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.

Here’s To The Winners

Delray Beach won another All America City Award last week and that’s  a good excuse to write a whole lot of nice things about Janet Meeks.
Prior to winning last week, Delray had won the award twice before in 1993 and 2001.
Back then, the award recognized cities for three community projects. These days the award recognizes strides communities make for advancing reading scores.

Janet’s leadership on behalf of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading gained real, quantifiable results sustained over time.
When she asked a few people to serve as peer reviewers to look at other cities efforts, we all said yes.
After I read and reviewed the applications from a few communities I knew Delray would win.
We know how a city can impact education and based on the applications we read it was easy to tell that Delray is a pacesetter.
We should be. We’ve been at this a long time.

Since at least the late 80s when Tom Fleming led an effort called Sharing for Excellence.

Back in those days, Tom was a home builder and he became frustrated by the negative perceptions enveloping Delray’s schools. Young families weren’t buying homes in the beautiful Andover development because they didn’t want to send their children to Delray schools.
Realtors called it the “Delray Dilemma.”
So Tom and members of the community crafted a vision for education in Delray. It called for magnet schools, a new middle school, upgraded facilities and more. The City  got it done.

Mayors Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin were passionate advocates for education investing city monies to help improve neighborhoods near schools. Tom went on to serve on the School Board for 8 years, including 7 years as chair. He did a lot for education during his tenure.
Mayor David Schmidt was also a champion for education leading the city’s efforts to work with the School Board to build a new Atlantic High School, which the opening of career academies including an innovative Criminal Justice Academy in partnership with our Police Department.

The leadership around education in Delray came from all segments of the community. Residents of the Southwest Neighborhood pushed for a new school and the Village Academy was born.

The Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce raised funds through a foundation to support local schools and teachers. Parents, volunteers, non-profits, business leaders all rolled up their sleeves to support better schools. It has made a difference.

Janet was there for many if not all of these efforts.
She became our education coordinator, served as the staff for the city’s Education Board and became our advocate at the School Board fighting for resources, boundaries, facilities, programs and to make sure our schools had solid principals.
The campaign for Grade level reading built on literacy efforts, chamber programs, the work of key non profits and other community partners.
She’s a huge asset to Delray.
Along the way, I’ve been lucky to call her a friend. She’s a fountain of knowledge, does her homework and cares passionately for kids and for Delray Beach.
Over the years, there have been whispers of cutting the position. Luckily they did not come to fruition because Janet Meeks has provided tremendous value.
Delray’s leaders have long recognized that schools are an important part of our community.
We have had our struggles but also our triumphs.
From an award-winning Montessori program at Spady Elementary and the IB and career programs at Atlantic to the creation and growth of the Village Academy to the terrific gifted program at Banyan Creek and so much more we have come a long way.
Obviously, there is more to do. Much much more to do.
But Delray has shown over and over again that a city can impact education, even when it’s not its direct responsibility. If we make the investment, we get the return. It’s just that simple.

Leadership Heals

When tragedies strike communities, I think first of the victims and then their families and friends.
But soon after I think of the mayors.
They are often the elected officials tasked with putting the pieces together and trying to make sense of the events in the face of sadness, grief and anger.
So I sympathized with Sadiq Khan in the wake of the recent terror attacks in London and I thought of Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando as I read the spate of anniversary stories this week one year after the Pulse nightclub shooting. The largest mass shooting in US history.
I’ve met Mayor Dyer a few times, even had lunch with him once many years ago at a League of Cities convention. He’s been a great mayor transforming downtown Orlando into a dynamic place and expanding Orlando’s brand beyond Disney, time shares and Medieval Times like attractions.
But in the public’s mind he may be remembered more for his handling of the Pulse shooting.
He’s done a yeoman’s job and this week he talked about the unity of Orlando and the resilience of the community in the wake of unspeakable violence.

When you’re a mayor you get to experience the thrill of civic achievement. There are parades, ribbon cuttings, proclamations, awards and photo ops.
You get to experience civic pride and you get to recognize the special people in your community. The couple celebrating a landmark anniversary, the person turning 100, the Eagle Scout, the Little League champs.
It’s a joy.

An honor.

A privilege.

But you also sign on for the tough stuff. The fires that displace families, the crimes that turn your stomach, the natural disasters which endanger lives– the overdoses.
That’s not easy.
Leadership asks a lot of people.
It asks us to be boosters one day and healers the next.
Tragedies shouldn’t define a city. That was the message Mayor Dyer said at an event marking the anniversary.
Achievements are a far better way to think of a place.
But tragedies do mark and mar a place. And they should. Because we must never forget. We must heal–but remember. We must mourn but allow ourselves to love.
It’s easy to succumb to hate. But it’s much better to love one another.
Much better.

High Rent Blight

Bleecker Street in the historic Noho District of NYC may be resembling bleak street these days.

The New York Times touched on an interesting topic last week: high rent blight.
They used the phrase to describe Bleecker Street in New York City which saw rents soar to $800 a square foot before retailers cried uncle and shut their doors. Now the once red hot street suffers from vacancy; hence high end blight which is considered late stage gentrification.
Which begs the question: can this happen to Atlantic Avenue?
Palmetto Park Road? Pineapple Grove?
When I moved here in 1987, we had conventional low rent blight. Rents were $5-$8 per square foot and vacancy rates downtown were about 40 percent.
Today, some restaurants are paying in excess of $100 per square foot–far from Bleecker Street numbers but still very high for our market.
Rents in Pineapple Grove are $30-$35 per square foot for prime space–(solid rents no doubt) and hardly imaginable back when Norman Radin conceived the district; but still not ridiculous.
But ….
high rents are coming.
They have hit the avenue and the  Grove is next.
Why?
Because we’ve had some incredibly high purchase prices on and off the avenue.

If you talk to veteran commercial real estate brokers, they are wrestling with the challenge of making rents jibe with high land prices.
It’s a conundrum.
If you believe in a free market–and I do–rising prices are driven by the market and represent good news for long time landlords who have weathered good cycles and horrible cycles.
But if you want to see a diverse mix of businesses downtown and if you value independent operators–as I do–the high prices are a major challenge.
As the son of an independent pharmacist I have a little insight into the challenges of making a small business work in a competitive environment.

Today, the challenges are bigger than ever. The internet, Amazon, the very difficult retail environment etc etc., all make it very hard to build and sustain a business. Even well- heeled chains are finding it hard to survive. Throw in high rents, a seasonal economy, high insurance, a tough labor market, competition for people’s time and complicated marketing channels and you can appreciate how hard it is to make it today. You can also appreciate the need to support local businesses and to shop local.

The Downtown Development Authority is wrestling with these issues in a smart way.
They are working with Robert Gibbs, a noted retail and downtown expert who has some familiarity with Delray having worked here during the creation of the Downtown Master Plan.
But no doubt about it, this is a challenging environment. And we need to be cognizant of  that. We also need to be aware of our downtown mix and our demographics too.

When rents get high, restaurants tend to push alcohol–a high margin item. And if we morph from a food destination to a nightclub scene that has consequences ranging from our brand and who hangs out here to public safety concerns and whether we become more of a late night destination than an all hours downtown.

Big topics. Great stuff to chew on.
But what we don’t want to see is high rent blight.

So how do cities address this issue without infringing on property rights or the free market?

My theory is a good offense is a good defense.
So here are a few thoughts.

Successful cities need multiple districts/neighborhoods to perform. If they do, businesses have options on where to locate.
So efforts must be made to transform The Set (and those efforts are being made), but also Congress Avenue, South Federal Highway, North Federal Highway and eventually the “four corners:” of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail which was rezoned and reimagined a dozen years ago.
You can and should be working on multiple fronts both for practical reasons and market based ones.

The notion that cities can only do one thing at a time is plain wrong.

For example, the players for Congress and The Set are different. The areas don’t compete, they complement. Some investors will want West Atlantic. Some will prefer Congress or South Federal. Some will be interested in all of the above. Your “open for business” sign has to be open for all commercial districts while the economy is good.

One thing we know for sure, the cycle will end, so it’s important to get traction while you can. Development standards can and should be high. But you have to make hay when the sun shines as they say. And you don’t have to offer incentives–just attractive zoning and a smooth and predictable approval process. Be tough, but fair.

In previous down cycles– including the great recession– Delray Beach was the last to city to experience issues and the first to emerge from the doldrums. That was a result of a good planning,  a business friendly environment, a solid brand and a City Hall that knew how to execute.
Those are “hidden” but very real assets. So it’s just as critical that we rebuild capacity at City Hall.
How does this all address high rent blight?
Well..it doesn’t lower rents, or increase availability of affordable housing or commercial spaces overnight but it does spark competition so that if the market skews there are now options in our city. If we don’t create multiple options, people, business and investment will go elsewhere.
Hopefully over time the power of the market will modulate prices to better reflect what’s possible and desirable. That’s the bet, it’s not easy. But it’s doable. One thing for sure, doing nothing guarantees trouble.

The Truth Is Out There

“There’s a secret plan to fire the city manager/CRA Director/dog catcher and make (fill in the blank) the new city manager/CRA Director/dog catcher.”

 “The new project in town is really going to be a giant sober house/Victoria’s Secret/home for the criminally insane.”

 “There’s a secret plan to make the new iPic a Marriott.”

 “They bought a newspaper so they can publish fake news.”

 “(Insert name) has a handler/puppeteer/secret agenda/secret financial interest in a sober home.”

 “Our old Mayor loves Lake Worth, pines for Boca and hates alleys.” (One of out three ain’t bad, so in the interest of full disclosure I do have a crush on Lake Worth but we’re just dating and I’m free to see other cities).

Evil doers. Shysters. Mediocre minds. Has-Beens.

Blah blah blah…

Are you a fan of Jimmy Kimmel?

I am.

I think he’s real. I got vaklempt when he teared up about his newborn’s health challenges and I really thought his tribute to Don Rickles was amazing and genuine.

I also love the mean tweets segment on his show in which famous people read negative comments about themselves.

It’s funny. And it defangs the bullies and the trolls.

It exposes them as small, petty and mean.  It makes me believe that humor may be the best way to deal with the nattering nabobs of negativity and Nimbyism.

I remember a time when local politics was different. Hard fought yes, but different.

When it was safer to go in the water– so to speak.

Safer– but not safe.

It is what it is I suppose but the level of toxicity discourages good people from getting involved in politics and we need good people now more than ever.

I ran for office four times in my life. Only once did I have an opponent, my first time in 2000. We ran a hard fought race based on issues, ideas and experience and when it was over we became friends and now neighbors. I happily supported Ken Rubin for boards and task forces. I’d like to think he would have extended me the same courtesy.

Not that everything was roses and perfume in the old days—it wasn’t. I know what it’s like to have misinformation spread about me, my family and my friends. I even got a few physical threats and was the subject of a horrible rumor about my health because I went to Bethesda Hospital for something—I can’t even remember what. I’ve been sued, deposed, had anonymous mail pieces sent etc.

And yet, the culture at City Hall and among key organizations was stellar. We got along.

There was debate, some bruises along the way but a whole lot of collaboration. And while mistakes were made, there were outcomes. Stuff got done. A lot of stuff. For the record, that’s not bragging, that’s civic pride.

I served with Jon Levinson, Bill Schwartz, Alberta McCarthy, Brenda Montague, Rita Ellis, Dave Schmidt, Pat Archer, Fred Fetzer and Bob Costin. Did I miss anybody? It’s a blur. We were a range of ages, backgrounds, life experiences, political parties, races, religions and musical tastes. I liked them all. A few drove me crazy at times—(Jon especially) and I’m sure I annoyed them as well. But we saw each other as a team. We saw the city staff as teammates. We wanted to empower them, not micromanage them or stifle them.

We saw each other as the key to our individual success as elected officials and more importantly our collective success as a community. There were egos…I have one, I readily admit. It’s hard to run for office (or do anything of significance, without some confidence in your abilities to move the needle). But there was also gratitude, thankfulness, understanding, humor, empathy and a passionate desire to advance ideas, opportunities, neighborhoods, careers, visions and plans. It was real. It was palatable, you could taste it; it was in the air.

That said, we had enemies.

Only a few to be honest and they were tough. I lost a few people I thought were friends. Usually when I just couldn’t bring myself to agree with them on a single issue and despite my efforts to say “hey, there’s always 10 more things we can agree on”, they’d burn the bridge and try to take your house with it.

That’s politics. It’s rough. If you can’t handle the heat, I suggest you stay home and watch “The Bachelor.”

Then there are those who just don’t like you—maybe it’s the way you look or dress or talk. I don’t know.

I tried to reach out to those folks—but many times when you extend a hand you end up with your fingers bitten off. I’m not sure I understand that, but it just is.

Over time, in order to stay sane, be productive and move on with your life, you learn to focus on helping those who are doing good work in your community. If you do, you’ll succeed. You also learn that not everybody will like you. It’s just impossible.

But despite the fact that the good old days had their challenges…something feels very different now—both nationally and locally.

These days the strategy seems to be to spew conspiracy theories on social media using loaded terms like “dark money” and “hidden agendas.” The posts are loaded with threats and innuendo. They are devoid of facts, specifics or reality.

The self-regard is off the charts.

The ones who specialize in this communication are the only ones who care; the only ones with pure motives. The only ones who know the real truth–which they never quite reveal. When you press them, (which sadly I have done from time to time, sad because they are not worth the time) you only get more of the same. The truth will be revealed “in time.”  It’s like the X-Files…but without the beautiful red headed FBI agent.

Maybe an iPic supporter will be given an extra plush seat when the theater finally opens. Maybe, someone will rent an office at Atlantic Crossing someday. Maybe an evil developer will make a profit somewhere in Delray Beach.

Or maybe they are full of it.

The truth is this: any value that has been created in Delray was a direct result of public policy, investment, risk and leadership that not only enabled but encouraged that value to be created.

The disrespect of anyone remotely connected to the value that was created here is a phenomenon.

It’s a mystery to me. It truly is. But I’ve seen some civic giants dissed and it makes me sad. It makes me want to blog..and that’s a dangerous thing.

The other mystery–and this is a long time  thing I’ve wrestled with–is this notion that there’s some sort of secret, exclusive society here.

I’ve been observing and participating in Delray since 1987.

I don’t know how other places work because I was 22 when I arrived here and this is my experience. I don’t know what it’s really like elsewhere.

But for the most part, I have encountered a slew of very nice people.

When a family is victimized by a heinous crime, I’ve seen busy people drop everything and raise funds to help out.

When we lose community members I’ve seen people drop everything and help the grieving.

And when we’ve experienced hurricanes, accidents or shocks like 9-11, or the loss of a beloved police officer we’ve seen the community rally.

Lots of good, generous people live and work here.

I have found the vast majority of them to be welcoming to others.

If you called them up, they called you back.

If you invited them to lunch they said sure.

If you asked them to support a cause they said yes. And if you wanted to get involved you were put to work.

You weren’t put in charge, you were put to work. And if you showed up and didn’t insult everyone in the room you were given more to do–boards, committees, task forces.

You didn’t have to take a pledge or adopt group think. You just had to be decent, respectful, truthful and reliable.

That’s how it was in 1987 and that’s how it is now.

Warm. Welcoming. A community.

Back room deals? Plots? Grand schemes?

Oh there have been a few.

But the prevailing modus operandi has been putting Delray first. Not the unanimous M.O. but the prevalent one.

In other words, there’s a lot of good here.

Sitting on social media regurgitating or making up rumors puts you on the opposite side of what’s good in this community.

If you have the goods, present it.

If you don’t…well as my old English teacher used to say…”ignorance is its own refutation.”

(I got a B in that class, so if my grammar isn’t perfect, please forgive me).

A Toast to Two Heroines

Dorothy Ellington

Last week, the ribbon was cut on the new Delray Beach Housing Authority “West Settlers Office Building” at 82 Northwest Fifth Avenue.

It’s a beautiful mixed use building right next to Donnie’s Place.

All of which gives me an excuse to write about Dorothy Ellington, the long time and tremendously awesome executive director of the Delray Beach Housing Authority.

Dorothy came into a troubled agency and righted the ship. She’s been a steady leader from day one and a great public servant. She cares, is passionate about her city, her staff and her clients.

Dorothy has worked extremely well with our Community Improvement Department and Community Redevelopment Agency and other agencies, organizations and departments for decades—leveraging resources and providing a basic human need—housing– which is becoming more and more out of reach for far too many people in our society.

She’s just plain good.

So are many of the public servants who wake up every day, go to work and try their best to make Delray Beach a better place.

It’s largely because of them that it is.

The Housing Authority is one of those agencies quietly making a difference in the lives of their clients. From administering a Section 8 program serving over 1,000 families to a Family Self Sufficiency Program that promotes employment and financial literacy, the Housing Authority is a big part of the Delray fabric.

Stop by the new office building on 5th Ave. You’ll see a part of what Dorothy and her team are accomplishing.

Karen Granger

Karen Granger is another one of those good people.

She resigned last week after a great run at the Chamber.

Immediately, the rumor mill went into motion– as it typically does when someone leaves a high profile position.

Rarely, if ever, are the rumors correct.

As a long time board member of the chamber under three of the five people who have been president of that 92 year old organization, I can tell you that Karen did an excellent job.

The chamber is a beehive of activity and Karen and her staff and volunteers made it happen.

The Lynn University MBA program, entrepreneurs renting rooms, lively committee meetings, fun networking events, great speakers, industry roundtables—the list goes on and on.

I knew Karen when she worked at Levenger, but while I always liked her she became a friend and a confidant during her tenure at the chamber. She serves that role for many people in our community—not just old guys like me, but young entrepreneurs seeking to find their way in business and in Delray.

Karen is always there when you need her—I felt that way about Bill Wood too–only Karen has much better hair. In fact, Karen has hair…but I digress. I just miss roasting Bill. More than I think is healthy.

As I grow older—and worry about my own hair—I find myself feeling a whole lot of gratitude for the people who give their careers and free time to our home town.

They are the ones who make a difference—often times quietly and often for little or no glory. They certainly aren’t in it for the money or because it’s easy work or because they expect a payoff beyond paying their civic rent.

It’s easy to bloviate on social media for all to see. It’s easy to label, disparage, disrespect, dismiss and defame. It’s harder to build something. But it is much more fun.

Dorothy is a builder. So is Karen Granger.

They build people up…they are kind, loving, respectful and hard working.

People often ask me if I miss politics and the answer is no, I don’t like politics. I do however miss the opportunity that politics gives you to help people.

I appreciate people …the ones who help our community; the ones who look out for others and care for them as human beings.

I like working with people and for people.

I like saying thank you and crediting a team for a job well done.

So to my friend Dorothy, congratulations on your latest outstanding project. And to Karen, thank you for being you and for being a friend to so many. Roles may change—but friendship endures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Don’t Come Easy

I spoke to an urban planning class at FAU last night.
Adjunct Professor Glenn Gromann invited me and I enjoy speaking to students so I said yes. (And it doesn’t hurt when the adjunct professor makes your book required reading…wink, I will work for book sales).
It’s not the first time I’ve had the privilege of speaking to college students. Usually I tell the story of modern Delray Beach taking them through the decisions, policies and leadership choices that brought Delray out of the dumps. We cover the ups and downs, the mistakes and triumphs and the rationales behind decisions that to some may seem counter-intuitive.

I don’t have any formal training in urban planning–but I do have real world experience. I am so interested in the subject that I have read everything I could get my hands on and listened to smart planners, architects, urbanists and good developers at every opportunity. I even created a few–by reaching out, by attending seminars, joining the Urban Land Institute, visiting Seaside, joining the Congress for New Urbanism and studying placemakers like Jane Jacobs and Delray’s own part-time resident Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces.

I also understand the politics that go into moving an agenda forward–because change and new urbanism isn’t always embraced. Today, I find myself in the strange position of having to defend policies that clearly worked–that created vibrancy, value, quality of life, jobs, opportunities and future potential if we would just open our eyes to the possibilities. Often, I’m debating new residents who moved here attracted by what they saw (I suppose) but vehemently against everything else and resentful of those who played a role in building our town. It reminds me of the phrase: “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder.” My main point to them: we aren’t done and we have a responsibility to the future to manage change and do it intelligently.
There are many planning and leadership principles to convey to tomorrow’s planners, developers, department heads and architects: the merits of new urbanism, the importance of visioning, the need to engage the community and the value of making investments. Every city needs to be able to provide running water and trash pickup but the cities that make a ruckus are those that do more: art, culture, dynamic downtowns, sports, festivals, food scenes etc.
We did that.
It took 20 years of hard work by a multitude of people. But it happened.
So I shared that journey. And as many times as I share the story, it never fails to move me. Because I know what it took and I have deep respect and admiration for the people who made it happen and I’m privileged and proud to tell their story and I suppose defend their efforts. Some previously important people (PIPS) go away, I’ve decided not too. It’s my town and I love it.
But I’ve started to add to the narrative. I’ve started to talk about what can go wrong. How cities can give back gains and how as aspiring planners or public administrators having great ideas, state of the art policies and stellar execution won’t be enough to make a lasting and permanent  difference.
In fact, you won’t be able to get to the policy part if you don’t understand politics. I shared how good ideas get squashed and how even sound policies suffocate if the wrong elected officials show up to stifle and or choke the life out of progress.
Students need to understand this. As citizens they need to know this and get involved. They need to vote. They need to run. They need to insist that elected officials serve them, not the other way around.

As prospective planners they need to know how corrosive “leadership” can impact their careers and if they go the private sector route they need to know how this can cost them. How it can break their spirits and their bank accounts.
As a result, they need to know that progress can be ephemeral and they need to be able to articulate to citizens why the planning principles they learn are good ways to build communities and manage growth.
But sadly, good planning principles often don’t cut it on their own.  You need to market those policies, constantly sell their rationales and educate voters as to why your plans and visions make sense.
Take for example, new urbanism or the newer “strong towns” movement. Both philosophies have sound thinking behind them and eloquent manifestos.
But…
It don’t come easy, as Ringo once  sang.
Students need to know that and prepare to engage the future communities they will serve.
Because you can guarantee that regardless of how much success you enjoy or how far you’ve come there will always be forces lining up to stop you and in some cases roll it all back.

We used to call it municipal math…30 years to build, two years to screw it all up, no guarantee you can get it back.
That’s the hardest lesson of all to learn and the most important.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

“The hard thing about hard things.”
I overhead that line last week at Donnie’s Place.
I also heard “love is a good thing, but you can’t take it to Winn Dixie” but that’s a subject for another column.
Early morning wisdom over eggs.
I didn’t hear the answer to the first line. So I don’t know what  the hard thing about hard things is about.
But the line struck me. So I thought about it.
I was waiting for my breakfast guests on Northwest Fifth Avenue, a street that was rebuilt and beautified when I was on the commission by the CRA and a group of very committed citizens who came to meeting after meeting to plan the street.
The citizens worked with an artist from Miami on the project. He tried to incorporate the ideas of people into the streetscape including bits of local history inserted in the terrazzo sidewalks.
It was hard work.

To plan, to fund, to engage, to choose and to build. But it’s even harder to create a sustainable local economy on that street to support the effort.
Fifth Avenue has enormous potential. It looks and feels good. There are assets to build on.
The Carolyn Quince Apartments is one of those assets. It looks good, a whole lot better than the derelict building it replaced.

A block over, on Fourth Avenue, sits the historic La France Hotel.  Seniors now get to age in place– thanks to the CRA– on a site of a once neglected hotel that once served a south scarred by segregation and Jim Crow.

But that morning my mind was on the namesake of the Quince Apartments.
The building was named after Carolyn Quince Holder.
She worked for the CRA as a property manager. But before that she was a neighborhood leader, she stood tall against drug dealers who terrorized her street and grew close with police officers who tried to help clean up her part of Delray.
She was a good woman. We shared a birthday and so we spent a few together. She invited us in and we gladly entered her world and learned a lot.
About life in southwest Delray. About what’s it’s like to chase drug dealers off your lawn. About what it means to believe and to be fearless. I lived a mile and a world away –if you know what I mean. Same city. Different experience.
When Carolyn died of cancer, a part of Delray died because it’s all about the people. The people who live in the village. We forget that sometimes. I don’t.
Carolyn understood the hard things about hard things.
When she passed, the CRA named a building after her.
That act of love and respect would probably earn the CRA a tongue lashing from a few of our elected officials these days. They are good at dishing it out.
Good at sitting in judgment, playing politics with each other and engaging in games of gotcha.
Sadly, they aren’t as good at delivering results.
Every ounce of progress in this town was hard fought. I’m not sure that’s recognized in some quarters and that’s a shame.
The mayor loves to send out directives (correctives) lecturing others about the old ways.
He uses big words, drapes himself in words like accountability and aligns himself with the taxpayers.
But his syntax is off and he doesn’t hold himself accountable.
His letter to the CRA chair and director was widely circulated last week. It came less than a week after he voted to keep the agency’s board independent.
In it, he puts down a marker. Do this or else. Or else you can’t count on my support. As if they’ve ever had it.
Fair enough.
The lines are drawn. It’s in writing. You may be “independent” but you are on the shortest of short leashes CRA and if you step off the patio you’re done. Operate this way, my way, or else.
Does bullying encourage innovation and creativity?  I don’t believe so.
Why do you vote to keep something “independent” but then follow up with a letter that spells out exactly how you should operate or else?
Commissioner Shelly Petrolia was quick to line up behind the screed. No surprise there. They have more in common than either would comfortably admit.
She labeled it a directive. Which is spot on. Only  in a council manager form of government, mayors can’t issue directives. At least directives that carry the weight of official city policy.
So where does this leave us?
The CRA, which should be a symbol of civic pride, has been beaten like a piñata.
Volunteers who serve on the board have been maligned by the very people who appointed them. One of the better CRA commissioners took his name out of the running for re-appointment last week because he didn’t like what he was seeing. And so we lose yet another solid contributor. Is that a win? It’s most decidedly not.
Careers have been threatened and the mission goes unserved.
Meanwhile, the house (City Hall) that commissioners are supposed to lead struggles.
And struggle is a charitable word.
Turnover, inability to issue timely permits, endless staff shuffling and lawsuits.
When your house is on fire, most of us would try to douse the flames and save the contents. We probably wouldn’t wander down the block and criticize a neighbor’s wallpaper.
But in this case, the political arsonists are just lighting other agencies on fire.
What we are experiencing is not the strength of confident leaders. It’s the opposite.
You exude strength by standing up for people not beating them down.
The targets of these small people  didn’t suddenly become stupid or incompetent they’ve just been beaten down by bullies who have no game.
And the damage it does is incalculable. And that’s a hard thing to witness, a hard thing indeed.

Inspiration…

We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to acknowledge graduation season.

As students in Delray Beach and Boca Raton graduate high school and college we wish them well and offer a sampling of our favorite commencement quotes. The first few quotes are from graduations held this year. We also include some of our all-time favorites. We hope they inspire you to do great things. Remember commencement means to begin. So while you may graduate, you are really beginning the journey. Enjoy.

“Summon your compassion, your curiosity, your empathy towards others and your commitment to service. Give more than you receive and I promise you, it will come back to you in ways you can’t possibly imagine.” Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO at Arizona State University.

“Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strikes, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything.” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO at Virginia Tech.

“No matter what other work you do, every day, if you find the issues that matter to you and you get in the fight, you will build a life with more heart flutters and fewer don’t-make-me-move moments.” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren at UMass-Amherst.

“Create. Don’t wait around for people to give you things to do. If you’re a writer, write; artist, paint; builder, build! Opportunities will come to you if you create them.” Comedian Maz Jobrani, UC-Berkeley

“No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.” Actor Will Ferrell at USC.

The Classics…

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” Henry David Thoreau.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

“It is not the size of the arena in which you find yourself that counts; it is what you do with it.” Dr. Irene C. Kassorla.

Building A Brand

“You stand out when you stand for something— when you go to a place your peers or competitors aren’t prepared to go.” Bernadette Jiwa

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
– Louis L’Amour
Those two quotes struck me for different reasons last week. But both make a case for change, innovation and a willingness to look toward the future.

Australian marketing expert Bernadette Jiwa was referring to brands when she made that comment in a recent blog post. 
But the sentiment can also refer to cities too. 
Cities have brands and identifies too. And if you can establish a positive brand you’ll create enormous value and quality of life. 
Similarly if your brand and identity is negative, you’ll pay a price in terms of investment, quality of life, ability to attract business, staff, tourists and residents. 
So getting your brand and reputation right  is important. Check that, it’s essential. 
If you develop a reputation for dysfunction or corruption you’re cooked. Capital flows where it’s welcome. And similarly smart people migrate to where they feel assured that ideas and aspiration are not only welcome but encouraged. 
I will argue that the success of Boca Raton and Delray Beach stems from a mindset–let’s get it done, let’s build something here, let’s make it happen whatever it may be. 
For example, Boca redeveloped a moribund mall and made it Mizner Park. 
I caught a glimpse of the cover of its soon to be released Economic Development magazine on social media and it knocked me out. The city has depth and that doesn’t happen by accident. 
Similarly Delray Beach didn’t happen by accident either. It took a city, a CRA, a DDA, a marketing cooperative, a police department, homeowners, business owners and key non profits working together to take back a city from blight, crack, crime and disinvestment. 
Much was accomplished. Much remains to be done. 
Which leads me to the relevance of the second quote by Louis L’Amour which really addresses complacency and opportunity. 
Complacency is a killer. If it takes root, your gains will be squandered and competitors will eat you for lunch.
Right now, in Delray, there exists a weird combination of complacency and delusion.
Just take a look at the debate over East and West in Delray. You have some people saying the east is done (it isn’t) and others saying that basically nothing has been done west in The Set (terribly wrong). That’s the delusion part. A lot has been done:  more than $60 million spent on beautification all the way to the Interstate, improvements to Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue, a new library, Catherine Strong Park, a thriving Community Land Trust, anti-crime efforts, neighborhood paint-ups, the Spady Museum, the expansion of Village Academy, improved water pressure, dirt roads paved, Atlantic Grove, the Fairfield Inn, the list goes on and on. 
Nobody has ever said it’s been enough or that efforts should stop. Nobody. 
Everybody understands that a large part of the mission remains. And everyone I’ve talked to over the past 30 years is committed to doing it. 
It takes time. But if you look around or asked around you can see it happening before our eyes. A Publix is coming. That’s a big deal my friends. They wouldn’t look at West Atlantic before now. Before all that work and effort. 
East Atlantic took time and it still needs help: pockets of weakness, high rents, not enough year round commerce, a lack of office space and an over reliance on food and beverage. 
The beauty of cities is they are synergistic i.e. not zero sum games. The west wins when the east succeeds, that’s how the money grows and flows. 
Similarly, the east benefits greatly when the west succeeds. 
The first quote talks about going where others don’t dare venture. 
We went there as a city and found success. 
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t overnight. And just as failure is hardly ever fatal, success is hardly ever final. 
But we don’t get to the promised land, we don’t taste the sweetest fruit if we are complacent and or delusional. 
We get further (but we never arrive because it’s never over) when we work together. We succeed when we acknowledge, respect, collaborate, communicate and cooperate. We get further when our brand is “welcome smart people, let’s get to work and build the best small city in the world.”