hope this new manager we’ve hired is up to the task because he has a big one ahead of him.

For the record, I’m not blameless.

I’ve written checks that turned into mail that I wouldn’t line my bird’s cage with. But I don’t blame the political consultants, their job is to win. They have diagnosed that if you want to win in Delray Beach you need to go negative.

So the question is did the politics change us or did we change?

Do our politics reflect what we have become?

Again, I’m not blameless.

I’m a critic.

I am jaded.

If you ask me a question I will answer it and if the answer is I think things stink then I’m going to say it or write it and hit publish. And I guess that bothers some people.

I don’t mess with local politics on social media, it’s a waste of time.

But I am happy to engage one on one if asked. I am anxious to listen and learn. I am not willing to spend a lot of time with people who are so entrenched in their views that they are not willing to listen and learn.

My goal on this blog and on the editorial pages of the newspapers we own is to shine a light on the good, the bad and the ugly in our community and we have all three conditions—every place does.

We/I love to write about the people who do good in the neighborhood but we won’t gloss over the bad actors and outcomes either. We love to cheer lead when appropriate, but we also feel we have an obligation to speak up when we see things that don’t sit right.

I’ve been bothered by the turnover at City Hall and the lack of civic engagement and vision in our community for years and I will continue to speak out about it.

As for development, I believe in smart growth and that we ought to do our best to keep the charm and not build ugly buildings all over town.

I don’t believe in sprawl—it creates traffic and is bad for the environment. I think density is necessary to create affordability and is also better for the environment.

I think downtown housing helps our local mom and pops survive and makes for a vibrant and safe atmosphere. I think design and uses are more important than a random density per acre number. I can show you ugly low density buildings and attractive high density projects. We spent a lot of time in the community process that led to our Downtown Master Plan explaining that density was desirable if projects were designed well.

I’m proud of my city. And I criticize it because I love it and I want to see it thrive and succeed.

I don’t see that happening if we lack vision, if city hall is a revolving door of staff and if those who remain are afraid to talk or are prevented from making recommendations.

I don’t think the commission should have taken over the CRA.

I think some developers absolutely stink—especially those who divide the community with controversial projects and then never build or those who seek variances and waivers that make no sense.

I also think we have had some really good developers in town. Entrepreneurs who have taken big risks and built very nice projects that have enhanced our city and created jobs, opportunities and activities that have made Delray—well— Delray.

Some developers have acted like strip miners extracting money from our city and not giving anything back.

Others have become among our most dedicated and generous citizens serving on non-profit boards, city advisory boards and donating to good causes. To label them all as greedy and corrupting is foolish and just plain wrong and guess what? It doesn’t change anything.

It doesn’t advance the narrative, bring us any further understanding or solve any of the issues and concerns people have about development.

But it’s not just the developers and city staff who take it on the chin in this town, it’s the elected officials and candidates who also have to deal with the vitriol.

I have respect for almost anyone willing to enter the arena. I make exceptions for the bullies, narcissists, and puppets—they can pound sand. I also don’t really like it when people want to start out as commissioners without having paid their civic dues. I think it’s important to know the city you seek to lead and for us to know you. If you haven’t volunteered there’s no way that’s possible.

But for those who wish to serve, it isn’t easy. I speak from experience.

You become a target and so does your family, your friends and often your business.

No wonder why it is so hard to find qualified candidates—those that have a deep knowledge of the city they hope to lead, a track record of involvement and accomplishment and a demonstrated ability to work well with others.

Maybe if we had a less toxic atmosphere we’d find ourselves with a plethora of talented people—they are here living in the village but unwilling to deal with the crap you have to deal with and really who can blame them except…..except we need them to engage and to serve.

So as we enter election season, I plan to look for candidates who can articulate a vision for our city, who recognize the importance and role of city staff (let them make recommendations for Pete’s sake, otherwise why have a professional staff?) and who exhibit some emotional intelligence that is required to be a successful leader at any level. Empathy is not optional folks.

I hope we find them. If we do, we ought to support and protect them. Sadly, they are going to need it.

 

 

 

 

Rex Baron: The New Era of Experiential Dining

Rex Baron opened in Boca last week and it’s an experience.

Last week, we had a chance to attend the opening of “Rex Baron”, a new restaurant concept at the Town Center Mall.

Aside from getting to hang out with former Giants running back Rashad Jennings (he’s terrific and an investor in the business) which was cool, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a place quite like Rex Baron.

It’s an experiential restaurant with great food (and many healthy options) and a vast array of virtual reality experiences that allow you to experience everything from Jurassic Park and NASCAR to a post-apocalyptic Boca Raton. I think I’m decent with words, but I can’t quite describe the place. You have to see for yourself and you really must. It’s amazing.

Spread out over 8,200 square feet including beautiful outdoor space, a private room with a golf simulator and a magnificent bar/dining area Rex Baron is an exciting new concept.

We asked Mr. Jennings what attracted him to Rex Baron because we figured a former football star and “Dancing with the Stars” champ must be offered a slew of investment opportunities. While he was impressed with the VR component and the uniqueness of the design, he was really taken with the quality food options as someone who eats healthy but also fancies himself a chicken wing connoisseur.

“They are the best wings I’ve ever had,” said the LA based Jennings. “The best.”

By the time my friend Marisa Herman and I were done with Rashad, we had him considering a move to Boca and a job at the newspaper we run. He is after all a New York Times best-selling author who says he loves to write.

But I digress.

Let’s just say Rex Baron is a welcome and extremely unique addition to the Boca landscape.

The new restaurant is located near Nordstrom’s and Sachs adjacent to California Pizza Kitchen.

The opening of Rex Baron got me thinking about the marvel that is Town Center.

In a world where malls are closing or distressed, Town Center continues to thrive.

Why?
Because it evolves with the times. The mall still looks fresh and modern and feels vibrant and alive. It’s hard to imagine the mall will turn 40 in 2020.

They have added some great food options—including a soon to open French Bakery that is said to be out of this world.

It manages to stay busy year-round and seems to combine the perfect blend of shopping and dining.

Town Center’s tenants are also community focused hosting special events that benefit local charities.

I remember coming to Florida for a job interview in the 80s and visiting the mall. I was blown away way back then. Town Center was so much different than the drab northeast malls I was used too. It had palm trees, natural light, a strong retail mix and was the place to people watch.

Thirty years later it is still evolving and still relevant.

Rex Baron is the latest example.

Check it out…it’s spectacular.