Things that Work Edition

It’s time for some positivity.
Social media and conventional media are full of bad news these days.
It’s time to take a look at what’s working.
Fortunately, this is by no means a complete list. And please send me some suggestions for future posts, we’d love to spotlight the good in our community.

Delray Beach Initiative –think of this group of committed citizens as a SWAT team for good. Essentially they go where they are needed helping local schools and non profits by raising funds and awareness. Over the weekend, they hosted “Delray’s Got Talent” at the Elks Club which in addition to being a lot of fun raised funds for the Miracle League, a non-profit that works too. To get involved or learn more visit http://delraybeachinitiative.com/

The Delray Beach Historical Society–under the leadership of Winnie Edwards, the Historical Society has new energy and life with lots of activities, exhibits and projects. They have a robust social media presence and have activated their home at the historic Cason Cottage. I like how the Historical Society is conducting interviews with residents who have insights into local history. I’ve longed felt we have neglected to capture the stories of our pioneers and key contributors so future generations may learn about their hometown. To learn more and get involved visit http://www.delraybeachhistory.org/

Boca Economic Development–Jessica Del Vecchio is a force of nature promoting job growth and corporate achievement in Boca Raton. Is there are a lot to talk about? Oh yes. But there’s also a whole lot to admire about how the City of Boca is messaging its successes. The Economic Development office fosters pride by spotlighting the contributions and achievements of local companies and touting the city as a great place to invest and run a business. Here’s a link to the office https://www.myboca.us/470/Economic-Development  

FAU Research Park–Park leader Andrew Duffel is an economic development rock star who was recently recognized for his stellar work. The Park has become a job engine for the region and the home of a lot of innovation. Bravo! The Research Park’s website is a cornucopia of great information that will get you informed and excited about the future of tech innovation in our backyard.

https://www.research-park.org/

The Arts Garage–since taking the helm, Marjorie Waldo has steadied the ship, engaged the community and continued the great programming. Yes! If you haven’t been to the Arts Garage, make sure to catch a show, you won’t regret it. The venue is intimate and easily accessible.  There’s a lot of ways to get involved visit http://artsgarage.org/ to learn how.

Old School Square–President Rob Steele and Board Chair Bill Branning have gotten the tour of political dysfunction in Delray but through it all have managed to stay positive and focused on the big picture which is and has always been serving as a cultural catalyst and community gathering spot. Rob’s ability to reach out to key community partners is refreshing. Bill’s strength as a leader is inspiring. http://oldschoolsquare.org/

Anthony’s Cold Fire Pizza–you can always count on Pedro Andrade, Anthony’s manager in Delray to step up to help the community. Aside from serving amazing wings and ridiculously good pizza, Anthony’s is a great corporate citizen.
There’s more. A whole lot more.
So much to be thankful for in your Delray Boca.

Housing For Young People Needed

Delray’s Community Land Trust is an innovative organization supported by the Delray CRA and others.

The headline was a grabber: Are You a Millennial Looking to Buy a Home? It Could Take Up to 32 Years.

Only 32% of the country’s largest generation (which consists of 75 million Americans) own homes. Those that do are flocking to interior markets, which tend to be cheaper and more cost-effective than most coastal markets. In our neck of the woods, that might mean the western fringes which creates sprawl and traffic as workers head east for jobs. But even out west, higher end homes seem to be the order of the day and many of the communities cater to the 55 and over crowd. Redfin recently reported that the 33446 area code (west of Delray)  is pacing the nation in price appreciation.

 

As the front line of millennials enter their mid-30s, financial security is not guaranteed. Instead, the generation is beleaguered with student loan debt (which exceeds car and credit card debt) and salaries that are 20% lower than what their baby boomer parents earned at the same age, according to a report by real estate research site Abodo.

 

The average net worth of a millennial is $10,090, or 56% less than what it was for baby boomers at the same point in life, according to Federal Reserve data.

 

Coupled with rising home prices, it could take decades for a millennial to be able to afford a down payment on a house in places like San Diego or San Francisco. This may be why more millennials live with their parents than any other generation in the last 130 years, according to Bisnow Media.

Millennials living in the country’s biggest cities, including New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles are especially challenged.

 

The average millennial makes $40,500 per year. Using that average, were one to save 15% of her income each year, it would take just over 18 years to save enough for a 20% down payment on a home in Boston. It would take 32 years for a millennial to afford the average $112,000 down payment for a home in Los Angeles. And as the father of a few millennials who are gainfully employed (thank goodness) I have a hard time believing that even the most frugal and disciplined young person can save 15% of their income.

The picture in South Florida is not much different than some of the aforementioned hyper expensive markets.

I remember moving here when I was 22 and thinking that relative to New York and the Northeast, Florida was very affordable. My car insurance was lower, home prices were reasonable, there was no income tax and property taxes were much lower than my native Long Island. Even homeowners insurance was nominal at first—before changing after Hurricane Andrew.

Still, according to researchers at Abodo, Florida as a state remains much more affordable than other parts of the United States. It would take 5-10 years for millennials to save up.

Hence, the desire for developers to build apartments and the willingness of underwriters to finance deals. However, finding sites in built-out and expensive Boca and Delray is challenging. With land prices soaring, rental rents are also rising and the uncertain regulatory environment (costly, lengthy and torturous entitlement processes, toxic politics, NIMBYism and an aversion to density) make it even harder for millennials to strike out on their own.

Another headline in USA Today recently also grabbed me: Where Did All The Starter Homes Go?

The article cited a byzantine maze of zoning, environmental, safety and other requirements that has led to a 35% decrease in housing construction across the country from previous levels. According to economists cited by USA Today, the lack of supply has driven up home prices by 40% over the past five years.

Single family home construction suffers from a lack of available land and a lack of skilled construction workers, according to the National Association of Realtors. Banks are also tougher on borrowers as a result of the housing crash in 2008.

The perfect storm has led the National Association of Home Builders to sound the alarm. The NAHB says that from 2011 to 2016, regulatory costs to build the average house has increased from about $65,000 to $85,000 and now represent 25% of the cost of a home.

Of course, we need regulations as long as they are necessary, fairly priced and serve a public purpose.

Still, the inability of millennials to gain a foothold in our community should be pressing concern for public and private sector leaders.

It’s important for companies to be able to recruit workers in order for the economy to grow. Workers, young families, entrepreneurs and established companies look at housing prices, quality of life, quality of schools and cultural amenities before making a decision on where to put down roots.

Unfortunately, the word density has taken on a bad meaning. But, truth be told, density done well (i.e. properly designed for great buildings and public spaces) is essential for cities such as Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Compact and walkable development is better for the environment than traffic producing sprawl which serves the needs of cars over people. It also allows for young people to form households and become part of the community injecting needed ideas, life, energy, monies and volunteer hours which make cities work.

The recent changes to Delray’s land development regulations for the downtown core which capped density at 30 units to the acre, was a big mistake. It virtually guarantees that millennials—who seek walkable environments and don’t want to be car dependent—can’t live downtown. By limiting the supply, you jack up prices and we end up with an eastern core that’s shut off to all but the very wealthy.

The 2001 Downtown Master Plan, which did much to build on the 1990s Decade of Excellence, was a community wide education effort that encouraged well-designed projects versus a fixation on density numbers. We saw visual examples of ugly low density housing and also saw attractive higher density projects which have the added benefit of increasing your tax base while also adding residents who can support local businesses. That was the guiding rationale behind the push to add downtown housing. We wanted a sustainable, year-round downtown.

The other areas that make sense to add attainable housing for millennials and others is North and South Federal Highway, Congress Avenue and the “four corners” of Atlantic and Military, which has zoning allowing for a mix of uses. The four corners zoning—done over a decade ago—will become increasingly important as we see pressure on the retail landscape increase with big box chain stores being driven out of business by ecommerce.

Delray is ready to offer shopping center developers more options for their properties should they decide to invest and change course.

The best incentives are not monetary—which almost always leads to an arms race you can’t win with companies taking the money until a better offer comes along. Rather, the best incentives are zoning, a tough but fair and timely approval process that emphasizes design and good uses and enough density to give the next generation a chance to access your city.

We were always ahead of the curve—which is why Delray succeeded. It’s important we stay there or we will be left behind. Right now, we’re losing ground.

A Return To Bay Street

Greetings from The Bahamas.
About a dozen years ago, I was part of a small group that got invited to The Bahamas to meet business and political leaders looking to improve downtown Nassau.
I was thinking about that trip and a follow up visit by Bahamian officials to Delray this week as I returned to Paradise Island and made a trip to Bay Street.
U.S. Ambassador Ned Siegel asked former Mayor Tom Lynch and I to visit and talk about what we learned from the revitalization of downtown Delray Beach. We were joined by Boca Chamber President Troy McLellan and Kelly Smallridge, the president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
It was a memorable trip. And thanks to Ned, we met a who’s who in the Bahamian business world and government.
What struck us was the lack of local government so that the “little things” that mean so much –stuff like potholes and traffic flow –were left to the national government to deal with.
One of the issues at the time for Bay Street business leaders was the magnetic pull of cruise passengers and tourists to Atlantis, the massive resort that kind of has it all from magnificent pools and restaurants, to stores, aquariums and of course a casino.
We were asked to make some recommendations and we did and we later hosted a delegation in Delray, Boca and Palm Beach County.
I’m still in touch with a few of the Bahamians from that trip, mostly on social media.
So it was interesting to go back and ask as many people as I could how downtown was doing.
Of course, when you ask you get the gamut of responses: Bay Street was “thriving”, “struggling”, doing “awesome” and “so-so.”
When we were there we saw four cruise ships and the streets and stores were busy.
Side streets looked the same as a dozen years ago–still in need of some TLC. And parts of Bay Street were doing well and parts were marked by empty stores and blight.
So it goes…but it’s a beautiful place, with nice people, vibrant color, tropical weather, good food and happy music. And the residents…they love it here. Lots and lots of pride.
One thing was notable. Everywhere we went, people seemed to still know and miss Ambassador Siegel. That’s pretty cool. He left a mark here.
I hope he knows that.

 

Pride of the Yankees

Aaron Judge. Where have you gone Mr. O’Connor, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. 

I have a problem with bullies.
I suspect most of us do.
Bullies are detestable. They hurt people in ways that leave deep and lasting scars.
I don’t know why I have such an aversion to bullies. It’s not like I was bullied as a child outside of a few incidents which usually ended in a bloody nose (either me or the offender). I was taught to stand up to bullies and sometimes that may cost you a bloody nose or a lost tooth, but it usually remedies the situation.
I learned that bullies  will take your lunch money every day until you say no and endure the consequences which are usually less painful than the daily humiliation and stress of having your dignity compromised.
In politics, you run into bullies on a regular basis.
The typical rule is to never feed a troll. It demeans you and gives the troll status.
But there are exceptions…
If the troll/bully gets traction and begins to move public opinion you have a responsibility to stand up for the truth or at least tell the other side of the story.
And if the bully is picking on your staff, community and teammates or those who are suffering you should take a stand and stick up for people. Indifference never  benefits the afflicted.
Frankly, I’m seeing a lot of bullying in Delray these days.
A lot of it occurs on social media where in between posts about dogs, graduations and entertaining memes featuring cats or Chris Christie in a beach chair, a fair amount of hating occurs.
Two recent examples –out of hundreds –are comments relating to Delray’s recovery industry and the proposal to redevelop the Sundy House and related properties.
I get that issues relating to recovery, heroin and sober homes are immensely complex and highly emotional. There are bad operators, scammers, relapses, overdoses, concerns about PTSD among first responders, fraudulent business practices and the list goes on. All are fair game for discussion and worry. These are scary issues and this is a frightening time.
But there are people who recover. There are people who contribute. There are good people who wake up everyday and try to save others.
But if you see some of the comments on social media you’ll be stunned at the lack of empathy. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe we’ve become immune. Maybe we’ve grown so callous and judgmental that we are ok with painting with a broad brush.
Or wishing that addicts would “just die.” Or questioning whether addiction is real or a sign of weakness or bad character.
Friends, we are all weak at times and none of us are getting through life unscathed. A little compassion goes a long way.
I have close friends in recovery. People I respect and adore. I see how they hurt when they read or hear some of the more judgmental and I believe discriminatory comments.
And I think that’s a shame. Because when you paint with a broad brush you smear a lot of good people.
To wit:
I think the Crossroads Club has been a blessing to our city and to thousands of people. I’ve heard wonderful things about Wayside House and Beachcomber and as a young reporter I spent a ton of time “embedded” at the Drug Abuse Foundation and got to know some dedicated counselors.
Civic leaders such as former Mayor Leon Weekes spent years serving on the board of DAF. I really liked Mayor Weekes and admired his dedication to the community.
Speaking of dedication, I have attended meetings of our Drug Task Force and I’m impressed by the passion, commitment and yes love in the room.
All of these responsible operators would love to go away; if it meant the scourge of addiction was solved.
But addiction is a disease and it’s real and it’s here and everywhere across our nation and world.
We can bash. We can label. We can blame. But all that does is polarize. All that does is drive us further apart. It does not solve a thing.
As for Swinton Commons. I don’t know enough about the site plan to render an opinion. Haven’t seen it other than the renderings floating around the internet.
And contrary to some rumors, we’re not involved in the project. I like Rick Gonzalez, the architect. We hired Rick when I was mayor to help us tighten and improve our historic district guidelines. He’s a dedicated preservationist. The real deal.
Still, I don’t know if the project as constituted works or not.
I do know that the Sundy House properties will be redeveloped at some point. The historic homes on the site are in danger and the South Swinton Neighborhood needs a shot in the arm.
Regardless, the trashing on social media of those who support the project and other proposed projects is ridiculous.
I get it. I get the concerns. Too big, too much, too ugly etc. But what about an understanding of  other views? The need for jobs, the need for tax base to fund services, the need for attainable housing and property rights.
There is opportunity in the concerns. It resides in our willingness and our ability to convene all sides and air the concerns, acknowledge them, mitigate or eliminate them.
But too often we choose the opposite. We choose to pick sides and divide.
People have been labeled corrupt, profit motivated (shocking) and my favorite “Yankees.” As in the Yankees ruined our town.
Not the Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth and Aaron Judge (isn’t he amazing) Yankees –but I suppose those of us from the northeast.
Sigh.
For the record, I’m a proud New Yorker. I’ve lived here 30 years but I guess in some eyes, we will always be Yankees.
That’s ok. We’re proud of where we come from and proud of where we live now. We are also proud of our contributions to South Florida. Some of us are actually pretty nice people.
As my old English teacher Mr. O’Connor once said: “ignorance is its own refutation.”
But is it?
In the age of social media, where every Tom, Expert Maven and Self Anointed Avenger has a bullhorn– will facts, context, rule of law, truth and authenticity still carry the day? Is my old English teacher, who looked like Les Nessman from WKRP in Cincinnati (dating myself) but was the coolest teacher at Ward Melville, wrong?
I hope not. But I have some doubts for the first time. I’ve always believed that the truth was a stubborn thing and over time it prevails. I want to hold onto that.
But I do think that we are missing opportunity after opportunity to connect, collaborate and figure out a way to co-exist productively.
I read a blog this morning called “collaboration is the new leadership.”
I hope so, because I don’t see a lot of collaboration. I do see the opposite. And it doesn’t leave us happy. It doesn’t build community.
We can do better. We must.

 

 

 

10 Signs of a Great Organization

You need a north star.

Inc. magazine recently printed 10 signs of greatness in a company.

I thought the list was spot on—and that the traits of a great company also translate to a great non-profit, school, organization or City Hall.

Here’s the Inc. list with a few comments from a guy (that would be me) who has worked and volunteered in great places, good places and horrendous places over the past 31 years.

  1. Everyone is having fun—Inc. calls fun the “ultimate entry point for greatness.” I agree. And isn’t that a great sentiment? Fun environments are freeing, creative, productive, entrepreneurial and almost always successful. Fun attracts and retains talent, investment and ideas. “Without a sense of fun and creativity, forget ever achieving any level of greatness. To be great, you have to be a beacon.”
  2. No one is pedantic—Inc.’s John Brandon believes pedantry kills all progress and creativity. “When everyone acts like they know everything, when they are slavishly devoted to rules and when they are fussy, finicky, strict and overly fastidious, then nothing good will happen,” according to the magazine. A good point—flexibility and a willingness to experiment (and fail) enables greatness to occur.
  3. Empathy Abounds—Brandon defines empathy as an ability to see another point of view. “I’m going to help you, you’re going to help me,” he writes. “That’s called teamwork.”So take a look at your organization. Is there infighting? Do people work together, or work to undermine each other? Do key organizations and partners feel supported or neglected and or put upon?
  4. Expectations are Crystal Clear to Everyone—When bosses hoard information it breeds distrust and leads to everyone shooting in the dark. When you have a north star, or “true north” as author Bill George calls it, it enables people to focus. It also allows for true accountability versus a culture of random punishment. Goals should not be a well-kept secret. Stakeholders need to know the end game in order to have buy in to the organization.
  5. Grace is Prevalent—What if you fall short of your goals? Showing grace instead of a demeaning, belittling attitude is what makes a company great. “Grace is a license to fail,” says Inc.’s Brandon. But it’s not an excuse, it’s also a license to try new things, work hard and stick around. A culture of criticism kills momentum, instills fear and kills progress. “A culture of grace, encouragement, understanding and excitement will turn any organization into a giant,” says Brandon.
  6. Roles are Clearly Defined—In dysfunctional organizations, people often don’t know what they’re doing or where they fit in the big picture. This type of culture creates organizational anxiety. Employees need to be empowered not stifled.
  7. Everyone sees and rewards hard work—When companies treat employees like cattle that need to be silenced, cowed (no pun intended) and herded you will surely fail. If hard work and success are celebrated, you will succeed and learn.
  8. Every Employee is Happy—Happy employees create dynamic environments, according to Inc. An unhappy group ensures your enterprise will sink.
  9. Mentoring is more important than performance—“Being beaten into submission by an angry boss won’t work; mentoring will,” writes Brandon. “A great company is one where the most important knowledge is handed down from one employee to the next in a way that’s built on the foundation of individual relationships.” To this I would add to beware of the narcissistic “leader” who only feels good when he disparages everyone else. How do you tell if you are dealing with a narcissist? Here’s one tell-tale sign: If it’s not their idea, they aren’t interested. Narcissists in powerful positions will topple your enterprise faster than you can read this sentence.
  10. There’s a great leader—“Behind every great company is a great leader,” says Brandon. “A great leader has an attitude that generates enthusiasm and happiness among the staff. It’s contagious.” Meanwhile, corrosive leadership destroys any and all progress or chances for success.

A Bright Light in a Dim Crisis

Detective Nicole Lucas speaking at a recent Delray Chamber meeting.

Detective Nicole Lucas is impressive.

As soon as she begins to speak, you just can’t help but be drawn into her story.

She is the detective working with a task force dealing with sober homes and the terrible addiction issues plaguing Delray Beach. Of course, Delray Beach is not alone. Addiction—particularly to opioids—is a national scourge claiming more lives last year than the Vietnam War, a whopping 59,000 people.

It’s a stunning number and Delray Beach is in the throes of the crisis, along with many, many cities nationwide.

When Det. Lucas spoke at the Chamber recently she reported that there have been 340 overdoses this year in Delray. By the time this is published that number is sure to have increased.

There were 76 overdoses in May. Every month, that number is increasing. Young police officers and paramedics are seeing more death in one year than veterans have in their entire careers. The emotional toll cannot be quantified, but it also can’t be ignored or denied.

What impressed us the most about Det. Lucas was that she struck the exact right tone on what can be an emotional issue. She combines empathy for those addicted and their families with toughness toward those who exploit people caught in the vice grip of addiction. She also shows great regard for the men and women saving lives–the responsible operators who are providing a needed service in our community.

“We all know someone touched by addiction,” she told a capacity crowd at the Chamber. “It’s not a small, hidden corner of the world anymore, it’s an epidemic.”

She praised the responsible operators, the men and women who dedicate their lives to trying to save people from the destruction and damage of addiction. There were no broad brushes, no sweeping indictments of the industry, just sober analysis of the situation and a mature view of what needs to be done to save lives and communities.

Our Police Department, our Drug Task Force and our State Attorney’s Office are on the cutting edge of the issue. We were one of the first cities to deploy Narcan, which reverses overdoses, the Police Department is hiring a clinical social worker and we are leaders on the Sober Homes Task Force.

Already, Det. Lucas and her team have shut down scores of sober homes and the word is out that irresponsible operators will be arrested and prosecuted. It’s a slow and laborious task, but the experts in Delray— including veteran providers and responsible operators –say that they are seeing many of the bad guys pack up shop and leave for other locales. Still, nobody is declaring victory and the body count continues to rise.

The opiates are becoming more lethal, the addictions harder to break.

“They are fighting demons most of us will never understand,” said Lucas. “There are tons of good sober homes and treatment centers but we have to get rid of the bad ones, the ones who abuse people.”
Det. Lucas detailed cases where patients were brokered and monetized. Examples of abuse, paying addicts to take drugs so they can be paid for being delivered to detox; etc.

“We see attempts to beat these people down. ‘You are just a junkie, the police don’t care about you. Who will believe you?’ It’s abusive.”

Interestingly, social media has assisted Det. Lucas in her efforts to find bad operators. An active Facebook page has elicited tips and given her a window into the world of recovery. She guarantees anonymity while encouraging citizens to speak out if they witness unsavory practices.

But merely calling the Police to report a sober home is not enough; good operators have a role to play and are protected by federal law. But those who violate patient brokering laws are fair game to be arrested and shut down.

If you have any tips please call 1-844-324-5463.

 

Finding Hope Among Leaders

Nancy Lublin, best selling author of “Zilch” speaks at Leadership Florida.

For me, Leadership Florida is an antidote for the mundane and the banal.
For two and a half days every year, I can count on seeing good friends, hanging out with smart accomplished people and learning from the best minds around.
It’s a break from the cacophony of social media, the gossips at the gym, petty politics and the rigors of daily life.
Over the years, we’ve heard from the likes of Ken Burns, Colin Powell, Tom Brokaw and thought leaders from science, journalism, education, medicine, education and business.
It’s energizing.
But this year was different. This year, we weren’t sheltered from the outside world. There was an 800 pound gorilla in the room by the name of political dysfunction and it dominated official and unofficial discussion.
All four keynote speakers/panels that I saw referenced it: Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas woke us up with a challenging talk about immigration.
Vargas is undocumented and he challenged us to see parts of the debate that many of us avoid: the personal (he hasn’t seen his mother since he was 12), the factual (he produced staggering stats regarding the economic contributions of immigrants) and of course the politics. Always the politics and the sad fact that we can’t seem to get a coherent immigration policy in this country.
Vargas was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibarguen and featuring former Gov. Bob Graham and former Miami Herald Publisher Dave Lawrence.
The trio discussed civic engagement, their long careers full of real and lasting accomplishments and politics.
Several of the questions focused on the toxicity of the current moment and the lack of true leaders in the public square.
Gov. Graham sees civic engagement and education as the answer.
We need to train better citizens who will become servant leaders.
Watching these guys–serious people with gravitas–only pointed out how those qualities are missing today and so badly needed.
It was a good segue to Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press and himself a lighting rod for the right.
Todd’s message was how compromise and bipartisanship went from desirable behaviors to political death. He spoke about civility and how gridlock is preventing anything from getting done.
Nancy Lublin, a legend in the non-profit world, followed with a sobering talk on crisis trends in America as expressed via text messages to her organization which provides counseling to those crying out for help. Once again, political dysfunction seems to be driving anxiety, fear, anger and stress.
The last speaker I caught was the great Geoffrey Canada, the recently retired founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone.
He gave a roof raising talk about the importance of education and how teachers are often given short shrift in society.
It was a call to arms. A plea for seriousness and an impassioned argument to save a generation.
Our incoming chair Beth Kigel believes that if Florida and the nation were turned over to the men and women of Leadership Florida we would be able to solve a lot of problems and seize a lot of opportunities.
I agree. Because I believe in the organization.
But I also know that won’t happen and that many of my fellow alumni won’t be running for office anytime soon.
Oh sure, there are many current and past elected officials in the organization and more than a few current and future candidates. And yes, these talented men and women are making it happen in business, academia, social work, health care and the social sector but we are not in charge.
If we were there would be bipartisan compromise. There would be fact based discussions, there would be civility and policies based on a genuine passion for Florida.
Yes I am biased. But I’m also optimistic it’s possible because Leadership Florida is a mix of parties, philosophies, ages, geographies, backgrounds and ethnicities. And we get along. We care for each other.
It’s possible. We can do this. We must do this.
Happy Independence Day.

 

Innovation & Aspiration in Pompano

Pompano’s brand new cultural center makes a statement: We are serious.

Last week, we attended a meeting of the Urban Land Institute at Pompano Beach’s gleaming new cultural center.

For me, it was a case of déjà vu—because what I’m seeing in Pompano is the mindset I saw in Delray Beach in the late 80s and early 90s—a time of dreaming, aspiration, visioning and planning.

If you’re a city wonk like me, there’s nothing more inspiring than a city that sends out the message of “come on down, we are open for business and striving for greatness.”

And consequently no more depressing experience than to see a city that says “go home and get lost, we are done.”

Of course, no city comes out and says it quite that way. They all talk about jobs, investment, smart growth, sustainability and every other buzzword you can trot out, but the cities that are sincere actually seek it out and if investment comes to them they work hard to land the deal.

The most compelling incentives are never financial—they are always emotional. Investors bringing jobs and projects don’t expect you to compromise the rules or aesthetics—but they do expect you to have some flexibility and predictability and a sense of urgency to get things done.

One of the speakers at the ULI Pompano event warned those in the audience to avoid two labels:

  1. Don’t be the city where someone has to spend $500,000 beating their heads against the wall before leaving for friendlier towns. Capital goes where it is welcome.
  2. Don’t be the city that is perpetually the next “it” town, but never quite gets there.  I think that’s good advice.

Let’s explore warning number one—the city that develops a reputation for being impossible to work with will begin to attract bottom feeder developers—not the best in class that cities should be looking to lure.

The best developers and business owners aren’t averse to high standards or tough criteria; many of the best welcome a high bar. But they are wary of unpredictability, dysfunction and frankly stupidity. They don’t like corruption either.

They also don’t like an environment in which the rules are fungible—so that even if you follow them you aren’t assured of a fair hearing.

As for the second warning…we all know the label and can name a few cities that fit the moniker. After a while you become like the talented draft pick who never quite reaches his potential. We all know the term that’s used for those types: bust.

What’s also bad is to be known as the city that climbs all the way up the mountain and then before reaching the summit, gives it all away. They call that being “meshuga”: Google it.

Anyway, Pompano is pushing an innovation district just east of I-95 and spanning over 170 acres. They envision jobs, manufacturing, start-ups, restaurants, apartments and open space.

They built a magnificent cultural arts center, redid their beach front, landed the 26 Degree brewery on Atlantic Boulevard, and approved the mixed use Pompano Fishing Village, the sharply designed Koi Residences and a few more signature projects in their eastern core. Even the long troubled Hammondville Road corridor is seeing investment.

Several Delray Beach investor/development companies including Grover Corlew (invaluable contributors to the Congress Avenue Task Force) and New Urban Communities (Atlantic Grove among other projects) are investing in Pompano. Both see parallels between where Delray Beach was and where Pompano is today—solid leadership, a great CRA, talented staff and an aspirational “get it done” mindset.

ULI and Pompano brought Mitchell Weiss from Harvard Business School to the event. Weiss was chief of staff to the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino when that mayor envisioned an innovation district along Boston Harbor that became a national model for job creation and placemaking.

Weiss said cities should stick to their vision—insist on doing something special, invest in education, partner with universities, market their city and take extra care to make sure things happen so that traction and momentum can take root.

Words to live by or ignore.

Live by it and see things happen. Ignore it, and watch other cities eat your breakfast, lunch, dinner and sadly your future.

 

An Evening @ Bourbon Sprawl

Note: Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a wonderful group of urban planners, activists, bloggers, architects and redevelopment advocates at an event known as Bourbon Sprawl on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. It’s a great group and I thought I’d share some of my presentation from that evening. It was followed by great conversation.

Like Tip O’Neill— I’m a firm believer that all politics are local…and like many Americans —both Democrats and Republicans—I believe that Washington D.C. is broken…unable to solve problems, unwilling to collaborate, unable to compromise and challenged to seize opportunities.

So if we are going to solve problems—whether inequality, climate change or race relations—we are going to have to do so on the local level.

If we are going to have successful communities we have to get our cities right…and in order to get our cities right we need to attract the best and brightest to public service—both on a staff level, a volunteer level and as elected officials.

If we can do this—there is no doubt in my mind that our cities, towns and villages will succeed. But if we don’t—there is simply no way our communities will thrive.

I’m sure of this…because I have experienced it in Delray Beach where I have lived for 30 years and I have seen what switched on leadership can do in cities large and small in a variety of geographies…unfortunately, I have also seen what corrosive “leadership” can undo or prevent and it’s not pretty.

The challenges and opportunities facing our communities today are complex….they require serious thinking by serious people. And I often wonder if our “system” is designed to attract the polar opposite personalities…

I have seen what wins local, state and national elections—and it’s a combination of fear and blame. We are told what to be afraid of and we blame our opponents for causing the problems. But we never seem to get around to solutions…we never talk about collaboration, compromise or the need to marshal our resources to either make things happen or to begin to solve problems that threaten our future…

We are here the day after the most expensive House election in American history….$50 million spent—mostly on negative advertising—to elect a single representative— who regardless of who won—would most likely have a negligible effect on the issues facing our nation….the content of that spending will be forgotten in a few days and then the fundraising begins again….an endless cycle. Can you imagine what $50 million could do in your community…if it was invested in start-ups, non-profits, placemaking, research, science and education? Do you think the impact would be greater than $50 million spent on attack ads?

We seem to be caught in an endless spiral toward the bottom…and we have created an atmosphere in which serious people avoid the public square, walk away from public service and in many cases fail to exercise the basic pillar of our Democracy…the right to vote.

There was a time when small towns might have been somewhat immune to this disease… I’ll tell you about my own story in Delray Beach…the basis for my book, Adventures in Local Politics… I saw what good leadership can do…

I moved to Delray Beach in 1987….and the physical gifts our city has, have not changed in those 30 years.

There’s a grid system, good ‘bones’ as planners like to say, a glorious beach and good geography since we have proximity to several regional powerhouses—West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and our next door neighbor Boca Raton.

But Delray was a very different place in the 80s than it is today…I can describe to you the blight, the vacant storefronts, the crime, the drugs and the disinvestment…but instead I will quote one of my best friends a restaurateur who was an early pioneer in Delray….”this town was circling the bowl, before it was saved.”

A colorful quote…vivid, descriptive and accurate. Three words: circling the bowl.. says it all.

So when you do a SWOT analysis of Delray and examine its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you’ll find that alongside some incredible strengths and opportunities are some daunting weaknesses and threats….schools that struggle, deep generational poverty, racial division, a lack of high paying jobs, a lack of a diverse housing stock, a proliferation of sober homes –many run by irresponsible and exploitive operators, poor citizen participation as measured by a lack of civic engagement and poor voter turnout…

And yet….tremendous value was created….we have a dynamic and vibrant downtown, our tax base is growing faster than most of our neighbors, blighted neighborhoods have seen improvements, crime rates —while still troublesome— were improved, culture and art have taken root and we have seen an improvement in race relations since the 80s, particularly between the Police Department and our minority communities.

This did not happen by accident…or by policies pushed by our county government, our friends in Tallahassee or our representatives in Washington.

It happened through visioning, collaboration, solid execution of citizen driven plans, the adoption of new urbanist principles, and a business friendly government that was focused more on outcomes than process. It happened because of leadership: among staff, elected officials, business leaders and volunteers….

And so I suspect that the rest of our nation’s cities have this opportunity to transform…or to be left behind….it all hinges on leadership….all of it….People matter, more than anything…and we better do what we can to attract the right people to the Public Square and frankly keep the wrong people from the levers of power…

People matter….leaders who empower rather than stifle a community—make progress possible.

Because the word impossible loses all meaning if the right people show up and agree to work together….but the word impossible becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy if the wrong people show up and talented citizens sit on the sidelines or decide that the level of toxicity is too high for them to participate….

Again, my city is a case study….

Because as far as we have come….a CRA district that went from $250mm in value to over $2bn in 30 years, recognition as an All America City, the first city to win the John Nolen award recognizing our implementation of smart growth policies, Florida Trend naming us the best run town in Florida and hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment—we are far from done. And far from being bullet proof….

Every ounce of progress cities make is vulnerable to being rolled back. Every dollar spent can yield a return on investment or a loss….and the headwinds we faced 30 years ago remain headwinds today….schools that struggle, the devastation of heroin, neighborhoods on the brink as a result of bad sober home operators….crime, violence and now profound and embarrassing political dysfunction.

None of these problems are intractable—if you attract the right people to the public square.

But all of them are intractable, if you have a mindset predisposed to failure or lack of collaboration—as we see in Washington and in cities that struggle with toxic politics.

Benjamin Barber—who works at the City University of New York–wrote a book called “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities”.

It’s a manifesto…passionately written and convincingly argued—that local governments are uniquely positioned to save the planet and themselves. I agree with him.

Mr. Barber builds a strong case for an informal parliament of cities, perhaps several hundred strong, which would in effect ratify a shift in power and political reality that, he argues, has already taken place. He sees modern cities as incubators for problem-solving while national governments are doomed to failure.

 

“Because they are inclined naturally to collaboration and interdependence, cities harbor hope,” Barber writes. “If mayors ruled the world,” he says, “the more than 3.5 billion people (over half the world’s population) who are urban dwellers and the many more in the exurban neighborhoods could participate locally and cooperate globally at the same time — a miracle of civic ‘glocality’ promising pragmatism instead of politics, innovation rather than ideology and solutions in place of sovereignty.”

I like the ideals espoused by Dr. Barber…but I am a realist as well.

And so the key to success is not just home rule and collaboration among cities…the key is making sure the right leaders are in the right positions to build cities that are sustainable…and that the right leaders feel supported and nurtured by caring citizens.

So we must invest in leadership, which we are not doing…we must encourage people who are courageous…and we must invest in not only the appearance of the public realm but the attractiveness of the public square..because if the public square is toxic and resembles a sewer—good people will find other ways to spend their time.

That does not mean we shun or discourage debate…but it does mean that we confront the civic bullies that all of us working in public policy are all too aware of but are reluctant to talk about….we have to make it safer—not safe—safer and more attractive for promising leaders to succeed. We have to confront the bullies that rob us of aspiration, inspiration, progress and productivity.

If we don’t….the cities that do— will thrive. And the other cities will wither and die…and there is too much at stake for us to allow that to happen…we have a responsibility to the past, the present and the future.

We should strive to preserve the best of our history, serve our stakeholders today and plan to give future generations a better future…it can be done.

It must be done….

So I will leave you with two ideas….and then I want to talk to you guys…because you are the type of leaders we need to fan out across our region to build great places…

Idea #1: Some university in our county…Lynn or FAU needs to step up and build a Public Leadership Institute…we train doctors, we train lawyers, we train puppies…we need to train public sector leaders…don’t you think that will yield ROI?

Idea #2: New Urbanism, Smart Growth, sustainable development—whatever you want to call it, needs a marketing makeover because it is just too damn easy for NIMBY’s and naysayers to derail progress. We need a political strategy that matches the intellectual underpinnings of what we know to be solid public policy. We are starting to see this with the beginning of a YIMBY movement, but we have a long way to go. If we don’t…we will lose any and all opportunities to create a sustainable future for our kids.

 

 

 

Against the Wind

Facebook is powerful.
And lately it’s reminding me of how fast time passes.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep (and I write most of these posts between 3 am and 4:30 am) I scroll through Facebook viewing the lives of people I know through their news “feeds.”
Most of the time, it’s a happy experience and it makes me feel somewhat connected to the lives of people who have meant something to me on my travels through life.

But sometimes it leaves me feeling a little sad because I realize that I’m barely connected to people who once were so important to my daily existence. And I realize the relentless velocity of life. Days bleed into weeks, weeks bleed into months and suddenly life passes by.
And so I realize that I don’t know my childhood friend’s son who just graduated college and that I have never seen (in real life anyway) my best friend’s grandchildren.
Work, distance, obligations, your own troubles, joys, sorrows–life. As Bob Seger sings: “deadlines and commitments, what to leave in, what to leave out.”

I recently shared with a new friend that I find my 50s to be a poignant decade.
In so many ways, we find ourselves at the top of our game. We have gained knowledge,  insight and perspective through experience, mistakes and time. We’ve paid a lot of dues.

We’ve tripped and fell over and over again but still managed to find a way through our childhood, teen years, the turbulent 20s, our 30s and 40s and now we’re here: smarter in so many ways. But still filled with unanswered questions, still searching, still wondering. There’s so much in the rear view mirror, so much we now understand and so much that is still a mystery.

The poignancy comes with the realization that there’s just not enough time to do all that we want to do. To see all that we want to see.
We hope there’s time and most likely there is, but we also understand how fast it goes, how tenuous our health can be, we know our strength and we grasp our vulnerability.

When I was a kid, my friends and I would play basketball in our driveway for hours. We found time for stickball, threw a football around and played tennis for hours. We would listen to records and talk endlessly and enthusiastically about all that we would do. The places we’d travel. The jobs we’d have. The world’s we’d conquer.

As I see all my friends kids graduate, see the photos of a college reunion I just missed, watch my own kids launch their careers I realize that I still aspire.
That I’m still excited about the future, still get turned on by creative people who spend their days dreaming and doing and helping and achieving. This week alone, I reconnected with a young entrepreneur that I believe in, talked with my team about building a brand, dreamed about creating a creative village, kicked back with close friends at a great local restaurant and had a great discussion with some really smart people about community and connection. It’s invigorating. It feeds your soul.

But I also feel the tug of time, the need to connect with people who have meant the world to me and the need to be present and to plan: trips, goals, experiences..the things that matter most.
Because while time has always been finite, you just don’t realize it until you get older just how fast your life passes by.
And you realize that how you spend your time and who you spend it with is the most important decision of all.