Events and Things to Do in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

Boca Raton and Delray Beach are among the most vibrant communities you’ll ever find.

Both cities feature a vast array of events year-round that are sure to interest people of all ages and interests. From arts festivals and music events to a vibrant food scene and cultural landscape Boca-Delray has it all.

At YourDelrayBoca.com we strive to curate the best events and give you insider’s tips to make your experience the best it can be.

The Power of Saying Yes

Peter Kageyama preaches the virtues of loving your city.

The talk could have been titled: “Just Say Yes.”

“Or for goodness sakes….relax and experiment.”

We’re talking about author/speaker Peter Kageyama’s keynote at last week’s “Community Conversation” at Old School Square convened by the Delray Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Kageyama is the author of “For the Love of Cities” among other books and pieces that encourage people to fall in love with their city and experiment. The St. Pete resident is a dynamic speaker who shows real world examples of how cities from Auckland to Anchorage and Grand Rapids to Greenville, S.C. have benefitted from “co-creatives”—people who move forward with ideas and projects that help you fall in love or stay in love with their cities.

Most of the projects are small—some are bold and some are simple and they can range in cost from $20 to a whole lot more—but the end result is often surprise and delight.

Kageyama believes cities should be fun places that encourage experiments and pop-up experiences—even if you have to break a few rules along the way.

Examples ranged from a lip dub version of “American Pie” in Grand Rapids that garnered 5 million views on YouTube to a $1,200 project in Greenville, S.C. that placed statues of brass mice in fun places downtown. It may sound silly—and it is—but the message is that’s Ok, cities should be fun.

But these projects also create value—Grand Rapids’ version of the Don McLean classic was in response to a report that the city was dying (Get it: “the day the music died”) and stirred hundreds of citizens to show the world that their city was alive and had pride. The statues of cute little mice in Greenville is an endless source of fun for visitors and locals alike and even led to a children’s book.

From murals and dog parks to public art and drum circles—cities that have personality win our hearts, minds and wallets.

And when you fall in love—you tend to commit, volunteer, invest, interact and put down roots. It’s community building and in a polarized world full of all sorts of sad and calamitous stuff these little “endearments” make a huge difference.

The cities that are fun will win and the cities that are boring will lose.

This debate has been simmering in Delray for a few years so Mr. Kageyama’s presentation was both timely and relevant. While Delray was named “America’s Most Fun City” there’s been a lot of hand wringing over festivals, parades, parks, 100-foot trees, tennis tournaments etc.

We hear about “full cost recovery” and the burdens that some of this stuff place on city budgets, staffing etc.

But we never really talk about the value of these types of activities or the cost of being boring.

Kageyama started his presentation with a pyramid giving a hierarchies of elements cities strive to deliver.

At the base is functionality and safety: cities need to function (permits, toilets flushing, roads in good shape etc.) and they need to be safe. The next level is the ability of a city to be comfortable: are there places to sit, is their shade, is our downtown walkable, can we ride a bike without being killed etc.)?

The next rung is conviviality—are we nice to each other? Is our public discourse toxic or civil?

The top of the pyramid is fun. Do we enjoy living here? Do we enjoy each other as neighbors? Does our city create opportunities for us to connect?

A local panel consisting of our Downtown Development Authority Director, Old School Square President, West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition Director, Chamber President and the head our Marketing Cooperative talked about the need to work collaboratively—which is the true definition of an All America City.

There was a palpable sense in the room—and I see and hear this in my travels around town—that Delray is tired of dysfunction, infighting, divisiveness and a lack of progress on key initiatives ranging from ideas to help South Federal Highway to enacting the hard work of the Congress Avenue Task Force. (Disclosure: I chaired the task force, it’s no fun to see the hard work of dozens of volunteers gather dust on a shelf).

But it’s not just the big ideas and vision that is lagging—it’s the small stuff too. The sense that city staff has been stifled, that talent is frustrated and that we are at risk of losing the creative spirit and sense of community that distinguished Delray.

Interim Chamber President Vin Nolan—an economic development professional—said it best when he said in cities “you are never done” and if you think you are then.. you really are done.

Rob Steele of Old School Square senses a desire to take Delray to a new level of creativity and inclusiveness. He’s right.

You can have progress, job creation, opportunities and fun without breaking the bank or losing your uniqueness and charm. Nobody said it was easy. But enlightened leadership welcomes ideas—isn’t afraid to experiment and looks for ways to engage citizens. Kageyama mentioned the Delray Affair—our city’s signature event, both historic and important.

Why not have a series of events that encourages us to have an affair with our city?

Why don’t we invite people to fall in love with Delray?

We can fix leaky pipes, collect parking fines and fill potholes—that’s the functional part and it’s important. But we can have fun too.

I think we’re ready.

Check that, I know we are.

 

10 Things We Liked About October

 

Matthew Farmer serenaded Lifetime Achievement Award winner Frances Bourque and hearts swooned.

10 Things we liked in October.
1. Bat Mitzvahs. Especially Bat Mitzvahs at Boca Pointe. Especially Bat Mitzvahs that include blackberry mojitos and chocolate fountains. Oh and a great young woman and great people too. That we love.
2. Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” in Pittsburgh. We know lots of Pittsburghers in Delray and Boca and we like them all.
3. The Matzo Ball soup at Deli On Rye in Boca.
4. Sitting at the bar for lunch at the Gazebo in Boca, a local classic. Elegant and delicious.
5. Frances Bourque being recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Delray Chamber. The founder of Old School Square is quite simply a local heroine. She made it all possible.
6. We loved seeing good guy Pedro Andrade recognized by the Chamber as Business Person of Year. The GM of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza is terrific. Period.
7. Congrats to the Conde Center for Chiropractic Neurology for also winning an award from the Chamber for their business success and growth. Founder Dr. John Conde also finds time to give back.
8. Margaret and Robert Blume stepping up to lead the effort to rethink the Cornell Museum at Old School Square.
9. The pork chops at 5th Avenue Grill. We knew they had great steaks, but the pork chops are magnificent as well.
10. Believe it or not– but I’m told by a well known deli maven that Caffe Luna Rosa serves a great pastrami sandwich. Maybe the best.
See you in November a month devoted to giving thanks.

Honoring A Local Legend

Frances Bourque: A Lifetime of Achievement.

Editor’s Note: We received a few requests for the speech honoring the Delray Chamber’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Frances Bourque. Frances was honored Friday night at the Delray Marriott. It was a memorable evening and her speech was sensational. Video coverage of the awards ceremony can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Delray Newspaper.  Here’s the transcript of the intro…

Well, what can you say about our honoree…Frances Bourque?

This tribute can be six words…I love you. We love you.

I truly believe that none of us would be sitting here in a beautiful beachfront hotel… in a vibrant downtown…if Frances Bourque had stayed in the Glades or set her sights on Boca Raton or West Palm Beach. We were forever blessed when she came to Delray.

Old School Square started it all…It was the catalyst…you were the catalyst… and because you brought your beautiful spirit, vision and brilliance to our town…we—all of us— have reaped the rewards…You are so special…and we are so grateful for all that you have given us.

Because as you taught me… it’s all about people—people who lead with love, boldness, aspiration, care and concern. People who motivate us to join the mission. Frances, your heart is so big and so generous…your vision is so compelling…there was no way we could fail. You lead with love.

That’s our Frances…she is spellbinding and irresistible.

The first time I met her, when I was 23 years old, I was struck by her spirit and her unique worldview. She just had a great way of seeing things… I’ve been enthralled ever since…

Frances and I have laughed together and we’ve shed a few tears too…she has been our rock, the champion of our city’s vision, and she has been the go-to person for so many great people….inspiring them to be involved, give back and make a difference in Delray.

For thirty years—she has taught me…and so many others…what it takes to build and sustain a great city.

Because none of this…none of what we saw in the video… happened by accident. All of the things we love and cherish about Delray Beach is a result of people working together through good times and bad.

None of this could have happened without people like Frances leading the way and teaching us that anything and everything is possible if we dare to dream and dare to try.

 

Great leaders are inspiring, they make you feel good about the mission, they lift people up and they show us the way. They make you believe that your dreams can come true—and when they do —they graciously give others the credit. That’s our Frances…

 

Frances Bourque is my hero and a hero to so many of us in Delray Beach. Where others saw a desolate and blighted downtown, Frances saw boundless potential.

Where others saw a broken down old school, Frances envisioned a cultural arts center that would transform our community by giving us a place to gather—so we could actually be a community. She gave us the biggest gift of all—community.

Old School Square is a brilliant idea… it honors our past, enhances our present and addresses our future. It’s where we gather to celebrate, it’s where we go to dream and it’s where we go to console each other during tough times….it belongs to all of us and it’s an asset—a gift— that we must treasure.

Frances made this happen.

Oh, she had help—but it was her boundless energy, passion, skill and love for Delray that drove the vision. Her optimism is contagious and once we were exposed to the Frances Bourque magic—there was no way we could ever fail.

Great leaders attract people to the cause…and they make us feel that we can move mountains and change our corner of the world.

Frances has been this city’s muse and champion for decades…Old School Square was the catalyst for our revitalization. It created an economy out of blight, breathed life, music and art into a once desolate downtown—and gave us pride of place.

We were no longer “Dullray Beach”…we were Delray Beach…an All America City, a place of possibility, achievement and innovation.

Frances is a most deserving Lifetime Achievement Award winner…she’s a brilliant star…a beautiful spirit…she has gifted us a world of possibility and she has never wavered or gone away… thank goodness.

On behalf of the Greater Delray Beach of Commerce and a grateful community: Thank you. We love you very, very much. Ladies and gentleman…your 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award winner…Frances Bourque.

 

 

A Lifetime of Achievement: Honoring Contributors

Frances Bourque: A Lifetime of Achievement.

On Friday night, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce will honor three special people at its annual Luminary Gala at the Delray Marriott.

The Conde Center, founded by Dr. John Conde, will be named Business of the Year.
Pedro Andrade, GM of Anthony’s Coal Fire Pizza, will be honored as Business Person of the Year.
And Frances Bourque–the extraordinary Frances– will win a much deserved “Lifetime Achievement Award”.
All three represent the best of Delray Beach, people whose work in the community make them invaluable.
I’m glad that after a years break, the Chamber has restored its awards program. It’s important to recognize good people, say thanks and hopefully inspire others to strive.

To be honest, I don’t think we say thanks enough to the special people who give their time, talents and treasure to our community. If we fail to show gratitude and recognize service, we miss an opportunity to educate newcomers and our children. And we risk that important and noteworthy contributions will be missed–and as a result, the history of our city risks being incomplete.

The three Chamber honorees this year are truly deserving and very special.

The Conde Center enjoys a stellar reputation for advancing the health and wellness of its clientele.
Founded in 2006 by Dr. John Conde, the Conde Center for Chiropractic Neurology is known for its state of the art equipment and caring staff.
As a result, the Center has grown in size and now employs 10 people.
Despite a fast growing practice, Dr. Conde serves on several non profit boards and the city’s Downtown Development Authority. He’s involved in the community and finds many ways to support Delray. Over the years, I’ve quietly referred several people to the center.

One of my best friends is a chiropractic physician in California and I’ve learned to appreciate the difference these practitioners can make in people’s lives. I’ve never had anyone complain after visiting the Conde Center. I do hear a lot of raving reviews.

Mr. Andrade is another individual who finds myriad ways to support the community.
Quite simply, he’s a go-to person in Delray. If there’s a good cause, you know Pedro will be there.
He’s just a terrific guy and it feels good to see him honored.
I remember when we approved the restaurant way back when. I had received a letter from a neighbor concerned about “coal emissions” a reference to Anthony’s pizza cooking method.
That’s how new coal fired pizza was back then. Not to worry, all Anthony’s does is make amazing pizza and the best wings imaginable. No smoke stacks.

Which leads me to Frances.
What can one say about Frances Bourque?
She’s my personal heroine. And she serves that role for many many others.
The founder of Old School Square is truly an historic figure in our community. Her work has impacted a generation and will continue to impact Delray forever. There’s not too many people you can say that about.
She continues to be a leadership force in our community teaching us, focusing us and inspiring us.
In short, she’s a treasure.
To see her receive a lifetime achievement award will be a thrill for so many.
Because in so many ways, she personifies the best of Delray: visionary, aspirational, inspirational, historic, formidable, complex, loving and smart.
See you at the Gala…three special  honorees recognized by an important community anchor: our Chamber.

Things We Liked In September

Congrats to the DBMC and Chamber!

Well, September 2017 may not be remembered fondly thanks to Irma, Harvey and Maria.

October is off to a heartbreaking start as well with a horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Still, we aim to stick to our tradition (starting last month) of pointing out some good things in our world and community.

Things we liked in September…
In no particular order…

  • Neighbors helping neighbors pre and post Irma. At times like this, we sometimes discover and often rely on neighbors to help us prepare and cope. For this we are thankful.
  • The Abe and Louie salad
  •  Cream of Mushroom soup at Madison’s. It’s a great restaurant. Try it.
  • Old School Bakery. There are no words to describe the artistry of Old School’s bread.
  • WPTV’s Steve Weagle doing stellar work pre and post Irma. We also rediscovered Bryan Norcross and send shout outs of appreciation to other local meteorologists.
  •  The yeoman’s work done by city staff and utility workers in Boca and Delray to help us get back on our feet post Irma.
  •  The book “The New Brooklyn” by Kay Hymowitz. If you love cities and want to gain some insights on gentrification look no further.
  •  Actress Kristen Bell of “Frozen” entertaining senior citizens and others while riding the storm out in Orlando.
  •  The Good Place on Netflix-starring Ms. Bell.
  •  The black and white cookies at 3Gs.
  •  The guy who plays Spanish guitar at Farmers Table in Boca.
  •  The zest for life and learning that we see from our friend Connor Lynch.
  • A photo of Dr. Craig Spodak with the great Simon Sinek on Instagram. Mr. Sinek wrote the great book “Start With Why”, which is a must read. Dr. Spodak is also an inspiration.
  •  My new grand puppy Riley. An adorable golden (are there any other kind?).
  •  The memory of Phish an adorable Chihuahua and a longtime fixture at the Delray Green Market. Hugs to Jim and Lori Nolan.
  •  Thanks to Hypower Electrical Services and John Potts of TAW Power Systems for their efforts to restore power to the Sandoway Discovery Center saving animals and sea life that were endangered by the loss of electricity. Awesome.
  •  Marisa Herman’s stellar work at the Delray and Boca Newspaper. Make sure to catch her front page article on 92 year old author Bob Levinson in this month’s Delray Newspaper.
  •  Debbie Stackhouse Smith too!
  • Happy one year anniversary to Delray Morning Live and kudos to the excellent hosts Kate Volman and Ryan Boylston. Joe and Mika have nothing on these two.
  •  The music of Steely Dan. Rest In Peace Walter Becker. Thanks for decades of unforgettable music.
  • Congratulations to Dupree Jackson Jr.

    Keep your eye on him. He’s a powerful and committed leader with a big heart. And boy do we ever need heart in our world and communities.

  • We are also immensely impressed with WiseTribe and its leader Jacqueline Botting.
  • Congratulations to the Delray Marketing Cooperative and Delray Chamber of Commerce for winning international recognition. The International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA), which recognizes the world’s best event producers, recently announced the winners of its annual Pinnacle Awards during its 62nd annual convention  in Tucson, Arizona. The Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative (DBMC) and the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce each received a Gold Award, the IFEA’s highest honor, proving once again that when it comes to showing the public an awesome time no one can compete with Delray Beach events, even on an international level.The DBMC won for Best Newspaper Insert for the Famous 100 Foot Christmas Tree and the Chamber won for Best Promotional Video for its Seek in the City Scavenger Hunt.

    We know we missed some good news–so this is only a partial list. But also a reminder that even in difficult times, we have much to be thankful for.

 

The Greening of Delray

Community Greening has a simple but important mission.

We went to a fundraiser earlier this week at the new farm to table bar Death or Glory to raise funds and awareness for Community Greening, a Delray Beach non-profit that is beginning to make its mark in Delray Beach.

 

Community Greening provides eligible groups and neighborhoods free native trees. They do it all: from delivery and site selection to permits and tools for planting. The organization also invests in the environment by creating or maintaining sustainable green spaces, supplying the project management, native plants, art, volunteers, and maintenance needed to create great public spaces. They are also committed to educating kids on trees and plants.

That last piece is extremely important in our high-tech society. Community Greening believes it’s important to connect children to the natural environment. You don’t take care of things you don’t relate too and with our planet in a fragile state we need to seed the future with people who care.

The group has planted hundreds of trees and has quickly gained a strong reputation in the community.

Co-founders Mark Cassini and Matt Shipley have recruited an all-star board that includes Vice Mayor Jim Chard and emerging leaders like Emanuel Dupree Jackson Jr., Jason McCobb, owner of Farmer Jay Pure Organics and noted landscape architect Carolyn Pendleton-Parker among others.

Board member Sgt. Daniela Quinn of the Delray Beach Police Department likes the community building aspects of the organization.

“CG is important because it brings the community together to learn about our Delray Beach ecosystem and how to take more of a proactive stance in helping sustain it. CG seeks to clean up and bring life back to neglected spaces and it gives everyone a chance to plant a tree, leaving their legacy for generations to come. In an area where new development seems to be at the forefront, CG allows us to be reminded of the history of our natural habitat and bring back some native plants to our community to keep it green and beautiful.”

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Personally, I was moved by the humble passion of those involved in the organization that I had a chance to meet this week.

In a follow-up conversation with Mr. Cassini, I learned about an effort to “green” and plant trees at Catherine Strong Park in the southwest section of Delray. That park has a special meaning for me. The voters approved a bond issue when I was on the commission that funded the splash park, which was the first park in that neighborhood’s history. It’s also named after the first female mayor in Delray history who was known for her big heart and her desire to improve race relations.

A celebration of Community Greening’s efforts will be held from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 at Catherine Strong Park.

I hope you visit and most of all, we hope you get involved and support CG in its important mission.

To learn more visit http://communitygreening.org/. Next month, there will be a fundraiser at Pizza Rustica and then a Delivery Dudes fundraising effort.

Meanwhile, Death or Glory is just great. Don’t miss the fried chickpeas (and the Tommy Margarita is pretty good too!). We wish them well and salute their community involvement.

 

 

 

10 Things We Loved in August

Tequila & Tacos was a highlight of the summer craft cocktail series at Old School Square.

Editor’s note: Our hearts are heavy this morning thinking of those suffering from the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

We in South Florida and in Delray Beach and Boca Raton can relate to the disruption that hurricanes cause. Please consider donating what you can to relief organizations that are on the scene in the Houston area. And please be vigilant with your hurricane preparations. We are entering the height of the hurricane season.

 

“I can’t believe the news today..

Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away”– U2 Sunday Bloody Sunday
 
No we can’t make it go away. 
But we can inject a little positivity into our lives can’t we?
And so we will. 
Here’s 10 things we liked this month. 
1. Kudos to Old School Square for its social media tsunami and uplifting videos designed to remind one and all how special Delray’s cultural arts center is and how important it is to the life of our community. 
2. Festival Management Group, the producers of the Garlic Festival and Delray Affair among other signature everts, spent more than a year being bullied by short sighted politicians. But it didn’t dissuade the team. They re-tooled and reinvented and came up with a terrific series of summer events at The Fieldhouse at Old School Square. We attended a few and loved them all. Great events, great cocktails and robust ticket sales brightened our summer. We loved the integration with local restaurants and discovered a few new places as a result. Kudos Nancy, John and Sarah.  
3. Louie Bossi is a welcome addition to downtown Boca. Brilliant concept, big menu and wonderful food equals a great time. 
4. We had a chance to meet with Campbell Creative, a new addition to our entrepreneurial scene. We predict you will be hearing more about this innovative agency. 
5. We are thrilled to hear about the continued success of Modernizing Medicine which raised a whopping $231 million in investment and continues to hire and blaze new trails. CEO Dan Cane is a brilliant business visionary and a nice guy too. Kudos to the FAU Research Park for nurturing scores of great businesses.
6. We had a chance to hang with Boca Mayor Susan Haynie and former Councilwoman Constance Scott at a recent Palm Beach County League of Cities meeting and it was fun. Mayor Haynie recently completed a stint as president of the Florida League, a great honor. Cities are under siege in this state by some short sighted state leaders. Good to see our local officials stand up for home rule. 
7. We were thrilled to see Pame Williams receive recognition (and celebrate in her own way) her 30 years of service to the taxpayers of Delray Beach. We just adore her. 
8. Also good to see the late Lamar Shuler’s legacy celebrated at the S.D. Spady Museum. 
9. Nice to see dirt moving at the iPic Theatre four years after the CRA chose the project after an RFP process. 
10. We were thrilled to see Creative Mornings Palm Beach visit the Arts Garage.
All in all, August was a very fine month.

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.