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Thanks Joe

Mr. Debonair

Mr. Debonair

Editor’s Note: Joe Gillie officially retired this week as President and CEO of Old School Square. A celebration of his legacy will be held Nov. 7 at Old School Square. To get tickets visit


I remember the first time I met Joe Gillie.

It was 25 years ago and he was a board member at Old School Square, which at the time was a fledgling experiment in a town trying desperately to change its narrative.

It was 1990 and Delray Beach was a very different place. In March, the city held a landmark election and elected a slate of candidates who promised to reform government, bring stability to City Hall and implement what was being called a “Decade of Excellence.”

The 80s had been a rough decade for Delray, also known as “Dullray” back then. The city had serious crime issues, the downtown had major vacancies and the crack cocaine epidemic had engulfed entire neighborhoods. But there were signs of hope all around. Visions 2000 brought people together, there were plans to reform schools, a new CRA was doing good things, historic districts were being established and the Decade of Excellence Bond passed with huge voter support, promising over $20 million in needed improvements and beautification.

A year later a visionary police chief was hired and a new chamber president too. It was a time of hope and promise and Old School Square was at the forefront of civic endeavors charged with being a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

Two years after I met Joe, he became President of Old School Square. By 1993, he was in charge of our first bid for an All America City Award and when I say he was in charge, he was in charge.

Joe managed every detail using his theatre background to craft a presentation that literally blew the judges in Tampa away. I recently found archival footage of that event and it was remarkable to see our diversity and spirit in action—and it was remarkable to see Joe’s leadership at its most impactful.

He incorporated young and old, black and white, east and west into a team. In baseball they call it clubhouse chemistry; that intangible that makes champions. Joe was the architect of that chemistry and the vehicle was the All America City Competition.

When you view the footage from that event, you see a young Mayor Tom Lynch, civic giants like C. Spencer Pompey, dedicated city staff like Lula Butler and Dorothy Ellington, residents like John Tallentire and Sandra Almy and you just marvel at the energy, spirit, humor and camaraderie. There was trust among neighbors, people loved their city and trusted their local government enough to go millions of dollars in debt in order to achieve a vision.

Old School Square itself was a big risk, and you can see in founder Frances Bourque’s eyes her trust and belief in a young Joe Gillie to pull off a vision that if successful would mark a huge turning point in the city’s rich history.

In hindsight, winning that first All America City Award was the propellant we needed as a community to tell the world that things in Delray were changing and we were serious about lifting up all parts of our community.

Joe Gillie was at the forefront of those efforts. He, along with many many others, helped to win two All America City Awards and we became the first city in Florida to do so.

But Joe was our captain. In Joe, we trusted. He kept this city focused, laughing and moving forward through good times and challenging times.

Joe was a different kind of leader. He wasn’t walled off in some office, he could be found in the trenches, usually with a broom in those early days, but always with a larger than life personality that greeted patrons, promoted shows, programs and classes and always talked up the larger goal which was building community through culture.

We hear, often, how people are replaceable. How no one person is larger than the mission or more important than the enterprise. Part of that old saw is true, except that people are not replaceable.

There will be people who serve as President of what is now called the Delray Center for the Arts and hopefully they will do a great job in the role. But there will never be another Joe Gillie. He’s an original; a Delray original by way of Virginia.

In August, I attended a surprise party for Joe at Smoke. It’s not easy to surprise Joe, but it happened. Many of his friends were there and it was a wonderful night, full of memories and laughs, but with Joe in the room there is always talk about the future.

Joe is departing from his role, but he’s not retiring. He’s a creative force and creative beings don’t stop inventing and innovating. He will act. He will sing. He will write. He will paint and he will continue to be a vibrant and positive force in our community.

During the party a loop of old photos ran on the wall in back of Smoke. Joe looking dapper in a tux. Joe with hair. Joe and me and Gary Eliopoulos dressed as rappers (Joe is the only guy who could get me to do that or to get Diane, my wife to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs with localized lyrics at a roast in front of 450 people). Joe made us believe. His time here was magical—pure magic. How lucky we have been.



The One, The Only Bill Fay

Bill Fay Jr., in his element.

Bill Fay Jr., in his element.

Every now and again in this world you run into a larger than life figure.
Someone whose spirit lights up the room and whose humor, intelligence and warmth make you feel like you’ve known him forever.
Bill Fay is that kind of guy. In fact, he’s the epitome of that kind of man.
Bill is the longtime principal of Banyan Creek Elementary School in Delray Beach. After more than a half century in education he retired this month. There were tears when he announced his intentions and laughter too. Bill is an institution, an original. He has left two generations of kids, teachers and friends richer for having known him.
Bill has earned a lifetime of accolades and hopefully decades to enjoy his family and friends.

While we share a birthday, I always liked to remind him that he was much much older than I was and a Red Sox fan to boot. But somehow that didn’t get in the way of our friendship. His love of children and of Delray Beach was infectious and I enjoyed every moment I spent with Mr. Fay. His aspirations for his students and his teachers were nothing short of creating the warmest, best learning environment possible so that kids could thrive. And they did.
There will be many more principals who serve Banyan Creek in the years and decades to come. But Bill Fay will never be replaced. Nor will be forgotten. The great ones never are and Bill Fay is a great one.
He came to Banyan Creek after a long and distinguished career in Massachusetts.
Some may have approached the job as a victory lap, a chance to stay busy and collect a paycheck after a long career in education.

But Bill approached the position with energy, passion and a strong desire to educate children, mentor young teachers and make veteran teachers even better. He wanted Banyan Creek to be a great school, a safe place that would nurture children and build community. And that’s what it became.
When I started The Education Times newspaper many years ago one of the first things I learned is that you could tell whether a school had a great principal the moment you stepped into the school. If the school was orderly, clean, bright, had art on the walls and smiling well behaved kids you knew they had a great principal.
When you visit Banyan Creek as I did often over the years you could feel the energy, friendliness and love that is Bill Fay’s essence.

His teachers were focused. His parents were–mostly–happy (there are always a few). And the place crackled with laughter and encouragement. Bill Fay was the orchestra leader and set the tone. The culture of that school reflected his magnetic personality and his drive.
Bill is an opinionated guy. That’s what happens when you care and you’ve been around long enough to see some genuinely ridiculous things. He did not suffer fools gladly and while he had respect for hierarchy he did not have much patience for BS especially if the nonsense got in the way of educating his kids.
He had some amazing teachers over the years and he sang their praises. That’s what great leaders do. They give credit to others and they are focused on the mission.
Bill wasn’t just content to build a great school at Banyan he was a champion of other schools in Delray Beach. He was a touchstone for other principals, a leader among leaders and was deeply involved in the city’s efforts to improve its schools.
He had relationships everywhere from School Board members to mayors and commissioners. From district officials to city officials, everyone knew and respected Bill’s knowledge of what was best for kids.
We joked about our affinities. He liked the Red Sox and Pats, I followed the Yankees and Giants. I appreciated his sense of humor but also his deep knowledge of how the system worked or in many cases didn’t. He’s been a resource for all who preceded me and all who followed.
Here’s hoping he enjoys his retirement. And maybe, just maybe he will weigh in now and again because Bill Fay is one of a kind and we need these guys now more than ever.

Moving the Big Rocks

Moving the Big Rocks is a choice and a commitment.

Moving the Big Rocks is a choice and a commitment.

When it comes to publicity very few people can match Donald Trump.

But Mr. Trump met his match last week with the immense amount of coverage given to Pope Francis on his maiden voyage to America.

The Donald and the Pope talk about many of the same issues, immigration, income inequality and climate change, but with all due respect to our Palm Beach neighbor, I prefer listening to Pope Francis’ message—and I’m not even Catholic.

While he was visiting the U.S., Pope Francis skipped out on Congress to eat lunch at a homeless shelter, visited a Philadelphia jail and in one of his most stirring public addresses, reminded mass-goers to stop averting their eyes.


“In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath ‘the rapid pace of change,’ so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’ to be there, no right to be part of the city,” he said at a mass held Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. “They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, and the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”

Pope Francis knows that our shared future depends on building cities where all people have the opportunity to thrive. But how do you do that?

There are ideas galore from across the country on strategies that work. There are best practices relating to housing, crime, neighborhood revitalization, economic development and education.

But I would argue that the first step is always a decision on whether you want to do these things.

Many cities say they want to tackle their problems, but often it’s only words. But the cities that act are the ones to watch and the communities to emulate.

The problems we face today are vast, serious and seemingly endless and intractable. Most Americans would agree that Washington is broken and that their state governments, while usually more functional than Washington (a very low bar indeed) are also vast and distant from most people’s day to day lives.

The answers therefore must come from the cities, smaller communities that can marshal resources and people and actually solve or at least improve problems if they choose to do so.

The operative word though is choose…cities must commit.

I’m a fan of citizen-driven planning. When done well and with the right motives and people in the room, there is no more powerful tool that communities have than to create a blueprint by engaging as many stakeholders as possible.

I’ve seen this strategy change cities, including Delray Beach and I have seen cities fail to advance because they don’t engage their stakeholders.

So who are the stakeholders?

They include residents, property owners, non-profit organizations, educators, social service providers, law enforcement, business owners etc., anybody who has a “stake” in a city’s past, present and future. These are stakeholders, not special interests.

But often cities fail in their visioning and planning if they try and cut corners by either convening for the wrong reasons (to check a box), restricting input, rushing the process or the common mistake of dictating from the top.

Community engagement takes longer and can be messy. But engaging the public has magical advantages including buy-in and better ideas.

But once you commit, you had better deliver.

When I look at my city of Delray Beach and my neighbor Boca Raton, I see two really different but complementary communities with vast resources and amenities. But I also see challenges and opportunities.

There is great wealth and great poverty in our communities. There are safe neighborhoods and dangerous ones. There are kids who thrive and children who struggle with poverty, violence and dysfunctional home lives.

Cities are fascinating places because they have obligations to the past, present and future and they have responsibilities to all people—including the invisible and the struggling, the people mentioned by the Pope.

We can honor the past by preserving our historic neighborhoods and buildings, but also by recognizing the hard work that went into long term visions for our cities. We can serve the present by adapting those visions for today’s needs and by ensuring that current residents, from all walks of life have a place in our planning and in our communities. And we can create a better future by remembering that we are stewards. Therefore, it’s not all about our needs, wishes and conveniences; we also have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren as well.

Back in the day, we called some of these issues “the Big Rocks”. And we were determined to move them, even if ever so slightly forward. In Delray, the big rocks were education, crime, neighborhoods, race relations, building a vibrant and sustainable downtown, supporting culture, preserving the beach and creating jobs beyond food and beverage. In Boca, which had good schools, strong businesses, culture and neighborhoods I saw the big rocks as mobility, creating a downtown core and building on some remarkable foundations; medicine, education and technology.

Washington may or may not be fixable—but our cities are pockets of opportunity for us to work on big challenges and be beacons for others to emulate. You just have to choose to move the big rocks.

New York State of Mind

Simple elegance

Simple elegance

We just came back from a long weekend in New York City and it was wonderful.
New York in September defies description.

The weather is perfect, not hot, not cold and you find yourself walking everywhere.
We measured our steps on our smart phones and found that we walked close to 7 miles every day. We loved it.
New York crackles with energy. The restaurants are busy all day and people walk, bike and run in Central Park from sunrise to sunset.
Two of our favorite walks were through Central Park and on NYC’s famed Highline, an abandoned elevated rail line that has been converted into an amazing public space.
In Central Park, we visited Strawberry Fields which honors the life and legacy of John Lennon.
It’s hard to imagine that in a few months, it will be 35 years since he was gunned down outside The Dakota on Central Park West.

My friends and I were 16 when John was murdered and it left a deep hole. We grew up rabid Beatles fans even though we were in first grade when the legendary band broke up in 1970.

A bunch of us travelled to Central Park for a vigil honoring Mr. Lennon a few days after he was shot. It was incredibly sad but somehow soothing to be with a community of people who were as impacted as we were.
Last year, a few of us who went to the vigil returned to the  city to mark our 50th birthdays. It all goes so fast.
Howie and Linda Cohn (yes, of ESPN fame) were there as were my friends Scott Savodnik and Ben Willemstyn.

We took photos on a Central Park bench, just like the Simon & Garfunkel song “Old Friends”. You remember the line: “Old friends, old friends sat on their park bench like bookends…Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be seventy.”
We saw Simon & Garfunkel in the park when we were kids too. And joked that we would be those old men someday. And I guess we kind of are. (If not quite 70).
Memories seem to be enhanced by place.
We made some new ones walking the 1.5 mile Highline, a narrow trail that features native vegetation, public art and spectacular views. It’s a monumental achievement. Simple, but beautiful and vibrant with people of all ages enjoying what had been an abandoned rail line.
When we headed back home it was with thoughts about place making and walkability.
Are there places in Boca- Delray that can be reclaimed like the Highline? Most certainly, there are.

Cities like NY, Chicago, Charleston make you rethink the mundane and consider the possibilities.
Why don’t we walk more (in cooler weather at least) but prefer driving even when we visit downtown?
What are the next cool neighborhoods?
Great cities inspire. And nothing inspires quite like the Big Apple.

SWOT Analysis…First In A Series


Years ago, a mentor of mine talked to me about the value of doing what he called a SWOT analysis.

SWOT, stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

It’s a helpful exercise to write down your strengths, weaknesses etc., regardless of the endeavor your involved in.

It’s an old-fashioned, but effective way is seeing where you are.

And it’s always helpful to know where you are.

I just did a SWOT analysis for a start-up hot sauce company that I am involved in. It feels good to list your strengths and opportunities but you better be aware of your weaknesses and threats too.

Looking at Delray these days I see abundant strengths—a great beach, a lively downtown, some nascent entrepreneurial energy and some (but not nearly enough) passionate citizens. I also see great opportunities—the Congress Avenue corridor, a newly beautified and safer U.S. 1 corridor, the potential for sports and interest in our gateway— West Atlantic.

Smart cities—and hot sauce companies– build on their strengths and explore opportunities and never let complacency seep into the culture. So if you’re Delray don’t declare your downtown “done” (rule #1 of downtowns, you’re never done) you look to see if some of the spill over can be accommodated on Congress Avenue or elsewhere and you begin to make some strategic bets on cool opportunities made possible by your strengths.

But you also don’t overlook your threats and weaknesses.

So what are the threats?

Here are a few we see: Drugs, commercial real estate prices and rents that don’t make sense, a lack of affordability on the residential side, gaps in the educational system and political apathy among large segments of the community.

Weaknesses? Inflexible codes (no bonus program, not form-based), a long and exhausting land use approval process, lack of office space downtown and not enough diversity of uses downtown—yet.

Further afield; several struggling commercial districts outside the downtown core and not a lot of housing options.

Let’s take a deeper look at the threats.

Drugs: In the 80s, Delray dealt with a pretty significant crack cocaine epidemic. Many of the officers retiring today after 25-30 year careers can tell you stories that will astound you if you’re new to town. Of course, Delray was not alone. South Florida was awash in cocaine and crack back then. But we were hit especially hard.

Right now, the drug du jour seems to be heroin and flakka. Broward is getting killed with flakka incidents and we seem to be getting our fair share of users. Luckily, we have a Police and Fire Rescue Department skilled in handling the violence, crime and health consequences associated with the problem.

Irrational exuberance in our real estate market is not something we can call 911 to address. With prices for some buildings at $1,300 a square foot, downtown property going for $1 million to over $10 million an acre (not a typo) there are consequences. If you’re selling property, Mazel Tov, your ship has come in. If you’re renting property…well…welcome to rents exceeding $100 a square foot on the avenue.

The consequences are easy to predict: goodbye mom & pop, hello national retailer. If you are a restaurant, you better stay open to 2 a.m. and you better start selling a lot of overpriced drinks and $30 salads. This has demographic consequences that we ought to be talking about and understanding.

I happen to think that this is a phase and that the market will return to some degree of sanity. Others feel this is just the beginning and that Lincoln Road and Worth Avenue rents are here to stay and will only go up from here.

My prediction: we will see a bunch of national retailers signing relatively short term leases. When they realize that downtown doesn’t have enough density and year round foot traffic to support huge rents there will be a shake out and we will either have vacancies or landlords will adjust expectations (hard when you overpaid for real estate) and lower rents to allow independents to come back downtown.

We’ll see if the bulls or the bears are right. And P.S. I do think Atlantic can survive and would even benefit with the presence of some(heavy emphasis on some) national retail, which will drive traffic to hopefully also support independents and regionals. Is there a tipping point? Oh yes. Where? Got me, but please see rule number one: you are never done, downtown is more art than science.

On the residential side, rising property values are mostly a good thing, as long as you are not taxed out of your homes. But, if you are a young family looking to move to Delray or a young professional seeking to live here the costs of entry are significant. We are not talking about low or moderate income housing, but true workforce, e.g. an accountant and a teacher? Or a police officer and a nurse. Where do they live? Right now–and this is anecdotal—Boynton Beach.

Schools are an age old concern, but political apathy is a relatively new one.

In 1990, there were 26,330 registered voters in Delray. When the city elected Mayor Tom Lynch and Commissioners Jay Alperin and David Randolph 41.54 percent of eligible voters showed up.

Mr. Randolph received 7,720 votes.

Last year, Mayor Glickstein garnered 3,726 votes, less than half what Randolph received 25 years earlier in a much smaller city. His opponent, Tom Carney, tallied 3,266 votes. That’s about 16 percent of registered voters. Both candidates spent oodles of cash attacking each other and the city. Their campaigns were devoid of ideas. Sorry guys, it’s true. I kept your literature and use it to speak to kids about how coarse local politics has become.

Does it drive voters away? I think it does. Remember Commissioner Randolph got almost 8,000 votes in a much smaller Delray Beach.

Add Glickstein’s and Carney’s votes together and you get 6,992 votes. Something is wrong. And oh yeah, a whole lot more money is being spent these days chasing fewer voters.

The game has shrunk and that’s not a good thing.

Future posts, will address weaknesses, strengths and opportunities.





September Song


“Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you
These precious days I’ll spend with you

September Song

My ex sister in law died last week. She was 51.

About three weeks ago my friend’s wife passed. She was 47.

Both brave women had cancer. The same disease that took my mother 17 years ago at the age of 59.

My “second dad”, my best friend’s father lost his battle with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Last week marked the 10th anniversary of his passing.

To say I hate cancer is an understatement. I also fear it, support charities that fight it and pray every day for a cure.

I also pray for families struggling with the disease.

We get caught up in the little stuff. We all do.

We shouldn’t.

Cancer is awful, but it will focus you in a hurry; make you concentrate on the things that really matter. Like love. Like friendship. Like family.

The week before last wasn’t an easy one. On Sunday, on my way to a Rosh Hashanah dinner, I learned that my credit card was compromised. Again. A day later while driving on US 1 in Boca I was struck by a driver who just slammed into me near Spanish River Boulevard. He sped off. Nice.

But when you get a call that a loved one has passed at such a young age it floors you. And just like that the little things seem trifling.

You get another credit card. You fix the scrapes on your car door. These are little things.

My former sister in law, a beloved aunt to my children and a friend of mine and just about everyone she ever met, had passed at age 51 after a brave bout with cancer. There are no words.

We are fortunate in Boca and Delray to live in a community with strong hospitals and cancer support services.

All of our hospitals, Delray, Boca, Bethesda and West Boca, provide oncology services. FAU and several local bio tech institutes are engaged in meaningful research related to cancer.

These efforts and other charitable endeavors deserve our attention and support.

Progress is being made in the fight to find a cure, but we are still losing far too many people to this awful disease. Way, way too many.


You Get More With Sugar…

The Delray Community Land Trust celebrating 10 years of excellence is a joint effort with the city and the CRA.

The Delray Community Land Trust celebrating 10 years of excellence is a joint effort with the city and the CRA.

Imagine someone walking up to you on the street and smacking you over the head with a baseball bat.
Imagine that the person who hits you over the head is someone you know, have worked with and trusted.
In your mind, you’ve done right by that person.

Performed well in the past, felt you were still doing well and looked forward to more success in the future.
You’d probably be shocked and a trifle upset wouldn’t you? Sure, nobody is perfect, but a public beat down?

Well that’s what happened to the Delray Beach CRA last week when they went before for the city commission and received some “tough love”.
Tough love. That’s a heckuva phrase.
Usually it’s reserved for wayward children who are on the wrong track. You do something dramatic, maybe even shocking, to get their attention so they can button up and fly right.
But typically you don’t spank partners when they are kicking butt.
The Delray CRA kicks butt.
Take a look around Delray Beach. Take an inventory of what you like about this place.
Delray Center for the Arts, the library, Spady Museum, The Green Market.

Do you like the look and feel of Atlantic Avenue? How about Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue? Do you like Atlantic Grove? Or do you miss the drive through liquor store?

The list goes on and on and on.

But it’s not just the big important projects that make our CRA special. It’s the small but equally important stuff: the charming Community Land Trust houses, affordable projects like Carolyn Holder Court and a nearby senior housing project,  facade grants, business assistance grants and the Eagle Nest program which has helped scores of kids discover a career path in construction. I know many of those kids, we are sending a few to college via Dare 2 Be Great and they have told us what that program has meant to their lives and their neighborhoods.

For 30 years, the CRA has been a valued partner, a policy innovator and a proven implementer. Their work has impacted the entire city not just their district.

The agency built Delray, along with residents, city staff and other agencies.
They deserve applause not a whack upside the head.
Tone matters in politics.
If you want to build a strong and caring community you have to be cognizant of words, tone, context. Think it’s sappy, guess again, it’s essential.
Elected officials need to wield both carrots and sticks. But the good ones know when to use them.
It’s important that leaders possess an ability to show respect and gratitude. They go hand in hand.
If you start a conversation with “thank you for all you do now let’s do even better” most people are all ears: eager to change and embrace new ways.
But if you if ignore someone’s worth and kick them in the teeth, the reaction is not enthusiasm, its deflation.
This issue is close to me. And admittedly I am biased. My wife ran the agency for 13 years. I know most of the agency’s staff. They are dedicated, hard working, honest, smart and incredibly effective public servants.

They are good. Very good. But they are not perfect. Neither is the City Commission or any group or agency for that matter. But the CRA should be a source of city pride; the agency deserves respect. They have done and are doing great things and they can be even better. They have also helped the city with expenses, including police and engineering services, money for the tennis tournament and for key non-profits like the library and the Delray Center for the Arts. They can be effective with less money and that’s the conversation that needs to take place.

But there seems to be a true disagreement over the agencies mission, spending and priorities. That deserves discussion and debate, not from dueling daises, but in conversation between the two agencies as Commissioner Katz wisely suggested.
Sometimes we act as if the money spent by the agency is lost. It’s not. It’s invested here not in some foreign country. And if you can’t see the return on that investment I can’t help you.
Wiping out this agency, taking it over and or beating it into submission would be folly. A mistake that won’t be forgotten and one that will have implications far beyond the terms of the current commission.

The direction given the CRA was to prioritize spending west of Swinton. Hmmmm… that’s been the priority of the CRA for at least the past 15 years. During that time, more than $45 million has been invested in our neediest neighborhoods, neighborhoods that the city neglected for generations. From housing and sidewalks, to water pressure upgrades and paving streets the CRA has used money generated by the success of the eastern portion of the district to improve the west. These improvements were done in partnership with residents and were based on citizen driven plans. And it’s first now beginning to yield results, with projects like the Fairfield Inn and the coming soon Equity mixed use development.

The neighbors called the promise to invest in the west “the covenant”. The covenant called for patience, but the promise was the monies generated in the east would help improve the west. Now that doesn’t mean that every dollar goes west. You still have to take care of infrastructure in the east and projects such as Delray Center for the Arts which by the way is for everyone to enjoy. I’m sorry that Artist’s Alley is in jeopardy because a private investor bought the warehouses, but I wonder if we’d be talking about art in the Grove if not for CRA investments in the Art Warehouse and Arts Garage. U.S. 1 is about to blossom because of CRA implementation of our master plan.

Now we’re told that the plan is old and things have changed. Yes they have. But concepts like  walkability, sustainability, a need for independent retail, mixed use development, culture, mobility and affordability are still viable, desirable and needed. We are told that downtown is done. Nope. Sorry, it’s never done. That was a  lesson learned many years ago that’s been forgotten, at least by some.

We are told to move everything to Congress Avenue and we are hard at work on a solid plan to do so. But none of it works, if we  neglect the heart. City building is not a zero sum game.

You can pay attention to the east and the west and you should.
I’m a fan of city government– especially of this city’s government– despite its flaws. There are a ton of very good people who work at City Hall.
But to think they can do what the best CRA in the state has been doing exceedingly well for 30 years is just plain wrong.
A city needs a CRA and a CRA needs a city. You work together. Like you have for 30 years, a time frame that built a great city.
And if you think politicians should sit as the CRA good luck with that one. Instead of having volunteers with specific skill sets concentrating on redevelopment you’ll get people worried about “optics” (man, I abhor that word) and their next election.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Make it better.
And fix your own house first.
Unsolicited advice I know. But hey it’s my blog.
The CRA should be a source of civic pride not derision.
I heard so many falsehoods uttered last week that I lost count.
It seems that there’s a concerted effort to deny this city’s success and civic achievements. I heard the word disconnect used countless times; yep there’s a disconnect alright.
You can’t “fix” or improve by tearing things down. This city has come a long way and we love it. Lots of people have benefitted, all five commissioners included. Work with your partners.
That’s how Delray was built.


A Village is a Port in a Storm


There was a homicide in Delray Beach a few weekends ago.

A 26-year-old man was shot and killed outside a community market on our Main Street, in our downtown. His name was Jamar Gabbage.

The shooting happened not far from our “gateway” feature, in the 1100 block of West Atlantic Avenue; the entrance to our downtown.

Last week we learned that three people died after overdosing on heroin within 24 hours in Delray.

The same day this story led the local news I saw a young man on a bike heading toward A1A screaming at passersby. I wondered whether he was ill or under the influence of “flakka”, the new scourge that is laying waste to young minds. This week came more news of someone allegedly under the influence and violent requiring several police officers and a K-9 to subdue.

But when I stop by to visit friends at a local restaurant the talk isn’t about murders or what to do about substance abuse. The talk is about “A frame” valet signs and whether a part on the beach pavilion is rusting.

When I browse social media I read about change and how sad it is to see a chain store downtown. Valid concerns, but definitely first world problems, I think to myself.

Then I read about an unattended death at a local rehab and see a slew of insensitive comments.

And I feel sad.

These are people we are talking about.

Someone’s dad. Someone’s child. Someone’s friend. They are not “cancers”, they are people.

I see a lot of lost people in our city. I see them outside the local Walgreens and watch them slowly cross a parking lot in front of my office on Lindell Boulevard.

Some are homeless and worn, like weathered driftwood. Others seem cooked with vacant thousand yard stares as they make their way across streets only to disappear in crevices.

We have it all here.

Mansions on the water.

Craft cocktails.

Fancy cars.

Valet parking.

Big Boats. Expensive private schools. 100 foot Christmas trees.

We also have murders.

Drive by shootings.

Kids whose parents beat them. People suffering from cancer and dementia. Heroin. Homelessness and drug deals done in alleyways.

It’s there for all to see in the village. If we care to look.

When I drive through town I have memories everywhere. That’s what happens when you’re anchored in a place for a long period of time as I have been in Delray—happily.

I remember being able to seeking solace in people whenever the going got rough.

On South Swinton there was Father Stokes. Chip, he would insist you call him.

He became Bishop of New Jersey.

But before he left he was a confidant; a trusted partner.

He cared about the poor people who lived just west of his church. When you talked with him you could see his passion about education, social justice and racism. Before he got his post in New Jersey he was up for another big job in the church.

A team of senior church leaders came to Delray to discuss his work in our city. I was asked about Chip’s work in the community and when I began to answer I noticed that I was choked up describing the care and leadership he provided. I realized that if he left, he would leave a gaping hole. He didn’t get that job but a few years later he got an even bigger one.

And you know what? We miss Chip Stokes’ leadership, courage and ability to focus on what was most important.

On Lake Ida Road, there was Nancy Hurd who spent decades loving the poorest children in our village at the Achievement Center. Nancy was always a port in a storm. On the darkest days, the days when I couldn’t sleep because I saw images of a 15 year old boy in a casket I knew I could visit Nancy and she would hold my hand and together we would visit pre-schoolers with their smiles, hugs and hopes. By the time you left, you had hope in the future. It wasn’t that reality changed, but in that corner of the world you could see goodness and love.

On North Swinton, at Old School Square there was Joe Gillie and Frances Bourque who were always excited about the arts and about serving children by exposing them to culture. Their passion was infectious. You wanted to sign on to their mission immediately and we did.

Years later I would sit on an interview panel and listen to 17-year-old Stephanie Brown talk about her love of photography stoked by a class she took at Old School Square. She would become one of our first set of Dare 2 Be Great Scholars. A year or two later she was named one of the top young photographers in Savannah where she excelled at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for that class…it might not have happened.

Near Pompey Park, lived the Pompey’s, lovely people, educators, community builders whose love of this city made you fall in love too. Their history was painful; fighting for the right to go to the beach, better schools and parks and for local children denied opportunity.

On the southwest side, you could sit with Mrs. Wesley. Libby to some…and she would sing to you or read you a poem that left you a puddle. Libby was beauty personified. She believed in Delray. She believed in young people. She believed in roots. She inspired everyone.

At City Hall, you could pop in and feel the energy of achievement and pride. In the clerk’s office were Barbara Garito and Chevelle Nubin and lots of happy faces, Sue and Jim and others. There was DQ and Lula and a busy planning department with smart people like Ron Hoggard and Jeff Costello who could figure out any problem you threw at them. And we did. We threw a lot their way.

And there was tough Paul Dorling, who could be disarmed with a joke.

Perry held court at Boston’s and Bill at the Chamber. Lori could be found at the market and Nancy was always planning a festival.

Solace; everywhere you looked.

Pame, Jen, Evelyn, Skip, Bob, Cathy B, Susan, Kerry, Rachel and Tom Fleming in the Grove. Mrs Gholston and Miss B.

A village.

There were murders and drugs. Always. There was crime and blight galore. Businesses went bust. People said rude things.

But we were a village.

Always a village.

I’m not sure if those same havens exist these days. I hope they do and I suspect they do. Many of the players mentioned above have moved on in life which is what happens, but I’m sure they were replaced by others who are caring as well.

My wish is that current and future leadership seek advice and solace. You can’t do these jobs on social media, as great as Facebook is. And you can’t do it walled off somewhere in a vacuum. It’s only a village if we talk to each other. And listen—with empathy.


Show Me A Hero

Yonkers in the 80s.

Yonkers in the 80s.

We just finished watching the HBO mini-series “Show Me A Hero.”

It was incredible.

Great acting, great writing and a subject that is as relevant today as it was when the series took place 30 years ago.

For those who missed it, “Show Me A Hero” is based on a famous housing case in Yonkers, N.Y. in the 1980s. A judge ruled that Yonkers needed to allow an additional 200 units of public housing throughout the city in an effort to stop the concentration of poverty and integrate a highly segregated city.

The City of Yonkers fought and fought and fought the decree, creating controversy, racial tension, financial and human hardship. The units were eventually built and were considered a success. The widespread fears of “there goes the neighborhood” were unrealized but the debate took a toll on residents on all sides of the issue.

The series is also the story of Nick Wasicsko, the 28-year-old mayor of Yonkers who first got elected by supporting residents who fought the expansion of public housing and then over time changed his position.

What’s intriguing about Mayor Wasicsko is that he changed over time and by degrees—a very human evolution.

At first, he agreed to the expansion of housing because the city kept losing in the legal arena and it was bleeding the city financially and spiritually. As an attorney, Wasiscko knew the fight was futile and as a pragmatist he wanted to stop the bleeding. But over time, he became a believer and genuinely wanted to help people escape the crushing poverty, crime and violence of the projects. He was named a finalist for a JFK Profile in Courage Award as a result.

Along the way, he lost his seat as mayor. He later won a council seat and then lost a political battle with the new mayor who redrew his district forcing him into a losing battle against his former best friend for a seat. Wasiscko committed suicide at the age of 34.

The final part of the quote “Show Me A Hero” is “and I will write you a tragedy”. That phrase was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and sadly, that is often true.

What made me “Show Me a Hero” so intriguing was that it’s heroes were not perfect people, but real human beings struggling with public sentiment, old prejudices, anger and doubt.

We’ve been through a long year in terms of race relations in this country. Ferguson, Baltimore, Staten Island—we’ve all seen the headlines and watched the news.

We are not immune.

When I watched “Show Me A Hero” I thought of my own experience in public office as I watched a young elected official get consumed by the anger, fear and sadness in his community over housing and race.

I saw some of those emotions as well.

One of the enduring lessons of “Show Me A Hero” was that the world didn’t end when those 200 affordable townhomes were built in white neighborhoods. In fact, some opponents of the affordable homes had a change of heart when they actually got to know their new neighbors as people looking to live in a neighborhood that was safe for their children.

“Show Me A Hero” depicts a city that nearly blew apart as a result of hatred, fear and anger.

It’s a cautionary tale with an enduring lesson: leadership has a responsibility to heal.


FAU Scientists to Study Traffic


FAU has received a $300,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation and a $100,000 grant from the City of Miami Beach to research and test more efficient traffic signals.

Traffic jams not only make daily commutes exasperating, they also contribute to excessive fuel consumption and air pollution. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, outdated traffic signaling accounts for more than 10 percent of all traffic delays. Adaptive traffic control systems or “smart” traffic lights allow intersection signals to adjust to real-time traffic conditions like accidents, road construction and even weather. In the U.S., adaptive signal control technologies have been in use for approximately 20 years, but have been deployed on less than 3 percent of existing traffic signals. Florida, California and Michigan are among the states paving the way to make traffic signal improvements a priority.

Researchers in the Laboratory for Adaptive Traffic Operations & Management (LATOM) in FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science have received a $100,000 grant from the City of Miami Beach to test two adaptive traffic signals being considered for one of their busiest corridors in South Beach – Arthur Godfrey Road (41st Street). Miami is among the 10 U.S. cities with the worst traffic. In addition, FAU’s LATOM recently received a $300,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to research use of high-resolution data, from signal controllers and detectors, to monitor performance of traffic signals.

“Timing for research in adaptive control systems is right and perspectives are exciting,” said Mohammad Ilyas, Ph.D., dean of FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. “With better sensing technologies such as wireless communication and personal mobile devices, smarter algorithms, and more processing power, we are moving towards an era of much more efficient, safer and eco-friendly traffic signals.”

These complex systems require extensive surveillance and communication infrastructure to enable connection either among local controllers or between a central system and the local controllers. FAU’s LATOM is a one-of-a-kind simulation lab equipped with software, hardware and institutional capabilities, providing regional, national and international partners with opportunities to develop new and use existing methods and tools to monitor, manage and control transportation infrastructure.

“Congested roads have long been a headache for contemporary cities and we need to look at innovative ways to deal with traffic,” said Aleksandar Stevanovic, Ph.D., PE, director of LATOM and associate professor in FAU’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatics Engineering. “While better management of traffic signals won’t reduce the number of cars on our streets, we can do a much better job in adjusting signals to work more efficiently.” He adds, “Smart traffic lights are one way to address urban traffic congestion, and if timed properly and continually, they can both reduce traffic delays and improve public safety.”

Conventional signal systems use pre-programmed, daily signal timing schedules. Adaptive traffic control systems on the other hand, adjust the timing of red, yellow and green lights to accommodate changing traffic patterns. Duration of the green lights is usually a result of a complex compromise between the needs of a single intersection and the needs for good connection/progression with other surrounding intersections. Adaptive traffic control systems create such compromising solutions ‘on the fly’ by extensively using wires embedded in city streets, or other forms of detectors, to sense changes in traffic demands and its patterns.

As a relatively new technology, adaptive control systems are still somewhat expensive. Therefore, municipalities often seek advice from experts and research labs to pre-test effectiveness of these systems in the lab environment before the systems are deployed in live traffic.

“In our lab, we are able to work with our partners to model or ‘simulate’ different traffic patterns throughout a day – and on weekends and during various other scenarios – where virtually the same technology that controls traffic in the field is used in simulation to test its effectiveness and reliability,” said Stevanovic.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, on average, smart traffic lights improve travel time by more than 10 percent, and in areas with particularly outdated signal timing, improvements can be 50 percent or more.

For more information on FAU’s LATOM, visit