The Magic Of Urban Myths

Hmmmm…looks legit

I’m a fan of the Thrillist blog, which is a daily compendium of cool stuff from all over the world.

Last week, they had a really interesting post on urban legends which included a list of the top tales from each state.

The list included gems such as:

Georgia’s curse of Lake Lanier which includes tales of malevolent catfish and strange drownings. Now I know why former City Commissioner Bob Costin enjoys the lake so much.

Maryland’s infamous “Goatman” which allegedly does all the things you would expect a deranged half-goat/half man to do: kill teenagers, eat dogs, scream like a goat, etc. But the most terrifying aspect is just how deep the myth goes in the psyche of residents. The USDA was even forced, at one point, to publicly deny accidentally creating the beast in their Beltsville agricultural research center.

Then there’s Montana’s “Hitchhiker of Black Horse Lake” which refers to an apparition that allegedly haunts a desolate stretch of Highway 87.

Supposedly, drivers experience the body of a native-American man — clad in jeans with jet-black hair — slamming into their windshield as they drive near Great Falls. Legend has it those who encounter the hitcher suddenly find his body bouncing off the front of their car. When they stop to help, there’s nothing there and no damage to the windshield. The hitcher, meanwhile, repeats the cycle endlessly, trapped in his own personal hell as he repeats his moment of death with whichever driver happens to be passing by. So next time you curse the roundabouts in Pineapple Grove, remember it could be worse. A lot worse.

Florida’s entry on the list is the infamous “Skunk Ape”-–which some believe is a relation of Bigfoot.

According to legend, a fully-grown Skunk Ape stands anywhere from 5 to 7 feet tall and weighs approximately 450 pounds. They can be detected by a horrific odor that’s been described as “sun-baked animal carcass” and “rotting garbage.” They mostly eat berries and small animals, but from time to time they’ve been known to ravage farms and tear wild boars to shreds. Recently, a Skunk Ape HQ has popped up in the Everglades where you can book tours or reserve a spot on a hunting expedition to finally prove the hairy beast is real once and for all.

No one is quite sure where the legend began, but theories believe that the Bigfoot myth traveled south to the swamps of Florida where it took on a hairy life of its own.

We are intrigued by the idea of a Skunk Ape headquarters (http://www.skunkape.biz/swamp-eco-tours/). It sounds like an interesting place to work.

The HQ is run by a guy who claims to be a Skunk Ape expert with 40 years of experience.

According to the Swamp Ape HQ, the Apes have great hearing and are very elusive. And while they live “nomadic” lives and tend to concentrate in places like the Everglades and other Florida parks, some have allegedly been seen near cities.

There haven’t been any documented Skunk Ape attacks, but you can buy t-shirts, koozies and magnets.

This kind of kitsch sounds like Old Florida, back when U.S. 1 had all these really great shops selling little palm trees, shark teeth and alligator heads.

Only in America….

 

Leadership That Is Rooted Is Real

“You have to root your leadership in who you are.” – Minnesota State Rep. Erin Murphy.

I don’t know who Rep. Murphy is but this quote—which I stumbled upon while cruising Twitter— stopped me in my tracks.

That’s it!

In 10 words, she’s nailed the essence of authentic leadership. The best leaders, the ones who break through the clutter, the nastiness, the mediocrity and the mud are those who root their leadership in who they are as people.

That’s what the great artists do as well. And folks, leadership is an art.

It’s also a rarity.

When storms hit Florida I often flash back to the hurricanes we faced when I served as mayor. Like every other newsworthy event, the politics can be fraught after a nasty natural disaster. Who is going to yell the loudest so they can be seen as championing the interests of their constituents?

It’s politics as theater…

So you see press conferences with people claiming that the power company is giving their city attention over all others because Mayor Windbag and Commissioner Loud Mouth are “fighting” for their citizens.

It’s really b.s.

While sometimes theater is useful as a tool to make a point or get needed attention, grandstanding is a whole other thing.

So partisanship aside, that’s why Senators from both parties looked like fools during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. It’s a race for the best sound bite, led by politicians who are seeking attention, donations, positioning and publicity and the public sees right through it. Which is why people don’t trust politicians and that’s sad because politics should be a noble pursuit and a public service not a blood sport in which nothing gets done.

Which is why real leadership stands out. You know it when you see it. We hunger for it and once we experience it, the emptiness of any other kind of “leadership” is a stark reminder of what could be.

That emptiness…that void…is what the line in Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson” references when he sings “Where you have gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns it lonely eyes to you.”

Well, sadly, Joltin Joe has left and gone away.

So it is our task to find the next wave of true, authentic leaders; not empty suits with manufactured resumes and poll-tested taglines or opportunists blowing dog whistles because they think sowing fear is the key to success.

Real leadership is rooted in who you are.

So I want people who are willing to share.

I want people who have lived, succeeded and failed—especially those who have failed because failure teaches you and allows you to grow.

I don’t want bullies—bullies can’t lead. They can disrupt and destroy. They can tear down and demolish, but they cannot lead.

I don’t want those who have all the answers and so therefore they aren’t interested in being educated.

I don’t want those who care about optics, or keep their own counsel or think they are the smartest people in every room.

I do want those who hunger for knowledge—not just the latest theories, but history too.

History is so important and we often give it short shrift.

I want independent minded people who make their decisions devoid of handlers—but only after they have consulted all sides, gathered information and wrestled to find the best answers.

I want those who can express gratitude—who don’t consider appreciation a weakness or somehow beneath them.

I want people strong enough to demand accountability but also willing to admit mistakes and hold themselves accountable too.

These people exist.

But I fear that they will not venture anywhere close to the public square.

I just read a great edition of “Fortune” magazine which focused on the 100 most influential women in business. These extraordinary people did not rise to the top because of their gender, they are in leading positions because they are smart, accomplished leaders.

And I thought to myself as I read their stories about how incredible these people are; and how they would also make great Governors, Senators, Congressmen and Presidents.

Mayors too….mayors and council members are so important.

I’ve lived in South Florida for 31 years and I have gotten to know, observe and meet some really special people. Some have run for office—some have served, others lost elections. But most wouldn’t consider public office.

Not because they don’t have or could make the time. Not because they don’t care or don’t volunteer, but because the public square has too often become a dangerous, nasty and dare I say it—stupid place.

Petty fights, schoolyard bullies, nasty social media trolls—a ‘gotcha’ environment where people are more focused on “getting” their enemies then actually solving a community’s problems or seizing opportunities.

And unlike war, where you might be able to vanquish your enemy, in politics you win some elections and you lose others but the combatants stay engaged. Sometimes they fight from a position of power, sometimes they wage war from the outside.

But when your focus is on screwing the enemy, it can’t be on doing good in the world.

 

Safety Is Always Priority #1

Everything flows from a sense of safety.

 

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were walking the dogs in our neighborhood.

It was a nice evening and we thought an after work walk would be a good time to get some exercise and catch up.

On our way back, we heard what sounded like firecrackers from across Lake Ida Road.

My wife lamented that it was late in the year for fireworks and I told her it sounded more like gunshots to me.

A day or two later, I read in the paper that what we had heard was indeed gunfire—the latest skirmish in what police are calling a feud between two local families.

In this particular incident, nobody was shot. But a bullet did strike S.D. Spady Elementary School.

Earlier this week, Spady was put on lockdown when more gunfire erupted in the neighborhood.

I’ve been told by some friends in the know that this issue is not as simple as two families going after each other. The feud has escalated to friends and associates making it hard for the police to deal with the situation. As someone recently told me: “you can’t put on a net on this thing.”

As a believer in the Second Amendment, but someone who also believes in reasonable gun control, it’s tempting to write an anti-gun screed and I wouldn’t be totally out of line if I did so. To be clear, I believe in the right to bear arms, but I don’t think you should be able to carry a bazooka, I think bump stocks should be banned and if you are an upright citizen you shouldn’t be troubled by a background check.

Will the crooks and the crazies still find loopholes and ways to get weapons?

Yep.

Do we have to make it easy for them?

No.

Still, while I think America has a gun violence problem—we are also suffering acutely from a people problem too.

There as some people in our society who do not value our lives or theirs and heaven forbid you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So yes, you could be out walking your dog and be struck down by a stray bullet or you can be a child walking around your elementary school and catch a round.

That these outcomes are even remotely possible is a stark reminder that we have some serious issues to contend with.

The first order of business in any community is public safety.

It is without a doubt the most important responsibility of a local government.

So when I see these headlines, my heart goes out to the men and women in our Police and Fire Departments.

Our first responders have a huge responsibility and a very, very difficult job.

For many years, I had the privilege of “riding along” with our public safety personnel. I’ve always felt that we had a great Police Department and a very capable Fire Rescue operation. When you ride along with officers and firefighters, even for the briefest amount of time, you gain a deep appreciation for the challenges they face and the complexity that they deal with call after call, day after day, year after year.

I’ve long felt and have always contended that our Police Department were the unsung heroes of Delray because their hard work and effectiveness made it safe for people to invest here—to live, work and play in our community.

Our Fire Department which has always been so busy and so professional also gives us peace of mind that if something should happen they will be there within minutes to protect our lives and our property.

But headlines like we’ve seen lately are disturbing….deeply disturbing. If we don’t feel safe, we don’t have much.

When you love your city you take these things personally. These headlines leave you with a visceral reaction. This is where we live and if we are unlucky it’s where we can also die or be injured.

What’s happening is more than a wake up call: it’s an existential threat.

We can however, take comfort in the skills of the men and women of our Police Department. This may not be easy to throw a net over, but I have faith that we will find a way to end this nonsense.

 

Elvis Said Don’t Be Cruel; Don’t Be Rude Either

Warning: this is a rant.

Some of you may know that we’ve been on a little bit of a concert binge in recent months checking out favorites ranging from Bruce Springsteen (on Broadway) and Paul Simon to David Byrne and in November Elton John.

Many of these shows are part of “farewell tours” which has played havoc with our psyches because our favorites are getting old—and I guess that means we are too.

But as a glass half full optimist I’m also happy to report that these “oldsters” still sound amazing and in my generationally biased opinion run circles around much of what passes for music these days.

So while we are all getting older, it’s also comforting to know that there is gas in the tank, which means we still have an ability to make some noise even as we age.

But I also have to say that some of these shows also have a troubling aspect and it’s not the artists—it’s the audience.

 

So here’s my rant: people are so rude at these shows that we are actively contemplating our retirement from attending concerts. (We will however see Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Marty Stuart at the Parker Playhouse and hopefully the Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward at the Crest Theatre). But after those shows and Elton, it may be over with the notable exception of Bruce Springsteen whose audiences tend to be pretty good. Oh and we’d probably see U2 and Bob Seger as well.

We went to see David Byrne recently at the Fillmore in Miami Beach. We had the tickets for months and we were excited to see the critically acclaimed “American Utopia” tour in a historic venue. We’ve enjoyed Byrne’s music for decades, first with the Talking Heads and later as a solo act.

He’s a true artist and the show itself was remarkable with a band that never sat, choreography that was endlessly interesting and visuals that were unlike anything we had ever seen. In a word it was: awesome.

The crowd: not so much.

The doors opened at 7:30 and the opening act was how I should say it….challenging. Which meant that people hit the bars. Hard. For two hours before Byrne took the stage.

What followed was endless talking through the music (take it outside if you must), spilling of beer and a near fist fight that almost broke out in front of us.

Now since David Byrne is 66 years old, most of the crowd was in their 50s and 60s—surely old enough to know better.

We are all about dancing and enjoying the show, but screaming at friends, yakking endlessly and throwing beer is a little much. It mars the experience. And since tickets these days are an arm and a leg….well…it makes one think about going again.

But it’s not really the money. Frankly, if the event was free audiences should be able to enjoy shows without feeling like they are in a middle age mosh pit amidst a mob of morons.

I had a similar experience at an Eagles concert in Miami a few years back. A drunken slob was loud and a women next to me politely asked him to refrain from talking. She was threatened as a result.

Nice.

That the show turned out to be one of Glenn Frey’s last before his untimely passing a few months later makes the whole experience poignant. These amazing artists are not here forever…and so our ability to enjoy them live and in person is also passing.

Is it too much to ask someone to be quiet? To not be a belligerent drunk?
We know local sports fans who have given up tickets to football and baseball because of similar experiences.

It’s sad and it’s maddening. In case you’re wondering, we leaned over and told the well-oiled crew in front of us to be courteous—twice. A third time would have been taking it to the limit, if you know the old Eagles hit.

You can have a good time without being discourteous to others.

That should be obvious or as David Byrne might say: “once in a lifetime” it would be nice to the listen to the music without making those around you want to “burn down the house.”

 

14 Back

Bucky takes Torrez deep.

There was nothing like baseball in the 70s.
The Big Red Machine, the great A’s teams, crazy uniforms, great mustaches and larger than life personalities: Reggie, Thurman, Hammering Hank, Tom Terrific, Pudge, Yaz, Billy and The Boss.
It was a special time.

A new documentary available on Amazon via Sports Illustrated TV brings it all back.

“14 Back” tells the story of the 1978 Yankees and the fierce and soul sucking rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox which burned hotter than ever in those days.

That ’78 season and that team were my all time favorites.

Ron Guidry was my favorite player, I followed the soap opera in the NY tabloids daily and I loved Nettles, Munson, Mickey Rivers and Willie Randolph.

The Yankees were a surreal drama in those days with personality disputes, brawls, insults and twists and turns that defied description.

And oh, they played baseball too— mounting an historic comeback from 14 games behind the  super talented Red Sox to force a tie and a winner take all one game playoff. I watched that game with my dad and grandfather on a small TV in Queens and we hung nervously on every pitch.

It was an amazing game with big hits, drama and even wind that played tricks and a blinding sun that played havoc with the vision of fielders.

The game was also full of personal stories with players trying to break ancient curses and overcome nagging doubts about their abilities.

This was the game that Bucky Dent hit his famous home run and forever became Bucky “Effing” Dent in New England. It was the game that broke Red Sox captain Carl Yastrzemski’s heart and it was the game that solidified Goose Gossage’s legend and reminded everyone of “the original sin”, the trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees which unleashed a curse that was very real and wasn’t exorcised until Johnny Damon slugged a grand slam at Yankee Stadium in 2004.

So if you love a good story well told, check out 14 Back.

The documentary also got me thinking about the local ties of some of the participants.
Here’s a few I can think of. I’m sure there are more.
The hero, Bucky Dent, ran a baseball school in Delray Beach for a long time with Larry Hoskin, a really great guy.
Bucky is still around and is also a great guy.

On the 25th anniversary of his famous home run, we reached out to him as a City Commission and prepared a proclamation honoring his achievement.
Bucky graciously agreed to come to Delray City Hall where I happily made the presentation. My colleague, a  Red Sox fan, Commissioner Bob Costin seized the moment by donning a Sox hat at the precise moment Bucky approached the commission dais. Bucky cracked up. We all did. Ya gotta love Bob Costin.

Years before, when Little Fenway was built at Miller Field (that’s right there’s a replica of Fenway right off Linton Boulevard), Bucky did the coronation by re-enacting his famous homer. It was 1989 and it cost $100,000 to build the replica Green Monster. Mickey Rivers showed up to stand in the on deck circle and Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez was gracious enough to serve up another home run pitch.
Pretty cool.
Contrary to press reports at the time, Torrez had no intention of throwing a brushback pitch.

“You can’t rewrite the history books,” said Torres “You live with it and you die with it. I agreed to do this for the sake of the kids who will be using the facility. A lot of the kids weren’t even born at the time so it’ll be something special for them.”

Indeed it has been a special place.

Speaking of Mickey Rivers, he would play in the one and done Senior Professional Baseball Association for the team based in West Palm. I was fortunate to interview Mick the Quick as a young reporter. He gave me his bat.

The legendary Red Sox captain “Yaz” would end up living in Highland Beach after living for a while in east Delray.. He could be seen from time to time at Boston’s on the Beach. How cool is that?

As for Boston’s on the Beach, I am told by someone who would know, that the “Spaceman” Bill Lee (who figures prominently in the 14 Back documentary) that a movie on his life features a scene at Boston’s in Delray Beach. Amazing.

But the hero of the piece is Bucky.

I still see him around town from time to time. For 30 plus years he has run a charity golf tournament at The Falls Club in Lake Worth which always attracts a slew of ball players.
The event benefits local charities, including those who care for cancer patients and their families.
He may not be loved in Boston, but he remains one of my all time favorites and a hero to Yankee fans everywhere.

Things We Loved in September

Paul Simon: Still crazy (and now retired from touring) after all these years.

September loves

Seeing Paul Simon’s farewell tour at the BB&T.

Artists like Paul Simon are rare…poets, musicians, whose words and music define our culture and leave an indelible mark. We felt privileged to be there. He played all the classics and some of the new gems too.

Happy hour at Senor Burrito and running into the wonderful Trish Jacobson.

Boca Lead’s new season with the amazing Pastor Mitchell. The topic: “Difficult Conversations” in front of a record crowd. Amazing program. Check it out. I’m beginning October by having lunch with the Pastor and another one of my favorites: Karen Granger.

Seeing the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary and Juliet, Naked at Cinemark Boca.

Meeting the wonderful team at 4 Kids a great job-profit that’s coming to Delray. They already serve our kids now they will have a physical presence at The Arbors in Delray.

Lunch and laughter at Papas Tapas  with Ingrid Kennemer and Scott Porten. Very few know the Delray commercial real estate market as well as Ingrid.

The start of a new NFL season at Duffy’s with my best bud Scott Savodnik and Jason Spaide.

Seeing all of the Delray ATP stars excel at the US open. Marin Cilic, Juan Martin Del Potro (finalist), Kei Nishikori, one Bryan Brother and Frances Tiafoe all had great opens.
But the highlight was Delray’s own Coco Gauff winning the girls doubles title with Catherine McNally.

Breakfast at Boca’s venerable Tom Sawyer with a long time friend Sharon Patterson.

Lunch with some Delray greats at Cabana El Rey…

Viewing the “sizzle” reel for a new TV show featuring my friend Eric Roby, former Channel 12 anchor. Stay tuned, I think Eric’s got a winner.

Eating lunch at the bar of Madison’s in Boca. Great all day happy hour menu check it out.

David Byrne at the Fillmore. Wonderful show. Unique artist. While in South Beach check out Cibo and if you can make it a weekend we recommend a stay at the Marriott Stanton.

Sardinia Ristorante is a gem. Fresh mozzarella, a great bar, attentive service and unique food. A great addition.

The Abe and Louie Salad—hard to beat.

Jessica Del Vecchio, Boca’s economic development director is a great asset for her city. It’s a pleasure to partner with her as part of the Boca Newspaper.

Have a wonderful October!

Greetings From Asbury Park

The boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J.

I’ve always wanted to go to Asbury Park.

So last week we made the trip.

We loved it.

As we toured Belmar, Ocean Grove, Asbury, Allenhurst, Freehold, Neptune and Colts Neck one thought was top of mind: New Jersey might have the world’s worst PR, because the reality far, far, far outstrips the perception.

New Jersey is breathtakingly beautiful (that’s right)  with a magnificent coast, incredible neighborhoods, vibrant cities and architecture that makes you pull over and stare.

Asbury Park has always held a place in my heart and  imagination thanks to its association with my musical heroes Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

I’ve read a few books about the boom and bust history of Asbury Park and the musicians who helped to put the place on the map.

So I was curious to explore the tiny (1.5 square miles) city.

Asbury has a pretty boardwalk, a beautiful beach, some amazing seaside bars, wonderful architecture, a hip hotel, a really nice downtown and some terrific restaurants.

But what sets it apart is its vibe.

Asbury Park is a town that seems to be built on rock n’ roll.

From rock photographer Danny Clinch’s “Transparent Gallery” and the Sound Booth lounge at the Asbury Hotel to the live music at Asbury Lanes and the renowned Wonder Bar—music is everywhere.

This weekend, Asbury expects 20,000 people for the first Sea. Hear. Now. music festival with big names like Social Distortion and Brandi Carlile coming to town to rock the shore.

Asbury is a town building on its roots—its glory days as evidenced by the Paramount Theatre and a grand boardwalk and a musical heritage which includes Springsteen, Southside Johnny and so many great bar bands.

Off the boardwalk, we found a nice downtown, especially Cookman Avenue which featured some interesting retail (a bookstore!, an adorable cinema and a tea house featuring cats—yes cats—called Catsbury Park) and some amazing restaurants. (If you visit, run don’t walk to Taka, it’s as good as it gets).

The surrounding towns feature block after block of really beautiful homes, Victorian gems that make you realize that Florida missed a golden opportunity by allowing so much cookie cutter housing to be built.

When visiting a place it’s important to consider its history and to see what’s in front of you. But it’s also important to understand its psychology, what drives a place. It’s critical to understand not only the reality but what the aspirations of a place are.

You can do this by observing who’s in town—what kinds of people do you see buying homes, opening businesses and investing in a place.

You can supplement what you see with a little reading—local newspapers, real estate publications, even what the hotels are saying about the town in their marketing materials.

And that’s where Asbury gets really interesting.

This little city with a rich history and a very cool present has aspirations.

Asbury is an ambitious place with a goal of becoming a nationally renowned cultural mecca built around music, art, festivals, great restaurants and a sense of place. Sound familiar?

The local press celebrates this ambition with profiles of entrepreneurs building web businesses, opening bakeries, planning music festivals, opening unique restaurants and creating boutique accommodations that pay homage to the area’s history and vibe.

One of the urban pioneers that seems to loom large is famed rock photographer Danny Clinch who has a very cool gallery attached to the ultra-hip Asbury Hotel. Clinch is arguably the most acclaimed music photographer around these days. He has chosen Asbury Park to not only show off his incredible portfolio but also to grow the city’s cultural brand.

The Sea. Hear. Now. festival is probably the most ambitious attempt so far. But the gallery itself is more than just a gallery. It’s a live music space where the local creative community can meet, grow and find encouragement and an outlet.

In many ways, I saw some parallels between Asbury Park and Delray Beach circa 1980s through early 2000s.

The emphasis on culture, food, beverage, festivals, tourism, entrepreneurship. The aspiration and hunger to fix and invest in neighborhoods and commercial districts. The willingness to take some risks. The presence of visionary pioneers with dreams and ambitions. The passion to make something happen.

I can’t comment on the politics of Asbury. But the truth is you need both the private sector and the public sector rowing in the same direction to make change and realize ambitions. It doesn’t work if volunteers, business owners and residents are out of step with local government or vice versa.

Towns need their Danny Clinch’s for sure. But they also need their elected officials and city government’s help too.

 

 

 

 

Homeward Bound

Beautiful Port Jefferson, N.Y.

This is a hyperlocal blog focused primarily on Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
But we also focus on cities, leadership, entrepreneurship and the general notion of community; what it means and how to build it.

So in the spirit of exploration I wanted to share with you some thoughts after a recent and all too brief trip “home” to the Port Jefferson/Setauket/Stony Brook area.
It’s where I grew up on eastern Long Island after being born and spending a few years in Queens.

It’s a beautiful area, magical in so many ways.

The older areas are truly historic with buildings dating to the late 1690s and early 1700s.
The area played a key role in the Revolutionary War with George Washington’s Setauket spies doing important work to defeat the British. Those days were recently depicted in a TV series and information about the spy ring is written on plaques and available on apps that give an oral history of the area.

We never lived in the historic parts of these towns, although we appreciated the older homes, wooded environments and colonial architecture.

My family and most of my friends lived in Levitt Homes, tract housing developed by the builder who invented suburbia after World War II.

Today, those homes are 50 years old plus and when I drove to see  a few of our old house (we moved around a lot) I could see the age on what was once so new. I enjoyed seeing the mature trees and for the most part the Levitt “sections” –as they were called— have held up well.

They are lovely in their own way and each street is filled with memories of community back when neighbors knew each other and when kids played outside until dark.

It was a magical time and we lived in a magical place. And as I shared with a best friend who grew up there with me, I’m grateful for the time spent here and saddened by the time that has passed.
I’m not sure when I will come back to Stony Brook. But I’m pretty sure that I will.

I feel very connected to the place.

It is and will always be home. The place where I went to school, where I lived with my parents and sister, where my grandparents (long gone but never forgotten) visited and where I met the best friends I’ve ever had and we experienced life’s adventures for the first time.

School days and favorite teachers and first crushes.
Parties and bar mitzvahs.
Little League, pick up basketball, stickball and football.
First cars, first loves, first everything.
Then, one day it ends.

And you go off—as you should– to explore new places, new experiences and new people.
But you never completely leave home and the experiences and the people that shaped you.

These are the people who support you, challenge you, push you and pick you up when you stumble and fall—as we all do.
I felt compelled to come home when I turned 40 and wanted to show a new love where it was that I came from. I thought if she saw the places that accompanied the stories and the personal history that we would grow closer and I think we did. I was also anxious to visit her hometown, Clairton, PA., a hardscrabble kind of place that explains a lot about who she became.

Fourteen years later, almost to the day, I felt compelled to return to my hometown.
I’m not sure why. Maybe its just important to touch —albeit briefly—your roots.
Your roots are what center and ground you.

I guess I needed a dose of home.

Taking A Stroll

Last week, the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association was in West Palm Beach for their annual conference.
Hundreds of urban planners from throughout the state were in attendance to learn from each other and to pick up new ideas that can be tried back home.
West Palm Planner Ana Maria Aponte, a Delray resident, was in charge of hosting a mobile tour of local downtowns and Delray was chosen along with West Palm and Lake Worth.
I was honored and happy to take a bus load of planners on a walking tour.
Below are the notes I made of the points I wanted to make as we walked Atlantic Avenue, Pineapple Grove and the Old School Square Historic Arts District.

1. Public investment first. (In Delray’s case, the public made the initial investments in streetscapes, paver bricks, lighting, culture etc. and the private sector followed with colossal investment.)

2. Flexible zoning. Lenient parking regulations, densities. TCEA. First in state. Facade grants Cra. Rental assistance. (Flexible zoning is important where you are dealing with infill development. A reasonable parking code allowed for restaurants and an exemption from traffic concurrency rules allowed downtown to take shape. Without that “TCEA” there would have been no downtown. Density done right makes it possible for vibrancy to occur, for businesses to survive and makes our streets safer. It’s about design not density.
3. Built around culture, events. Tennis, festivals, Old School Square . (This stuff put us on the map and kept us there. Period. It created value, quality of life and wealth.)
4. We led with food and beverage. (But that was never the end game. Employment was always on the radar.)
5. Emphasis on downtown housing. (So important to support local businesses).
6. Open space preserved.
Citizens created OSS Park. City preserved Vets Park. Worthing Park etc.
7. Expand boundaries of downtown from I-95 to the ocean and two blocks north and south of avenue. We have good bones; a grid system.
U.S. 1 narrowed.  To stop speeding cars from flying past the downtown. So US 1 became a neighborhood instead of a highway.
8. Structured parking added. Land acquisition via Cra.
9. Future challenges.
Affordability: both commercial and residential.
Competition from other cities.
Managing nightlife.
Staying fresh.
Complacency  at the first signs of success when there is so much left to do.
I’m not sure I hit all of the points. We were walking fast, had limited time and I wanted to show them the Arts Garage where Marjorie Waldo graciously interrupted a staff meeting and a birthday party to give us an overview of her amazing facility.
We never did get to Old School Square where I wanted the group to meet Marusca Gatto who has done such a great job with the Cornell Museum.
Next time, for sure.
I like talking and writing about Delray Beach. I like sharing what we’ve learned with others trying to build their cities. I take great pride in the work that so many amazing people did over so many years. And I enjoy discussions of current and future challenges.
Cities are fascinating places. Ever changing. Always evolving. Always providing challenges and opportunities and so full of rich stories.
We are taking a few days off to explore some other cities. The blog will be back in a week or so.
Thanks for reading. Your attention is greatly appreciated.

Art Endures: So Does Social Infrastructure

The legendary Paul Simon is on a farewell tour. He visited South Florida for a final show at BB&T.

I’m at an age where my childhood heroes are— how can I be delicate– terming out so to speak.

It seems like every concert I attend these days is part of a “farewell tour” and I have some anxiety every time I hit the “obituary” link on my New York Times app.

Yet, I feel compelled to visit the link because I don’t want to miss the passing of people who meant something to me along the way.

Recent weeks have been especially difficult: we’ve lost Burt Reynolds, the wonderful Neil Simon, Aretha Franklin, John McCain and character actor Bill Daily—Major Healy on “I Dream of Jeanie” which was on every day in my house when my sister and I were growing up. In ways large and small, these people played roles in our culture and therefore our lives.

Politics are important, but politicians come and they go. They may leave a wake—policies may benefit  and they can certainly harm– but the cycles keep coming. But culture endures.

We attended the “farewell tour” for Paul Simon last weekend when it rolled into the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

He played new music and some songs that were 50 years old. They all sounded good, but the older songs still resonated, they were still relevant and they still rang true.

The final song of the night was “American Tune” which was written in 1973. The song is as meaningful today as it was 45 years ago.

“Still when I think of the road we’re traveling on I wonder what’s gone wrong. I can’t help it I wonder what’s gone wrong”.

In introducing the song, Mr. Simon spoke briefly, but his few words spoke volumes.

“Strange times,” he said drily. “Don’t give up.”

We won’t.

I know every generation thinks they have cornered the market on musical genius, but I think the Baby Boomers really did.

We grew up amidst an explosion of musical talent and their music has invaded our pores and informed our thoughts and views of life.

Don’t believe me?

Then consider: The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, U2, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Byrds, CCR, The Band, Stevie Wonder, Aretha, Neil Young, Smokey Robinson, Dylan, The Dead, Elton John, Billy Joel, the Allman Brothers, The Kinks, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Earth Wind & Fire, The Temptations, Michael Jackson, Paul Simon and on and on she goes.

Oh I like new music too and seek it out regularly. But our golden age will be hard to match. The world has changed, there is no longer any water cooler, no multi-format radio stations that everyone listens to—we are tethered to our devices and our Spotify song lists. We have convenience and music on demand, but we have lost that common experience. Nobody is home at Graceland anymore.

We all knew what happened when “me and Julio” went down to the school yard and we surely knew what it was like to listen to “Dazed and Confused” while drinking warm beer with friends on a hot summer night. We have traded Budweiser with our buddies for earbuds and solitude. And it makes me a little sad and more than a little nostalgic….

Then, over the weekend, I read about a new term: “social infrastructure.”

I love it.

The author lamented the loss of “social infrastructure” in our cities—places like libraries, places like Old School Square and Patch Reef Park—“palaces for the people” is what the author Eric Klinenberg calls them. I love that phrase.

We ought to start thinking of our public spaces that way. It may be more important now than ever to tend to the commons before they go away and we physically meld with our cellphones and social media platforms. A new study released this week says that teenagers prefer to relate to their friends on their devices rather than in person. Think about that…it’s disturbing.

Regardless, this is a ramble. And I appreciate you reading this far.

From Major Healy to Old School Square we’ve covered some ground…but this drift was anticipated by the likes of Paul Simon when he sang (way back in 1967):

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you

What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson

Jolting Joe has left and gone away.”

Yes, he has.

I will miss this amazing array of talent we have enjoyed–as one by one they fade away. But their music…their sublime and transcendent music… will surely endure.