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Innovation Districts: A Recipe

5,500 square feet of magic in Eugene.

5,500 square feet of magic in Eugene.

“Innovation districts embody the very essence of cities: an aggregation of talented, driven people, assembled in close quarters, who exchange ideas and knowledge in what urban historians call a “dynamic process of innovation, imitation, and improvement.” –Peter Hall, Cities in Civilization: Culture, Innovation, and Urban Order

 

Boca Raton and Delray Beach have long championed the idea of creating “innovation districts”, a term we hear about often but probably never slow down enough to define.

Over the years, there has been a desire to attract the “creative class” to downtown Delray Beach, build on Boca’s rich history in medicine, education and technology (MedUTech) and create an innovation district along Congress Avenue. FAU’s Research Park has achieved enviable success and now FAU’s Tech Runway has a great opportunity to serve as a catalyst for creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

There are also several examples of co-working and incubator space in both Boca and Delray.

A recent white paper by the Brookings Institution has gotten a lot of traction among policymakers interested in Innovation Districts. Perhaps one of the best things it produced was a simple definition of the term: geographic areas with synergistic relationships among people, firms and places, allowing ideas to be generated and commercialized. These districts are also physically compact, transit-accessible, technically-wired and offer mix of uses: housing, office, and retail.

Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner of Brookings describe innovation districts as requiring entrepreneurs, educational institutions, start-ups, affordable housing and other urban amenities that are connected by transit and high-speed Internet.

Among the primary market forces driving innovation districts are private firms and universities seeking to be more efficient at innovation. The model that originated in Silicon Valley–where firms acted independently and were isolated on a campus or an industrial park–appears to be no longer in vogue. It is more effective to be located in places where people bump into each other by happenstance — at the office, in the coffee shop, at a music venue or at dinner. Ideas are shared at the office and away from the office, leading to more ideas and more innovation. This is a sea change from the model of the past 50 years where innovation happened in suburban office parks—accessible only by car. In that model, little to no thought was given to integrating work, housing and recreation. Today, companies and their workers see quality of life as a pathway to productivity and innovative breakthroughs.

A trend that is simultaneously strengthening innovation districts is millennials’ preference for urban living. According to the Council of Economic Advisors, 73 percent of college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds were living in large or mid-sized cities in 2011, compared to 67 percent in 1980.

Primary drivers of this trend are the neighborhood-building amenities that a vibrant city offers.

Essential to the success of innovation districts are what are called “innovation cultivators,” which support the growth of individuals, firms and their ideas.

Experts are pointing to downtown Eugene, Oregon as a good model for an emerging innovation district. Eugene offers lessons that may be useful for Boca and Delray.

In downtown Eugene, innovation cultivators include Fertilab, which focuses on incubating early-stage entrepreneurship; RAIN, which helps new business ideas accelerate to market; and the Technology Association of Oregon, which focuses on inputs to growth for tech companies including high speed internet infrastructure, access to talent, and community events like Hack for a Cause. All of these organizations now have offices that are within walking distance of each other.

“The trend is to nurture living, breathing communities rather than sterile remote, compounds of research silos,” said Pete Engardio in a recent article entitled “Research Parks for the Knowledge Economy,” that ran in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Says Brookings: “Innovation districts have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development. At a time of sluggish growth, they provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors—across sectors and disciplines—co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market. At a time of rising social inequality, they offer the prospect of expanding employment and educational opportunities for disadvantaged populations given that many districts are close to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. And, at a time of inefficient land use, extensive sprawl and continued environmental degradation, they present the potential for denser residential and employment patterns, the leveraging of mass transit, and the repopulation of urban cores.”

So what’s the formula and do we have what it takes?

Brookings lists the following assets as key components:

Economic Assets are the firms, institutions and organizations that drive, cultivate or support an innovation-rich environment. Economic assets can be separated into three categories: Innovation drivers are the research and medical institutions, the large firms, start-ups and entrepreneurs focused on developing cutting-edge technologies, products and services for the market. Innovation cultivators are the companies, organizations or groups that support the growth of individuals, firms and their ideas. They include incubators, accelerators, proof-of-concept centers, tech transfer offices, shared working spaces and local high schools, job training firms and community colleges advancing specific skill sets for the innovation-driven economy.

Neighborhood-building amenities provide important support services to residents and workers in the district. This ranges from medical offices to grocery stores, restaurants, coffee bars, small hotels and local retail (such as bookstores, clothing stores and sport shops).

Physical assets are the public and privately-owned spaces—buildings, open spaces, streets and other infrastructure—designed and organized to stimulate new and higher levels of connectivity, collaboration and innovation. Physical assets can also be divided into three categories: Physical assets in the public realm are the spaces accessible to the public, such as parks, plazas and streets that become locales of energy and activity. In innovation districts, public places are created or re-configured to be digitally-accessible (with high speed internet, wireless networks, computers and digital displays embedded into spaces) and to encourage networking (where spaces encourage “people to crash into one another”). Streets can also be transformed into living labs to flexibly test new innovations, such as in street lighting, waste collection, traffic management solutions and new digital technologies.

Physical assets in the private realm are privately-owned buildings and spaces that stimulate innovation in new and creative ways. Office developments are increasingly configured with shared work and lab spaces and smaller, more affordable areas for start-ups. A new form of micro-housing is also emerging, with smaller private apartments that have access to larger public spaces, such as co-working areas, entertainment spaces and common eating areas.

 

Physical assets that knit the district together and/or tie it to the broader metropolis are investments aimed to enhance relationship-building and connectivity. For some districts, knitting together the physical fabric requires remaking the campuses of advanced research institutions to remove fences, walls and other barriers and replace them with connecting elements such as bike paths, sidewalks, pedestrian-oriented streets and activated public spaces. Strategies to strengthen connectivity between the district, adjoining neighborhoods and the broader metropolis include infrastructure investments, such as broadband, transit and road improvements.

 

Networking assets are the relationships between actors—such as individuals, firms and institutions—that have the potential to generate, sharpen and accelerate the advancement of ideas.

Networks fuel innovation because they strengthen trust and collaboration within and across companies and industry clusters, provide information for new discoveries and help firms acquire resources and enter new markets.

Networks are generally described as either having strong ties or weak ties.

If you tally these assets up, Boca and Delray are positioned to have successful innovation districts.

Many of the principles outlined by Brookings, were incorporated in a recent task force effort to jumpstart Congress Avenue in Boca.

Lynn University, FAU, FAU Research Park, the Boca and Delray Chambers of Commerce, local hospitals and research facilities and private incubators and co-working spaces are all elements for success.

What’s missing in my view are stronger ties, a need for more events, a lack of venture, seed and angel capital (but some bright spots are emerging) and more media attention to build the area’s reputation.

Possible headwinds also include a lack of imagination with some, Ok maybe most—but not all– new development—i.e. the same old, high end condo’s and sprawl in the Ag Reserve—and not enough political vision to push and incent developers to create something new, different, cool and forward thinking. There is a need for creative space in both cities. NIMBYism is another threat; we have to be forward thinking and ensure that our downtowns evolve beyond food and beverage.

Still, our quality of life, proximity to key markets, universities, recreation, cultural amenities etc., are awfully compelling. Yes, we can make this happen. The ingredients are there and abundant.

 How to make it happen:

Practitioners in leading edge innovation districts offer five pieces of advice:

 

First, build a collaborative leadership network, a collection of leaders from key institutions, firms and sectors who regularly and formally cooperate on the design, delivery, marketing and governance of the district. In advanced innovation districts in Barcelona, Eindhoven, St Louis and Stockholm, leaders found the Triple Helix model of governance to be fundamental to their success. The Triple Helix consists of structured interactions between industry, research universities, and government.

Second, set a vision for growth by providing actionable guidance for how an innovation district should grow and develop in the short-, medium- and long-term along economic, physical and social dimensions. Most practitioners cite the importance of developing a vision to leverage their unique strengths—distinct economic clusters, leading local and regional institutions and companies, physical location and design advantages and other cultural attributes.

Third, pursue talent and technology given that educated and skilled workers and sophisticated infrastructure and systems are the twin drivers of innovation. Pursuing talent requires attraction, retention and growth strategies; integrating technology requires a commitment to top notch fiber optics (and, in some places, specialized laboratory facilities) to create a high quality platform for innovative firms.

Fourth, promote inclusive growth by using the innovation district as a platform to regenerate adjoining distressed neighborhoods as well as creating educational, employment and other opportunities for low-income residents of the city. Strategies in places as disparate as Barcelona, Detroit and Philadelphia have particularly focused on equipping workers with the skills they need to participate in the innovation economy or other secondary and tertiary jobs generated by innovative growth.

Finally, enhance access to capital to support basic science and applied research; the commercialization of innovation; entrepreneurial start-ups and expansion (including business incubators and accelerators); urban residential, industrial and commercial real estate (including new collaborative spaces); place-based infrastructure (e.g., energy, utilities, broadband, and transportation); education and training facilities; and intermediaries to steward the innovation ecosystem. Districts in Cambridge, Detroit and St. Louis have successfully re-deployed local capital to meet these needs.

 

Unity in the Community

alone-we-can-do-so-little

Spirit and connectedness.

I’ve been thinking about those two words lately.

What binds us together as a community, as a state, as a nation?

The word united comes first in our national identity: United States.

We are Americans first and foremost, country before party right?

Right?

Yet, we seem to be living in an age of hyper-partisanship. Red States and Blue States. Liberals and Conservatives. Republicans and Democrats.

The divisions are large and seem to be getting larger. And interestingly enough, the divisions are now extremely pronounced even among members of the same political parties. Establishment versus tea party. Establishment versus the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

Any student of American history understands that politics has never been a gentle affair–dating back to the days of Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton our nation’s discourse has always been spirited and at times vitriolic and even violent.

But doesn’t this feel a tad different? Isn’t this year perhaps a few degrees beyond the typical?

Is it possible to unite anymore? Are we beyond sharing a common national spirit? Can we connect?

I’ve always been oriented to the local. So that’s the prism in which I view things.

When I began my career in journalism, I aspired to practice community journalism. I had no desire to cover Washington or the world even though I was interested in both.

When I tried politics it was with the goal of serving in local government. I never aspired to work in state or federal government.

I sensed it was easier to find spirit and connectedness in a small city than on a bigger canvas. And that was important to me. If you can find a tribe that’s committed to building community you can experience real progress. I always felt Delray was large enough and diverse enough to be interesting and small enough to get your arms around and make things happen.

And so it has been.

Boca too…although it’s a vastly different place.

For a long period every initiative, every project, every amenity was viewed through a wide lens not a narrow self interest. Did it build community? Did it serve the long term vision of citizens? Was it a net gain or did it detract from what people were trying to build here?

I think the key to spirit and connection is to have a vision.

The vision must be citizen driven and include a process that is inclusive and invites stakeholders to share.

The process is almost as important as the outcome when it comes to visioning; you want to make sure people are invited to share their thoughts and aspirations in a safe environment that encourages intelligent discussion and deep conversations. People should be encouraged to think big but it’s also important to inject facts and best practices into the conversation to drive the process.

The best visioning exercises are community builders; civic projects that bring people together.

In my mind, that was the real value of the All America City Award which required people to work together in an effort that inevitably tore down barriers and built civic pride.

It’s hard to do this on a national level, but possible. It seems nationally, we rally when threatened; in times of war or terrorism.

On a city level it’s not easy but it’s essential and very doable.

That was Delray’s secret sauce.

And it worked.

When visions are accomplished or grow old and need refreshing and leadership fails to take the time to do bottom up planning you inevitably end up with drift, division and an erosion of civic bonds.

After several successful visioning processes, Delray rushed a visioning process ahead of a mayoral election and major staff upheaval a few years back.

The timing was horrible and the process and its aftermath felt different–somewhat empty not energizing as previous efforts had been.

As a result, Visions 2020 has been mothballed.  It doesn’t drive conversations or inform decision making and even connected citizens can’t remember what it said.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try again or that visioning is flawed.

Smart elected officials welcome exercises that build community and forge visions. It helps them make decisions: if something fits the vision you support it. If something is contrary you vote no.

But without a vision there is no real direction– just ad hoc decision making, personal preferences, a whole lot of politics and people feeling disconnected.

Small cities have an option to bring people together. Only the small minded, egotistical and optically driven elected official can’t see that logic. A word to the wise: nobody cares what individual elected officials think. Your job is to forge a vision by bringing as many smart, caring and committed people to the table as you can. That’s leadership because nobody cares if you don’t like the color of a snow fence or the taste of garlic.

It’s not your town or your staff, it all belongs to the stakeholders–those that hold  a stake. Elected officials are stewards and ultimately they work for us; or at least they should.

Congress lost that truism a long time ago. There’s no excuse for local government to follow suit.

 

For Barbara…

Barbara Garito

Barbara Garito

We lost Barbara Garito over the weekend.

She was a wonderful person; truly unforgettable.

Like many, many others who knew and worked with Barbara, I loved and respected her very much.

She served as City Clerk when I was on the Commission and she swore me in when I was elected in 2000 and again in 2001 and 2003 when I became mayor. She sat at the end of the dais for four years of my seven year term and when the going got rough—as it sometimes does in local government—I knew I could look to my left and always find a friend and calming influence.

We clicked the instant we met. I have a feeling that Barbara clicked with lots and lots of people, but right away you felt like you knew her forever. I had lost my mother to cancer two years before I ran for the City Commission. There was something about Barbara—her friendliness, her sense of humor, her ability to connect with others—that reminded me of my mom. So she became a touchstone for me. Someone I felt safe talking to and asking for candid and honest advice.

When Barbara retired in 2004, we went to the golf course to say so long and thank you. I remember the tributes and the kind remarks and I remember telling the crowd that Barbara could be best defined by the word “warmth.”

She was a down to earth person. Funny, smart, grounded and so supportive of her staff and everyone she worked with. She loved her city, very much. She also loved her family, which was a Delray family. Her husband, Larry was a firefighter known to all the kids in town for his outreach into schools, their son Tim was also a firefighter and became a captain, rising high up in a very good organization. Their son-in-law Charlie Stravino rose to assistant fire chief. They are all great contributors to Delray Beach. And it’s the people who make a place great. Barbara was one of the greats. There is just no doubt.

When I think of Barbara, I think of family. She talked about them often, her husband, her kids and grandkids and all the fun they had together. During holiday parades, they always sat in the same spot on Atlantic Avenue, what we affectionately dubbed “Garito” corner and for the 7 parades my kids and I rode in we always looked forward to passing them by so we could see them laughing and having a blast.

When I was mayor, I enjoyed visiting the clerk’s office which was the happiest place in a happy City Hall.

Barbara had a great group of people working for her and when it was time to retire she turned the reigns over to Chevelle Nubin, a wonderful person whom she had prepared very well for the job. Chevelle became president of the Florida Association of City Clerk’s last week, a testament to her talent and hard work and also a tribute to Barbara’s skill at finding and developing talent. She took pride in everybody who worked for her and she took a lot of pride in Delray Beach.

We met for lunch a few times after she retired, emailed from time to time and I could always count on seeing her during the annual St. Vincent’s Spring Festival. I didn’t see her this year and I missed visiting with her and her family. I missed the laughter and I missed her trademark warmth.

The day before she passed, I happened to have lunch with several former department heads that have retired but remain in touch, like a great team does. We talked about Barbara at lunch and were encouraged to hear that she might have been doing a little bit better.

When we learned that she passed, there was an outpouring of emotion and sadness. She was one of the really good ones—someone who came here in the early 70s from New Jersey and worked hard to build a really nice city.

Along the way, she touched a lot of lives, mentored many public servants and raised a family in our community that has given back enormously.

Isn’t that what this should all be about?

A village is community and community is relationships.

We lost a really great person this week, but we were so blessed to have her right here in Delray Beach.

Thanks, Barbara for all you gave to your Delray family.

We love you.

You touched our hearts and you will be in our hearts forever….

 

Youth Shall Be Served

Mayor Grant

Mayor Grant

If you are a baseball fan—as I am—you can see the trend happening in that sport:  a move toward youth.

Winning teams are investing in young players and putting them out there with some amazing results.

They are also stocking up on young prospects, grooming them in the minors and investing big dollars in their farm systems.

Some teams—are mixing youth with more seasoned veterans. For example, the Mets talented young rotation features a lot of young arms but also features 42-year-old Bartolo Colon, a beloved veteran who is still pitching well (and hitting too, he slugged the first home run of his career recently and it took him a few days to round the bases). Colon can still get hitters out but he also brings intangible value as a mentor to the talented but inexperienced pitchers on the staff.

It made me wonder: maybe cities should be looking at that model as well.

That’s why I am fascinated with the most recent election in Boynton Beach. Voters there elected a 33-year-old mayor—who beat an 80 year old longtime incumbent and also elected a 32-year-old and 27-year-old to the commission.

It will be interesting to see where this youth movement leads—and if their brand of leadership is different than those who receive AARP Magazine every month.

I took a passing interest in the campaign and the message of the young candidates was simple: they stood for a more “modern” government, the expanded use of technology, an independent CRA (rather than a commission sitting as the CRA), fiscal discipline and a desire to make the city appealing and affordable to millennials. Voters went for it.

In a New Times piece after the election Mayor Steven Grant talked about positioning Boynton Beach as a city designed for 18-35 year olds mentioning how many in that age cohort were priced out of Boca and Delray. He also talked about the next two years as being critical for the city’s future—exhibiting a sense of urgency critical to success.

According to New Times, Grant’s newly elected teammates; 27-year-old Christine Romelus and 32-year-old Justin Katz envision Boynton as a livable, high density, affordable, working class community.

It will be fascinating to see whether they can pull off their vision or at the least move the city in that direction.

Newly elected officials have to ask themselves one question when they win their seat: is being a commissioner or a mayor a job to do or a job to have? It’s a simple question but how they answer and how they act determines whether they will be officials who matter or those who sit up on a dais for a few years putzing around playing small ball only to be termed out or beaten having accomplished little or nothing.

If you major in the minor and spend your term in office playing dodge ball you’ll be relegated to the dust bin of local history—not remembered fondly if at all.

But if you choose to make it count—and what an amazing privilege it is to serve– you have the opportunity of a lifetime to touch lives, transform neighborhoods and make a dent in your little corner of the universe.

Local government is the best of all forms of government—small enough to make change happen quickly and large enough to be fascinating.

I was 35 when I was elected in 2000—young compared to most of my colleagues in Palm Beach County at the time. I benefitted from sitting next to older commissioners who had life and business experience far beyond my scope at the time. And I think bringing the perspective of a young dad with kids in school to the dais helped them too.

A blend of new ideas and experience—and a willingness to listen to each other and to learn can make a huge difference.

I’m excited to see what that blend brings to Boynton Beach.

It’s All Connected

Recipe for conflict. Every. Single. Time.

Recipe for conflict. Every. Single. Time.

Consider the following…

-When the CRA was founded in 1985, the total property value of the district was $245 million, today it is more than $1.6 billion and growing.

-In recent years, the CRA has received more than $6 million from the county annually in tax increment funding contributions; over the last three decades the total from the county is over $60 million. That’s funding that almost surely would have been spent outside the city if it didn’t go to our CRA.

–Over the years, our CRA has reinvested over $100 million in local TIF revenues in our city. The money has been spent on infrastructure, capital improvements, parking facilities, affordable housing, beautification efforts, economic development initiatives, land acquisition (turning unproductive property into uses that often produce jobs) and arts and culture that drive more jobs, tax revenues and quality of life. Signature projects include: the beautification of Northwest and Southwest 5th Avenue, Atlantic Grove, the Fairfield Inn, The Hyatt, Old School Square, the Delray Beach Public Library, Spady Museum, South County Courthouse (land acquisition), Worthing Place, the Downtown Master Plan, improvements to U.S. 1 and the new Uptown Delray project which includes plans for a long sought neighborhood grocery.

–From the Green Market and Municipal Tennis Stadium to historic preservation efforts and the Community Land Trust, the CRA has been an integral part of Delray’s fabric.

The list of achievements, public private partnerships, site development assistance, façade improvements and business grants goes on and on.

In other words, it takes a village to build a village.

And this village would not be nearly the same without its CRA. It has been far and away our best economic development tool and has only gotten more effective along the way.

CRA monies have always complemented the city’s budget, including paying for police officers to make our city’s downtown clean and safe and funding for planning and engineering initiatives that built a pretty cool city.

For most of the past 20 years, the CRA has been focused on the West Atlantic corridor and neighborhoods north and south of the avenue and east of 95.

More than $60 million has been spent on sidewalks, water pressure improvements, beautification, housing, lighting, parks, plazas and economic development initiatives.

This wasn’t a heroic contribution; it was the right thing to do. But it should be acknowledged as well.

Public spending should be directed where the needs are but this was not always the case in Delray Beach.

As late as the 1980s, large parts of the central business district suffered from blighted conditions and disinvestment. Pineapple Grove was an idea, but it was pretty decrepit when it was hatched. And that’s a compliment.

When I was elected to the City Commission in 2000, there were still a few unpaved streets in our southwest neighborhoods. Many blocks did not have good water pressure, sidewalks or lighting.

But there was a whole lot of vision and a lot of dedicated people working together on what became known as the Southwest Plan. When the citizen driven plan was completed and adopted by the city, spending by the city and the CRA was earmarked to bring the plan to life. And while much was done—see the above millions invested—it was clear that even more needed to be done to improve neighborhoods and to break the cycle of poverty that gripped many families in our city.

Beacon Programs—providing wrap around social, educational and health services—were created, a Boys and Girls Club opened with the invaluable help of Mayor Tom Lynch and former CRA member Marc DeBaptiste, the Village Academy opened and was expanded to cover pre-K through 12th grade and a Community Land Trust was established to add much needed housing in  underserved neighborhoods.

It’s a remarkable story of a community, a city and a CRA working together.

In community building, one of the first lessons you learn is that you are never “done.”

There is always more to do: more progress to be made, more challenges to overcome and more opportunities to seize.

That seems to be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised as you make progress how many people want cities to declare victory and stop investing. That’s a mistake, complacency is a killer.

Usually, the argument is that spending needs to be directed elsewhere—and many times it does. But community building is not a zero-sum game.

You can and should invest in multiple neighborhoods. It’s not a choice between East Atlantic and West Atlantic or between the downtown and Congress Avenue as some elected officials wrongly claim. Sure, you need priorities, but that doesn’t mean that you neglect one part of your town in favor of another—especially when your city is interconnected and certain neighborhoods provide the fuel and the funding to ensure that needier neighborhoods can receive what they need.

A friend has pointed out to me that it is impossible to improve blighted residential neighborhoods without the cash generated by successful commercial development.

Residential neighborhoods—especially ones that have problems—do not generate the tax dollars to do the job. But successful downtowns do. And because East Atlantic has performed so well, TIF dollars generated as a result can be and have been (for a long time now) used to fund improvements to West Atlantic and adjoining neighborhoods.

The key to doing more is to keep your pump healthy—to maintain your focus on all parts of your downtown and to create new economic drivers such as Congress Avenue, US 1 and the four corners of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail.

The other key is to support, collaborate with and sharpen your economic development agencies.

Schools, quality health care, a strong business community, the arts, recreation and open space are also critical components—along with safe streets and a city government that provides services efficiently.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. Remember, you are never done and if you think you are, complacency or smugness will bite you.

 

 

 

The Human Touch

Greg Bryant played for American Heritage in Delray.

Greg Bryant played for American Heritage in Delray.

Mother’s Day can be a bittersweet holiday.
Scroll through your Facebook news feed and you’ll see picture after picture of people sending greetings to departed moms. I can relate. I lost my mother, at a terribly early age, in 1998.
Time dulls the pain, but the loss still stings.
You’ll also see posts from new moms marking their first Mother’s Day or mother’s with young children enjoying a day of being doted on.
It’s wonderful to see the smiles, share the memories, post the old pictures and publicly proclaim the important role that mother’s play in our lives and in our society.
This Mother’s Day I found myself thinking about mom’s whose kids are in trouble and kids whose mother’s may be struggling too.
Substance abuse is very much in the news these days. And while we read a lot about overdoses, sober homes and patient brokering I sometimes fear we lose sight of the human side of the story. I understand the fear, the concern and the worries about our neighborhoods.  I get it.

But I also believe we need to exercise compassion and introduce empathy to this important discussion. Compassion and empathy are not mushy words, but rather they often lead to understanding. And understanding leads to solutions.
Can you imagine if your child was caught in the grips of an addiction? If you feared every phone call and went to bed at night wondering if tonight was the night they might overdose?
Sadly millions of mother’s don’t have to wonder–that’s the lives they are leading.
There was a front page story in yesterday’s New York Times that detailed the shooting and eventual death of a 29 year old man in the Bronx. He was paralyzed by a gunshot allegedly delivered by a gang member. It was most likely a case of mistaken identity. When he left the hospital he died a few weeks later of a blood clot. He grew up in foster care and spent lots of time in prison. His mother was a crack cocaine user who lost custody of her 7 children. A sad story but a common one nonetheless.
Sadly we can go on and on–we all heard about the death of a young UFC fighter who was struck a week ago by a hit and run driver in Delray. The Delray police worked night and day to solve the case. Over the weekend they did.
But as soon as that headline ran we read about the shooting of another young man on I-95. Greg Bryant was a standout college football player who starred at American Heritage while in high school.
The intent here is not to bring you down. But rather to appeal for more empathy in our community. Gratitude too.
There’s a lot of pain out there. Let’s be thankful for what we have. And let’s heal those who need healing.

 

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.