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Putting Jane Jacobs To The Test

Jane Jacobs' rules for cities are timeless.

Jane Jacobs’ rules for cities are timeless.

Urbanists across the globe are celebrating the life and legacy of Jane Jacobs —the 100th anniversary of her birth.

Jacobs is arguably the most influential figure in the history of urban planning and placemaking—an interesting distinction because she was not formally educated in the discipline.

But what she lacked in academic credentials she more than made up for as a writer and observer and her seminal book—“The Death and Life of Great American Cities” has served as a bible for mayors, planners, architects, designers and anyone who loves cities since it was published in 1961.

Jane Jacobs said that for cities to thrive they need four conditions:

The first is that city districts must serve more than two functions so that they attract people with different purposes at different times of the day and night.

Second, she believed city blocks must be small with dense intersections that give pedestrians many opportunities to interact.

The third condition is that buildings must be diverse in terms of age and form to support a mix of low-rent and high-rent tenants.

Finally, a district must have a sufficient density of people and buildings.

The four concepts are really quite simple, yet so many cities seem to get it wrong. Sadly, density has become a loaded word and many cities have torn down their older and more interesting buildings.

Perhaps, if we changed dense to vibrant, maybe perceptions would change. Or maybe we are forever doomed to a battle between those who value design and sustainability against those who worry about traffic and a shortage of parking.

Still, most can agree that there has been a lack of an evidence-based approach to city planning for decades and it has ruined cities all over the world. What results are codes that in some cities prevent a mix of uses or if they do permit them, innovation is stifled by arbitrary numbers. Are 30 units to the acre—too much or too little for a sustainable downtown? Will 38 foot height limits preserve charm or prevent quality retail or design from occurring due to low ceilings?

Regardless of the politics of land use– and they are fraught– fact based planning is on the way if we choose to indulge.

Data-mining techniques are finally revealing the rules that make cities successful, vibrant places to live. And researchers are putting Jacobs’ work to the test.

Thanks to the work of Marco De Nadai at the University of Trento and a few colleagues, urban data is being gathered to test Jacobs’s conditions and how they relate to the vitality of city life. The new approach heralds a new age of city planning in which planners have an objective way of assessing city life and working out how it can be improved.

De Nadai and colleagues gathered this data for six cities in Italy—Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna, Milan, and Palermo.

Their analysis is straightforward. The team used mobile-phone activity as a measure of urban vitality and land-use records, census data, and Foursquare activity as a measure of urban diversity. Their goal was to see how vitality and diversity are correlated in the cities they studied.

The results make for interesting reading.

De Nadai concludes that land use is correlated with vitality. In cities such as Rome, mixed land use is common. However, Milan is divided into areas by function—industrial, residential, commercial, and so on.

“Consequently, in Milan, vitality is experienced only in the mixed districts,” he said.

The structure of city districts is important, too. European cities tend not to have the super-sized city blocks found in American cities. But the density of intersections varies greatly, and this turns out to be important. “Vibrant urban areas are those with dense streets, which, in fact, slow down cars and make it easier for pedestrians to cross,” the researchers said.

Jacobs also highlighted the importance of having a mixture of old and new buildings to promote vitality. However, De Nadai and company say this is less of an issue in Italian cities, where ancient buildings are common and have been actively preserved for centuries. Consequently, the goal of producing mixed areas is harder to achieve. “In the Italian context, mixing buildings of different eras is not as important as (or, rather, as possible as) it is in the American context,” he said.

Nevertheless, the team found that a crucial factor for vibrancy is the presence of “third places,” locations that are not homes (first places) or places of employment (second places). Third places are bars, restaurants, places of worship, shopping areas, parks, and so on—places where people go to gather and socialize.

The density of people also turns out to be important, too, just as Jacobs predicted. “Our results suggest that Jacobs’s four conditions for maintaining a vital urban life hold for Italian cities,” concludes De Nadai.

They go on to summarize by saying: “Active Italian districts have dense concentrations of office workers, third places at walking distance, small streets, and historical buildings.”

That’s an interesting study that has the potential to have major impact on city planning. The lack of an evidence-based approach to city planning has resulted in numerous urban disasters, not least of which was the decline of city centers in the U.S. in the 1950s, 1960s, and later.

This new era of city science could change that and help create vibrant, vital living spaces for millions of people around the world.

In that regard, Jane Jacobs’ influence will live on.

Delray’s Finest

From left:  David Weatherspoon, Thomas Mitchell and Javaro Sims

From left: David Weatherspoon, Thomas Mitchell and Javaro Sims have a combined 75 years of service in Delray.

We attended the 13th annual Delray Citizens for Delray Police Awards Dinner Friday and I have to tell you about it.
I have gone to several of these banquets over the years and Celsius, a company I’m involved with is a proud sponsor.
The event honors officers and employees with more than 20 years of service to our city. This year’s honorees; Assistant Chief Javaro Sims, Captain Tommy Mitchell and Lt. David Weatherspoon combined have over 75 years of service to Delray. All three are exceptional officers who have made a deep and lasting impact in our city. The event also honors the department’s Officer of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Supervisor of the Year and recognizes monthly award winners for the previous year.
The event serves as a fundraiser for the non profit Delray Citizens for Delray Police which, under the leadership of Perry Don Francisco, has supported the officers and their families for 30 years providing scholarships to the children of officers and purchasing equipment not covered by the department’s budget. It’s good to see Perry, an all time Delray great, remain involved in a city he helped put on the map 10 years after selling the land mark Boston’s on the Beach.
It’s also nice to see retirees from near and far return to honor colleagues and connect with the next generation of officers.
I’ve long contended that our Police Department is the unsung hero of Delray’s remarkable renaissance. The hard work and innovative policing strategies employed by the department made it safe for families and investment. It’s a debt we need to remember and their task doesn’t seem to get easier. This is a challenging city to protect and serve.
We had an opportunity to reconnect with some legendary officers from the past: Chuck Jeroloman, Scott Lunsford, Marc Woods, Tom Judge, Ed Flynn among many others and its really special to see that some of those officers have sons who are now serving with distinction at the department. The Police Department took this city back and the new generation of officers are tasked with fresh challenges. Their jobs are not only essential, but one could argue that our very viability as a community relies on their work and their ability to partner with the community.
The three officers honored all came to the department in the early 90s, a time when Delray was beginning to make the turn. In 1993, Delray won its first All America City Award and soon after Florida Trend would name Delray the “best run town in Florida.”
Civic pride was building, people were working together, the political leadership was aligned and city hall was stable after a very rocky prior decade. We were on our way, but much more work remained to be done.
Javaro Sims was a local guy who was passionate about service and the community, especially the youth. A former pro football player, teacher and Olympic caliber sprinter, Javaro was a great fit for Delray. He raced up the ranks becoming Assistant Chief in 2014.
Captain Mitchell has been an officer for 30 years, 26 in Delray. A former NYPD officer, Tommy has worked in a variety of roles from patrol and investigations to vice, intelligence and narcotics. A passionate Yankee fan, Tommy urges young officers to train hard, be safe and back each other up.
Lt. Weatherspoon is a home grown officer born and raised right here.
He was also the department’s first African American K-9 officer who started at the department in 1993 after a stint in the Army. After leaving K-9 he returned to community patrol. In 2006, he led the creation of the Problem Oriented Policing unit which requires officers to approach issues at their root and find innovative ways to solve problems. The program has been a great success.
David is a charismatic guy, with a warm smile and a wonderful family. His relationships in the community are strong, genuine and hugely valuable.
He’s just a solid guy. The kind you want to build around.
Chief Jeff Goldman also honored Officer Joseph Grammatico as “Officer of the Year.”
Known for his productivity, Grammatico racked up 136 arrests in 2015 and Chief Goldman gives him lots of credit for reducing Part One crimes by 8.5% in 2015.
An adherent of “intelligence led policing” Grammatico focuses on active offenders in the community who were committing a disproportionate amount of crime. By removing these prolific criminals from neighborhoods, Officer Grammatico was able to significantly improve quality of life for citizens and business owners.
The department’s employee of the year is Dawn Terrizzi who won an award named after long time employee and standout Patricia Taylor. Dawn is a support services secretary and has worked for the department for 12 years. But that hardly tells her story.
After her family was touched by a homicide, Dawn became a passionate advocate for people in similar circumstances. She volunteers for a slew of victim services agencies and causes including the Palm Beach chapter of Parents of Murdered Children Support Group. She is also active in local food pantries and food drives. Chief Goldman describes her as “an amazing woman”.  Indeed.
Just a small taste of what our department and indeed our city  has to offer.
#gratitude.

Daring 2 Be Future Focused

The Class of '13 is distinguishing itself with students in med school and working at the White House among other adventures.

The Class of ’13 is distinguishing itself with students in med school and working at the White House and State Senate among other adventures including the music industry and international NGO’s.

Every year around this time, the board of Dare 2 Be Great has the privilege to sit down and meet some of the best kids you can imagine.

These are young men and women who live in Delray Beach and have achieved some amazing things in their short lives. But their community service and academic achievements pale in comparison to their dreams and goals for their futures. It is our mission to help them get there.

Dare 2 Be Great provides scholarships and mentoring services to between 6-12 special students a year. To date, we have touched the lives of over 40 remarkable young people.

It’s a modest effort measured against the needs and the number of local students who can use and are deserving of help.

But for those we work with, it’s an important assist–they do the work, we provide some of the funding and guidance.

We have never been a “needs based” organization, preferring instead to invest in students we feel can be game changers. But over the years, we have found ourselves choosing to work with young men and women with little to no means.

We have heard stories of violence, drug abuse, foreclosure, unemployment, illness and even murder. Yet these students are determined to overcome and achieve. They want better lives. And in many ways the challenges they face make them better people and more passionate about changing the trajectory of their lives.

Our investment of time and money is really an investment in Delray’s future. While we cannot and would not mandate that these exceptional young people return home, we do hope they will and we ask if that is something they desire.

Most do want to return after college and that’s a testament to Delray. Think about how many young people want to escape where they grow up. This year, we interviewed students who want to come back to teach, practice medicine and go into business.

It’s our responsibility as citizens to build a community of opportunity for these young people.

The interviewing process is always an emotional one. We laugh, we tear up and we never fail to be amazed by the stories we hear and the personalities we meet. I truly wish everyone in the community can see what we’re seeing because you’ll feel better about our nation’s future.

I will tell you more about these special people once we make this year’s selections—always a tough choice because we see a whole lot of human capital, but have finite resources. But this year’s candidates included a young man who has toured with a famous rock band, the first ever Village Academy student accepted to an Ivy League college and immigrants who have overcome physical, financial and emotional turbulence.

A common theme is loss—of a parent, a home, health, employment. But a stronger thread is desire, hope and aspiration.

Many of the young men and women talk about growing up in Delray—some mention a special teacher who inspired them, a parent who touched them, and a friend that helped them overcome. Others talk of dangerous neighborhoods, temptations they avoided and their passion to make a difference in this life, right here in this community.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Isn’t that what it is all about? Building a community in which our children can return to find opportunity and quality of life.

Like every year, we have a tough choice to make, because the truth is all of the applicants deserve our support. And it’s not just the financial piece—as important as that is—it’s the mentoring and the connection to their hometown. When a community embraces its young people—looks them in the eyes and tells them that we love and cherish them and want to see them succeed it’s a powerful statement.

I’ve spent many years engaged in all sorts of economic development activities on a statewide, regional, county, city and neighborhood level. I’ve been involved with efforts relating to incentives and other tools commonly deployed to land jobs and investment. But while some of those efforts are worthwhile—and a few aren’t to be frank—I have concluded that the best economic development strategy is to nurture, develop, attract, grow and retain young talent.

That’s the best investment we can possibly make, because it pays off in so many ways.

When a community’s young people know the adults care about their future it sends a powerful and profound message. Dare 2 Be Great is but one effort, there are others. But even more is needed and that’s the investment we should be making.

 

 

 

 

Here’s to the Rebels

Prince was an original.

Prince was an original.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Apple “Think Different” advertising campaign.

I had a strange thought when I heard about the death of Prince over the weekend.

Where are the creative geniuses in politics?

Where are the round pegs, the innovators, the geniuses and rebels?

Could be it be that politics doesn’t lend itself to the archetypes that Apple’s ad described? You know,  the Einstein’s, Earhart’s, Picasso’s, Edison’s and yes Bowie’s and Prince’s of the world–people whose sheer brilliance and creativity changed the way we see the world.

Sure we’ve had Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Lincoln, Churchill, King and FDR but it sure seems that the arts and entrepreneurship produce more game changers.

At the risk of alienating some friends, the overwhelming sentiment that seems to accompany this presidential election cycle is the strong feeling on both sides of “is this really the best we can do?”

That feeling runs the gamut from president to our legislature and city councils. Where are the visionaries, the healers, the uniters and the innovators?

Maybe our politics no longer lends itself to creativity and innovation. Democrats have to conform to certain beliefs and so do Republicans. Stray from the orthodoxy and you are toast. Try to evolve and you’re a flip flopper. Introduce an idea that bucks the status quo and you’ve lost your base.

We see it on a local level with elected officials afraid to cast votes that may upset the loud voices and yet doesn’t progress rely on taking chances, on saying yes sometimes.

If you study the list of Apple’s “Think Different” icons and the few others we’ve lost this year including Bowie and Prince it becomes clear what sets them apart. Sure they are talented and creative. Yes,  some were extraordinarily smart but the common thread is they didn’t succumb to fear.

I can’t say that they were fearless–chances are they felt fear– but all of them decided to be themselves anyway, to pursue their art, vision or passion.

Maybe politics–which has been described as the art of compromise– (but now even compromise is viewed as weakness)–is no longer designed for the game changers in our society.

If that’s the case, we ought to mourn that as well. Or we ought to be hard at work to change that.

We need the rebels, the creatives, the originals to get to work on the most pressing challenges and opportunities of our time. At every level of our society.

Slow Down You Move Too Fast; Got to Make the Morning Last

deathrace

I leave for work pretty early in the morning, usually just after 7 a.m.

My morning commute is probably less than 10 miles, but many times it’s a white knuckle experience of drivers drifting into lanes, bicyclists using everything but the bike lane, pedestrians looking at their phones as they cross the street despite the “do not walk signal” and cars running red lights. Fortunately, I don’t have to take I-95, but even local streets in Boca and Delray can resemble the cult movie “Death Race 2000.” It can be nuts out there: add School Zones, construction and speeding motorcycles and you end up needing therapy before you begin your day. It’s not traffic that bedevils drivers early in the morning; it’s speedy, erratic drivers who seem to be concentrating on everything but the road. As we first generation Floridians might say: “oy vey”!

Well, it turns out that there are disturbing statistics to back up our daily driving challenges.

More than 39,000 people were injured in Florida last year after being involved in distracted-driving crashes.

Distracted driving is claiming almost one life a day in the Sunshine State, according to numbers from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Department.

There were more than 45,000 crashes caused by distracted drivers last year in Florida. At least 214 people died. Of the dead, 198 were drivers.

In Palm Beach County, there were 2,194 distracted driving crashes in 2015, resulting in 1,656 injuries and 7 deaths.

Since Florida’s ban on texting while driving went into effect a year and a half ago, police have issued just 3,400 citations, in part because texting is a secondary offense, which means that motorists must have be stopped for some other violation.

Police tell state legislators that the statistics don’t capture the entirety of the condition, because many crashes occur as a result of distracted driving that can’t be easily proven.

One in seven drivers admitted to Virginia Tech researchers that they text while driving. Forty-six percent of 16- and 17-year-olds said they text behind the wheel, while nearly half — 48 percent — of 18- to 24-year-olds admit to violating anti-texting laws.

Five texting bills, including primary enforcement, were introduced in the 2016 legislative session. None of them got a hearing.

So it doesn’t seem like legislative help is on the way any time soon. As many cities weigh the move to “complete streets” which calls for narrower lanes (hopefully to lower speeds and improve safety) and accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians, there’s going to be a need for significant behavioral changes.

We have a long way to go. Even when I take A1A, once considered a road where it was OK to drive a little slower and admire the scenery, I see speeding cars, impatient drivers and lots of texting while driving.

All of which begs the question: what’s the rush?

 

Making Room for the Middle

The lack of workforce housing has reached crisis levels in the Bay area.

The lack of workforce housing has reached crisis levels in the Bay area.

The headline blared “Build, Baby, Build” in Sunday’s New York Times.
The story focused on the growing YIMBY (yes in my backyard) movement in the hyper expensive Bay Area of California.

The lack of work force housing in the San Francisco area is stoking a movement to pressure local governments to allow the construction of more housing. Led by young professionals, groups are forming to confront those who fight new development.
Several cities are now facing competing lawsuits. For example, Lafayette down zoned a parcel that was zoned for high density multi family housing. Now the city faces a lawsuit by a group that wants multi family on the site and another who thinks the new zoning -for single family housing–is also too much.
High profile technology executives are writing checks to fight those who oppose multi family housing fearful that their workforce will have no place to live. The lack of housing has also been blamed for traffic because workers are forced to drive long distances to their workplaces.
Several local elected officials have welcomed the YIMBY movement saying it is important for young professionals to feel they have a future in the region and that cities need to be thinking about ways they can plan to accommodate their needs.
It’s an interesting debate and one that may soon break out in the Sunshine state.
In case you haven’t noticed, housing is expensive around these parts and if you know your economics one way to lower prices is to increase the supply.
While that is a simplification of the issue, it’s hard not to include density in any serious argument about addressing the need to create workforce housing.
In Boca Raton and Delray Beach, the issue of housing affordability has been around for decades. We are not talking about low or very low income housing but rather middle and upper middle class housing–places where teachers, accountants, police officers and others in the workforce can afford to live.
There used to be a joke among public officials in Boca and Delray. When asked where their workforce could find attainable housing, Boca officials would often answer: “Delray”.
That might have been true in the 80s and 90s but these days housing prices have accelerated to rival that of Boca. In fact, many neighborhoods exceed Boca prices.
Delray was considered a leader in workforce housing strategies during the last boom in the early and mid 2000s forming one of the first Community Land Trusts and passing what was then considered a model workforce housing ordinance.
A major part of Delray’s strategy to revitalize its downtown was to increase densities–an effort in part to add residents downtown to support businesses and increase safety but also an attempt to create some measure of affordability. But recent changes to the land development regulations capped density downtown at 30 units to the acre and a promised “bonus” program seems to have been lost.

With land prices downtown sky high, it seems unlikely that a meaningful number of units for young professionals will be created. That’s a big loss, since millennials would tend to be year round residents who would enjoy downtown’s vibrancy and would support local merchants.
Cognizant of the high price of downtown living, the Congress Avenue Task Force emphasized the need for workforce housing and higher densities along the 4.1 mile corridor.
Another opportunity would be at the “four corners” of Atlantic and Military Trail where moribund shopping centers could be redeveloped into mixed use lifestyle centers.
While Boca and Delray don’t yet face the pressures of San Francisco, the best economic development strategies would include plans to make our cities appealing to young professionals. There are several legs to that stool: abundant job opportunities, good schools, low crime rates, amenities such as arts, culture, parks and recreation, good transportation and attainable housing.
Regardless, to ensure a positive future you have to plan for it. The operative word is plan. Perhaps, there would be less antagonism toward new development if it was tied to a long term vision or strategy. If that strategy is to make room for young families or to plan for our kids to come home it may resonate. Still, just about any plan for the future would require making room for those who may wish to live here. “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” is not a strategy for economic sustainability.

More Adventures…Book Excerpt

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.com

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.com

Some of you may know that I published a book last year. “Adventures in Local Politics” is available on Amazon. A portion of the proceeds are donated to local charities.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Instead of merely livable, I think we need to start thinking about how we make our cities more lovable. When we love something, we cherish it; we protect it; we do extraordinary things for it.”—author Peter Kageyama

 

Great cities find a way to invest and re-invest in the future.

They understand that even when success hits you can never rest. A great city knows that complacency is a killer.

My father and others taught me that in business you have to wake up a little scared each and every day, even when things—especially when things—are going well.

When you achieve some success, there is sure to be a chorus of those who will tell you that you are done—just declare victory and go home. Well… you are never done.

You must constantly innovate, experiment, iterate and scan the horizon for threats and opportunities.

In the public realm, it is important to invest and re-invest. It sends a signal to the private sector that you are serious about progress and growth.

We live in an era where public spending is considered wrong. While wasting taxpayer dollars is indeed wrong, not all public spending should be lumped together. Public investment should be treated as such—an investment that should yield returns.

Some of the returns can be directly measured. Were jobs created? Did the tax base grow? Did crime rates fall?

But sometimes ROI is intangible. Sometimes public investment is made to improve the quality of life in the community, a much tougher concept to measure. Sometimes investments are made with an eye on trying to make people fall in love with their city. Still, we all know that times have changed and spending needs to be prudent—dollars are not infinite.

After decades of abundance, we now live in an era of austerity.

Budgets have shrunk. Wages and benefits are flat or declining. Revenues are down and despite a prolonged funk we still face an awful lot of economic headwinds. In other words, this may be the new normal folks.

And yet, the challenge for cities is to somehow find a way to invest in things that make people love where they live.

Progressive hospitals learned a long time ago that amenities such as gardens; plants; brightly painted walls and murals play a helpful role in their patients’ recovery time and overall health outcomes.

But when it comes to cities, politicians are criticized every time they spend on something “frivolous”—whether it’s public art, a new park, a festival or culture.

Yet research shows that the very things that make cities fun and lovable also make a big difference economically by spurring private investment and increasing the value of homes and commercial properties.

This poses a dilemma because in a time of diminishing resources, politicians cannot be seen as spending unwisely and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that spending on all the things that get residents emotionally involved in their cities has to stop.

It does mean that expenses such as festivals, sporting events, public art installations, cultural venues etc., have to be looked at carefully.

If special events are tired, then they either have to be revamped as to be valuable again or retired. If new events are to be added, they need to meet a very high threshold; therefore the return on investment must be clear and worthwhile. Still, to say cut it all and just fill the potholes is not the wisest strategy for a city.

Money must be still be set aside for the things that make your city different.

A good tactic might be to take a close look at “lazy assets” and see what can be done to activate them and make them valuable and vibrant.

Regardless, of where you stand on the sensitive issue of spending; one thing is certain—money still flows into city coffers.

Maybe not as much as before, but often times enough to run a great city as long as the spending is highly scrutinized, smartly prioritized and tied to a larger strategy—i.e. building toward a common vision.

In Delray Beach, the city’s renaissance started with public investment tied to community goals gathered through a detailed grassroots visioning process.

Once the public money was committed, the private sector stepped in because they knew the city was serious about getting things done.

As a result, while never formally quantified, it is safe to say that the public’s investment was leveraged many-fold by private dollars.

Simply put, businesses opened and residents flocked to the city as a direct result of public investment.

But that investment must be an ongoing commitment. Which is why it is important to not only just keep up on maintenance and filling pot holes but to keep planning and talking to your citizens about the future.

Your conversation with the community about the future should never cease.

 

Delray Beach came out of its decades-long funk by finding an inclusive way to invest in the community.

In the late 1980s, a cross-section of community leaders gathered for a community-wide visioning process that led to the successful passage of the 1989 Decade of Excellence Bond Issue.

The $21.5 million bond funded a variety of projects in the city’s blighted eastern core and sent a signal that the city was serious about redevelopment. As a reporter covering Delray at the time, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the diversity of the civic team assembled to pass the bond. Black and white, east and west, lifelong residents and newcomers all came together around a common vision of restoration.

Chief among the city’s reclamation projects was Old School Square, an abandoned school surrounded by a rusted chain link fence that sat smack dab in the middle of the city’s downtown.

A visionary leader named Frances Bourque sold the city’s leadership on restoring the old school rather than demolish the 1920s era buildings. She saw charm where others saw blight and that kind of vision and investment can’t help but make waves—in a positive way.

When I reflect back on Frances Bourque’s vision (her genius) really, I realized that in one catalytic project she hit upon a magic formula for cities.

In the 80s, I’m not sure that Delray was certain about what it would take to turn things around. Sure, we had to clean up neighborhoods, fight crime, improve schools and turn some lights on downtown. Every city with those problems knows you have to cover the basics. But even when most or all of those things happened, the city still needed an identity; a reason to fall in love with the place.

One of the most important factors that often get overlooked is the need for a narrative. People love stories; they fall in love with them. And cities that have narratives are often the ones that we remember and that thrive. Austin got a huge narrative boost when South by Southwest and the notion of being the live music capital of the world took root. Santa Cruz’ weirdness—as strange as it sounds—makes it a lovable place. Where there’s success, look for a narrative.

Frances managed to find a civic project that touched on Delray’s past, present and future. Old School Square whose buildings dated almost back to the founding of the city tugged on those who loved Delray’s rich history. It also perfectly matched the city’s appetite in the 80s for renewal and revitalization and it spoke to a bright future, i.e. a place for the town to gather. Absolutely, brilliant; a great narrative.

What emerged was a cultural arts center with a 300 seat theater, a restored gym for community events, and a museum and classroom space for arts classes. The grounds became the city’s gathering place for a diverse brew of festivals, performances and holiday festivities including a 100-foot Christmas tree that draws tens of thousands each season.

Old School Square became the catalyst for the first wave of investment downtown. It would take more than a decade for the downtown to fully flower, but an array of pioneering businesses were lured downtown by the city’s investment in streetscape, paver bricks, decorative lighting etc.

Public investment, coupled with political will and community unity sends a very strong message to entrepreneurs and developers. Consequently, political dysfunction or weakness coupled with community fragmentation sends a very bad message.

Fortunately for Delray Beach, the city was able to string together two solid decades of relative unity on all fronts. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t debate or dissension, only that on the big things—downtown redevelopment, beach re-nourishment, fixing blighted neighborhoods—there was remarkable unity and focus.

When this rare cohesion comes about you can really build traction, unlike communities that start and stop, progress takes off when leadership is aligned. The key is to keep it going because creating a great city takes years.

But progress in turn leads to trust in local government’s ability to deliver. And that is a very powerful intangible. When taxpayers trust their local government they are often willing to fund the things that make people feel in love with a place.

 

 

Leadership Is The Answer

leadershipimage

Fortune Magazine just released its list of the world’s top leaders.

Interestingly, no candidate running for president on either side of the divide made the list which was topped—somewhat controversially—by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Bezos was the recent focus of a New York Times expose’ detailing some pretty tough working conditions at the Seattle based company. Fortune’s editors acknowledged the piece and said that Amazon will probably never make the list of `best places to work’ but noted Bezos’ business acumen and the disruptive business model he has employed to challenge and or beat everyone from Walmart to Barnes & Noble.

While there’s no doubt that Bezos has changed the world, I find it hard to fully admire someone who doesn’t create a good culture in the workplace. While Amazon may be an outlier in terms of performance, my guess is that most companies, organizations or governments can’t thrive unless they get their culture right.

A friend recently asked me what I felt were the biggest issues facing Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

Was it education? Drug addiction? Crime? The sober house/ rehab industry? Overdevelopment? Traffic? Affordable housing?

Nope.

The biggest challenge we face as a community and as a nation is leadership, or the lack thereof.

Leadership matters.

If you attract, retain, cultivate, grow and support leadership in your schools, companies, organizations, non-profits and communities you can pick the problem and be assured that good leadership will either solve it or make a noticeable difference.

Good leadership makes the intractable, tractable. And the opposite is also true. Without solid leadership it’s hard to make a dent in problems and just as hard to seize opportunities.

On the national level, this election is certainly unlike any other we’ve seen. I have friends who are all over the philosophical map—conservatives, liberals, moderates and people who usually don’t pay any attention to politics. But this year it seems everybody is paying at least some attention and most of the people I know cannot believe what they are witnessing.

Regardless of your views, it’s hard to make an argument that this is a contest between our best and brightest minds—leaders who are equipped to tackle an increasingly complex and dangerous world.

I’ve heard the words “scary” “surreal” and “embarrassing” used frequently.

This brings us to the local level; where government is closest to the people.

One of the scary trends I’ve seen is the diminishing number of people who vote despite increases in population.

When the universe shrinks, a small number of people can exercise control over the many that choose—inexplicably– not to have a voice.

Consider these numbers in Delray Beach.

In 1990, there were 26,330 registered voters in Delray. The landmark vote that elected Tom Lynch mayor and Jay Alperin and David Randolph to the commission attracted 41.54 percent of eligible voters. Randolph earned 7,720 votes.

In 2014, less than 6,500 votes were cast in the Delray municipal election. In 2015, less than 7,000 votes were cast in a hotly contested mayoral election. The winner had less than half the votes that Randolph earned 25 years prior in a city that had far less people. The turnout was 16 percent.

That’s not a sign of civic health.

Boca’s not any better. In 2015, there were slightly less votes cast in Boca than in Delray, despite Boca being a much larger city.

In 2014, about 11,000 votes were cast. There are nearly 60,000 registered voters in Boca.

Low voter turnout is not necessarily a symptom of poor leadership, but the more people that pay attention to local issues the better. And if they pay attention they may get involved and that should certainly improve the pool of candidates.

If we want to solve problems and seize opportunities, we need good people at all levels of government participating in our Democracy. It’s that simple and that hard.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts…

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in 'paying it forward'

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in ‘paying it forward’

This is the time of year that the Dare 2 Be Great board pours over applications for scholarships.
It’s a humbling experience to read through the resumes and essays of these incredible young men and women.
Many of the essays are inspirational and more than a few are heartbreaking.
The common thread seems to be resilience. It just seems that some people are built by adversity. They succeed regardless of life’s circumstances and overcome hurdles. It’s almost as if they succeed because they are determined to live better lives.
These kids inspire me. I wish we could help them all. It breaks my heart that we can’t. We’ll keep you posted on the Class of ’16.

It’s a Miracle
Congratulations to the Miracle League of Palm Beach County which pulled off its first successful dinner on the diamond last week.
Julia and Jeff Kadel and their team of volunteers have done a remarkable job bringing the great game of baseball to kids who might not otherwise have an ability to play.
So good to see this wonderful non-profit grow and thrive. And I’m pleased to see Celsius, a company I’m involved with, step up and sponsor.

An Affair to Remember

We hope you’ll visit the Delray Affair this weekend.
The 54th annual event is a great chance to see friends and to adopt a rescue pet.
That’s right.
We’ve adopted two pets at the Affair over the years: Randy and Sophie.
Both little dogs enriched our families beyond words. We also hope the city doesn’t “fee” this event to death.

It’s Delray’s signature event, a tradition and helps our Chamber of Commerce stay healthy and more than ever this city needs a healthy chamber.

Hello Rhys, Goodbye Kim
We wish Tech Runway’s founding director Kim Gramm well on her new job in Texas.
Kim did a lot to put FAU’s ambitious project on the map.
She will be missed.

We are excited to see our Leadership Florida friend Rhys Williams step into the role of leading Tech Runway.

Thanks, Alyona

We’ll also miss Alyona Ushe well as she departs Delray’s innovative Arts Garage.
Alyona won’t be far away as she will continue to work her magic in Pompano Beach.
It’s not easy to start something and make it relevant. Alyona put the Arts Garage on the cultural map in South Florida creating buzz and staging lots of memorable shows and performances.
She made an impact.

Personal Touch Missing in Politics

Means everything.

Means everything.

I  don’t mean to pick on US Senator Bill Nelson.
He’s a nice man. I know this for a fact having dined with him a few times when I was an elected official. I enjoyed his stories about space and his insight about life in Washington.
But I’m going to use Sen. Nelson as an example because he’s one of the good guys and well he disappointed me last week with a canned response to a message left for him through his website.
We reached out to Florida’s senior senator on behalf of a Delray Beach resident who has over 50 years of experience at the bleeding edge of science and biotech. My friend is the real deal and he’s concerned about Zika. He believes the virus will ultimately be a bigger challenge to society than HIV. That’s a big statement. And it’s not being made lightly. My friend has given this a lot of thought.
His business works globally with governments, pharmaceutical companies, physicians and researchers. He saw an interview with Senator Nelson who talked about the need for research dollars to be applied to the Zika problem. He wants to help. Not because he’s seeking a government handout but because he fears this problem. He wants in the game because he thinks he can make a difference.
And we received a canned response.
Now I’m sure Senator Nelson receives a large volume of correspondence–too much to handle personally. But an effective system should sift through the mountain and separate the wheat from the chaff.
My friend should be able to contact his Senator on this terribly important issue and get more than a “thank you we value your input” response.
It’s why people feel disconnected from their representatives in Washington. If you take the time to craft a letter, outline your credentials and ask for consideration I would argue that you deserve more than a canned response.
I’m sure they all do it. But they shouldn’t.
There has to be a better way.

We will try another method to see if we can get a little more than a polite brush off.
One more try to see if someone will listen. We’ll see.
Congress is about as popular as Zika these days. Sadly, they have earned their low approval ratings with partisan bickering, grandstanding and a sense that if you don’t give or raise tons of cash your voice doesn’t matter.
Our politics are broken on so many levels. Problems go unsolved, constituents go unheard and voters are angry.
Again I’m fond of Senator Nelson. He’s a good man.
But when a Floridian reaches out and comes equipped with credentials and ideas somebody in Washington ought to listen.
It’s just that simple.