Walkability: The Killer App

The Beatles understood walkability and walked eight days a week.

There was a story in the Wall Street Journal last week that went viral.
The piece talked about how “walkability” has become the hot new rage in car-centric LA.

The reporter wrote about how walkable neighborhoods and developments are fetching higher prices and have become a top preference of baby boomers, millennials and just about anyone who can fork over a fortune on housing close to shops, dining and cultural amenities.
In other words, what we have in downtown Delray Beach.

Our walkability is not only desirable and unique in sprawling suburban South Florida it has created value for neighborhoods within striking (or golf cart) distance of the downtown.
And yet, while we as people value walkability for the quality it brings to our communities, we sure put up a fuss when it comes to enacting policies to enable it.

As a result, there is a shortage of such neighborhoods– not only in LA, but in Florida and all points in between. Because of a limited supply of walkable neighborhoods, everything from housing to commercial rents have skyrocketed in urbanized spaces.  It’s the simple law of supply and demand: when there is more demand than supply prices spike. Hence $100 rents on Atlantic Avenue and really high prices on downtown condos in Delray, Boca and yes LA.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Why can’t we enact policies to encourage more walkable and bike friendly neighborhoods?
After all, walkability is sustainable both environmentally and economically.
Well…in order to create walkable neighborhoods you can’t have policies that preference the car. You need policies that encourage the pedestrian.
Usually that means compact and dense development, the opposite of sprawl.
Hence, the angst.
Sadly,  has become a dirty word and that’s a shame. Because density done well, density deployed strategically creates magical places. It’s all about urban design and placemaking.

But many communities get caught up in a numbers game instead of a form or design based discussion. As a result, they fight density and perhaps unwittingly support policies that preference the auto over the person. They also– I believe unwittingly–support expensive and ultimately unsustainable development. The Strong Towns movement is devoted to lifting the veil on this issue and teaching communities that by promoting sprawl they are hastening their financial ruin. They offer case study after case study using basis math to prove their thesis. To learn more, visit https://www.strongtowns.org/ but fair warning, you can get lost in their website, it’s that good.

Another stumbling block is parking. So much development is driven by parking.
Parking requirements drive design and uses and because structured parking is expensive, we often end up with a sea of asphalt, hardly conducive to placemaking and walkability.
The developers I know struggle mightily with this, especially since we keep reading about automated vehicles and about how the advent of self driving cars will free of us of the tyranny of the parking lot/expensive deck.
Alas, we are not there yet. And the last thing you want to be is “under parked” which makes it hard for projects to succeed.
It’s just not easy.
And yet…
We should try.

Try to learn lessons from Donald Shoup widely regarded as one of the best minds in parking around. He came to Delray a few years back and reminded us that there is no such thing as free parking. Somebody’s paying for it. If you pay taxes, guess what? It’s you.

We should also try to embrace the idea that design and form mean more than numbers and that prescriptive codes won’t allow for creativity and will hinder investment not encourage it. But form based codes enable great design if we push developers, planners and architects. And if we educate elected officials.
Walkability and placemaking are possible. But only if we aspire, incentivize (through zoning, not cash) and insist on it.

Remembering someone special

There has been a lot of loss lately. It least it seems that way to me anyway.

Last weekend, we attended a memorial service honoring the life of Susan Shaw who spent 7 years working for the Delray CRA.

Susan was the first person you saw if you went to the CRA’s offices on Swinton Avenue and the cheerful voice you heard if you called the agency.

She retired only a few weeks ago, took a bucket list trip to New Zealand, posted wonderful photos on Facebook, came home, took ill and sadly passed away.

The news devastated her family, friends and colleagues who considered her family.

Susan was a vibrant, friendly, warm soul with a great spirit. She volunteered at the Caring Kitchen and was devoted to animal rescue. She was also active at Unity Church.

Her fellow prayer chaplains and friends gave her a wonderful send off at her memorial. Unity is a special place. The sanctuary is spectacular and the warm feeling you get when you enter the church defies description. It was an apt place to celebrate Susan Shaw.

CRA Director Jeff Costello gave one of many touching talks about Susan. And it reminded me that it takes so many parts to make a village work.

Susan Shaw wasn’t a department head, her photo won’t hang on the walls at City Hall, but she was a vital part of a team. A team dedicated to building community.

She will be missed by all who knew her.

 

The Sweep of History Summons Our Better Angels

Historian Jon Meacham

The historian Jon Meacham has a new book out entitled the “Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels”.

Fresh off his highly regarded eulogy at Barbara Bush’s funeral, Meacham has released a book that counsels us to take a deep breath—we will get through these turbulent times. We’ve been there before—many times—and we will emerge intact, a stronger and better nation.

It’s a comforting and timely message.

We had the privilege of seeing Meacham two years ago at the annual meeting of Leadership Florida where he charmed us with his humor, facility with history and anecdotes about American presidents. If you have a chance to see him, don’t miss the opportunity.

Meacham’s new book presents a hopeful view and offers examples of how America has overcome divisiveness and hatred in the past.

He says today’s America is freer and more accepting than it has ever been, while acknowledging shortcomings and ongoing struggles over race, gender, equality and political philosophy.

“A tragic element of history,” he writes, “is that every advance must contend with the forces of reaction.”

Indeed.

That’s a sobering thought and a reminder that we must be vigilant and guard the progress that’s been made.

Recalling Lincoln, Meacham implores us to summon our “better angels” believing that the soul of America is kind and caring, not mean and callous. His advice: enter the arena, resist tribalism, respect facts, deploy reason, find balance and be mindful of history.

So while Meacham’s book is aimed at our nation, his advice can also be deployed at the local level, where I believe the action really happens.

When communities are divided, good people often avoid the arena because it feels unsafe. After all, who wants to swim in a toxic pool?

As a result, when communities are at odds, we often see tribes or factions arise. Of course, each faction has their own set of “facts” which often doesn’t allow for reason or compromise to take hold.

In those instances, it is hard to find balance and often there is an attempt to redraw history and bend the narrative to fit a particular viewpoint.

At YourDelrayBoca.com we observe two very different communities, with different styles and sensibilities.

But there are commonalities as well.

Both cities have divisions, political and social. Both are wrestling with change and what they aspire to be. Both are attractive to people with ideas for the future, which is a good thing. You should worry when nobody has ideas or aspirations.

But like a nation, a community’s health and sustainability improves when there is a sense of common purpose; a unity of vision and identity.

These are the times when we need our better angels to win out over our other more aggressive instincts.

The civic square (arena) should be made safer for productive debate and conversation, tribes should strive to find common ground and agree that facts matter.

Is that possible?

Yes, it is.

But it takes a concerted effort. Someone—a leader—has to say that the current state is unacceptable and remind us that we can do better.

As Lincoln reminds us…“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 

 

A Legacy of Service: Bump Mitchell

Matthew “Bump” Mitchell

He was a sharecropper’s son who devoted his life to public service.

He was one of a kind and he should not be forgotten.

Sgt. Matthew “Bump” Mitchell passed away last week.

If you’ve been around Delray for any length of time, you’ll know who he is. But life is fast paced these days and if you’re new to town there’s a chance you might not know who Sgt. Mitchell was and that’s just not right.

Because this was a man who touched thousands of lives. This was a role model for generations of local children and one the pillars of Delray Beach. He should not be forgotten. And he won’t be.

Many knew him as a police officer. Others as a minister. Still others as a coach and mentor.

Bump—as he was known—was all that and more.

Although he was born in Quitman, Georgia and considered himself a Georgia Peach, he spent all but three years of his life in Delray Beach molding young people, mentoring police officers, coaching athletes and looking after his flock as a charismatic minister.

To me, Sgt. Mitchell was larger than life.

By the time I met him 1987, he was already a local legend with the city having declared a “Bump Mitchell Day” in 1986.

I rode with him as a young reporter and at first I think he barely tolerated my presence, but Bump was just feeling me out, taking my measure as they say. When he saw that I was committed to his adopted town, he took a liking to me and I found him to be an enormous resource for me when I was elected to the City Commission in 2000. He was there for all the tough times, with words of advice and encouragement—always a calming, strong influence during some turbulent days.

Bump grew up west of town, with cattle and farm animals. He talked to me about unpaved roads and reminded those of us on the commission—in a gentle way—that there was no place for unpaved roads in the city proper. That was Bump’s way of telling us to pave roads in the southwest section of Delray. And we did. We expedited those projects.

While he had a long and distinguished career with the Delray Beach Police Department, working as a detective, a sergeant and as a mentor to young people he was equally well-known as a tough but fair coach for the legendary Delray Rocks football program.

He commanded respect on and off the field and guided generations of young men on the pitfalls of life if they made poor choices.

Later, I saw him a few times preach from the pulpit of Christ Missionary Baptist Church where he delivered powerful sermons and looked after his congregation with love and affection. He was also a chaplain for the Police Department where he dealt with some very serious issues—especially in the 80s and 90s, when crime was rampant in Delray and the department struggled to gain the confidence of the community.

Ultimately, the department forged good relations with residents and business owners and it made a huge difference.

There is no Delray Beach– at least as we know it–without our Police Department and it was officers like Matthew “Bump” Mitchell who made all the difference by going consistently above and beyond.

From mentoring children and intervening in tough situations to walking neighborhoods with residents and old fashioned police work , our department rose to the occasion and made this place safe for investment; made it a safe place to live, because there were times in the 80s when that was a real question.

We are not perfect and there is still too much crime, but compared to the 80s, it’s night and day a better place. It’s a better place because of  committed officers like Matthew “Bump” Mitchell.

They don’t do it for the money–because the compensation isn’t that great, especially when you consider the toll and the risk, both physical and emotional. The best ones–and Sgt. Mitchell was most definitely in that category–do it because they have a love for the community, a feel for people, a desire to serve and beyond tough facades hearts that yearn to help people. As a detective known for his work with juveniles, Bump helped countless kids and taught many officers how to do so as well.

At the Community Foundation, there is a scholarship set up in Pastor Mitchell’s name.

On that page is a brief description of the man and some testimonials too.

There are two testimonials from two other Delray Beach legends—former Mayor Leon Weekes and teacher, coach, civil rights leader C. Spencer Pompey. Both were influential and consequential men.

Here’s what they said about Bump Mitchell.

“Bump Mitchell is as dedicated an individual as I’ve ever known in dealing with the youth of Delray Beach. I’ve known him for 25 years, and he’s always been available to help kids, whether it be in delinquency matters, athletics, counseling, even to the point of taking children into his own home.  He’s a jewel in our community.  I wish we had more people like him.”

Leon Weekes,

 Former Mayor, Delray Beach

 “I don’t know anyone who has contributed more to the well-being of our society than Bump Mitchell.  He was quarterback on Carver’s 1954 championship team and one of the truly great athletes we’ve had there.  Bump was truly versatile, lettering in football, baseball and track.  Perhaps his greatest contribution has been his work in the community with the Rocks Football Team.  He was honored a few years ago by our church as the recipient of the citizen of the year award, and is truly one of our most outstanding citizens of the last 30 years.”

                  -C. Spencer Pompey,

                    Teacher and Coach.

Two legends speaking of another.

Matthew “Bump” Mitchell will be missed, but surely never forgotten.

 

 

Here’s To The Healers

There are more than 650,000 social workers in America.

Last week, I saw 110 honored during a special induction ceremony at FAU’s Sandler College of Social Work.

It was the spirit boost I needed, because these young people are truly amazing yet seldom celebrated.

How I wish that would change.

Because now—more than maybe ever—we need to celebrate, recognize, respect, honor, cherish and support people who decide to devote their lives to healing our fractured society.

I went to the ceremony as a guest of keynote speaker Suzanne Spencer whose journey is inspiring to me and many others who have been fortunate enough to see her work in our community.

I got to know Suzanne through her work as the former executive director of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force, a critically important group that gathers a wide cross section of the community to discuss the scourge of substance use disorder in our city.

I went to several meetings and saw the sharing of information and resources among providers, counselors, insurers, prosecutors, law enforcement, health care and others who are on the front lines in the battle to save lives in our community. It was great to see people communicating and working together…I’ve been a fan of Suzanne’s ever since.

So when she invited me to see her speak to people graduating with a Master’s in Social Work, I was all in. Suzanne delivered—as I knew she would.

But while I expected and enjoyed her great speech, I was especially struck by the pictures of the graduates flashed across screens with their career intentions below their smiling faces.

They were going to devote their lives to child welfare, abuse, adoption, addiction, victim’s rights, mental health, education—social work. Is there anything more valuable than the healing of society?

And I found myself growing emotional as I saw their faces and listened to the speakers who are really the best that our society has to offer.

They care. They love. They are passionate, committed and dedicated to working with those who need help, nurturing and healing.

The specter of Parkland hung heavy in the room. It’s fresh. It’s local.

We live in a violent and volatile society, But while that level of mental illness is at the top end of what can and does go wrong all too often these days, it’s also the day to day issues that calls for an army of healers.

And I thought, who tends to the families of the two young Delray Beach men who were killed in separate scooter and dirt bike accidents in the past two weeks? Who is there to help the children left alone after a murder suicide recently in our community?
The tragedies—some publicized, many hidden—are an everyday occurrence in every community in America.

And it’s not just tragedies, accidents, violence, crime, abuse, addiction etc., that afflicts us—it’s how we relate to each other as people. The vitriol on social media, cable TV, in Congress, across borders, religions, political persuasions and on and on that erodes our social fabric and compels us to wonder where the healers are.

And I thought, here they are.

Here are the people who will make a difference in our world. They won’t get rich doing so, at least in the conventional sense, but they will surely enrich our world.

As Dr. Michelle Hawkins, Vice Provost of FAU reminded the MSW graduates: we have to teach the world to be kinder. We don’t have to be mean spirited, we can be kind-spirited.

Amen.

 

Decline Isn’t Inevitable

The Maturity Curve.

I’m a big fan of urban affairs blogger Aaron Renn.

His “Urbanophile” blog is a must read if you care about cities, regions and economic development.

Recently, he wrote about “Maturity Curves”, which I’ve become familiar with relative to product life cycles.

The curve starts with an incubation period that leads to a growth phase followed by maturity and then sadly decline.

Think of products like the iPod: Apple launched the device; it quickly gained traction; then it matured and stabilized before inevitably declining only to be replaced by the newest hot thing.

Mr. Renn believes– and I agree –that the maturity curve also holds true for cities and institutions.

They hatch, grow, mature and then decline.

But is decline inevitable? Or can you intervene to make sure that you either remain stable or in a healthy, sustainable growth phase?

I believe you can ward off decline, but it requires vigilance, self-awareness, a certain degree of fear and a willingness to iterate and innovate.

Let’s take a look at some local cities and institutions to show how the maturity curve works but also how decline might be avoided.

Boca Raton is an interesting case study.

From the outside looking in the city has an awful lot of positive attributes—great schools, universities, a terrific private airport, tons of jobs, beautiful parks and some strong arts and cultural institutions. But there seems to be a lot of angst over the direction of the city’s downtown, especially the nature of new development.

Proponents of growth point to the need for new development to create critical mass downtown while those who worry feel that the scale of the new development threatens to change Boca forever –and not in a good way.

It’s an age old argument that could lead to a type of “decline” if not addressed.

Boca has a tremendous amount of what a friend of mine calls “depth” so it would be hard to imagine the city declining in a way that it becomes blighted, but decline can be measured in other ways as well.

A polarized community ripped apart by divisive politics, infighting and nasty fights over projects can weigh down a community’s momentum over time. Social media gives fuel to the divisions. A cursory glance at some Boca related pages on Facebook sheds light on some of the flashpoints.

The debate brings back memories for those of us who have been through the growth debate in Delray.

When Delray Beach was split over Worthing Place (a six story mixed use project) in the late 90s, the city embarked on a Downtown Master Plan process in 2001 to forge a common vision for how the downtown would evolve.

An outside agency—in this case the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council—was brought in to facilitate a process that encouraged community input from a broad range of stakeholders. What emerged was a consensus blueprint that addressed hot button issues including height, density and even race relations.

While the Master Plan process did not eliminate differences of opinion nor prevent controversy, the plan was embraced by a large cross section of the community and enabled projects to be green lit or voted down based on whether they fit the vision forged by the community. And that’s the key isn’t it: a vision forged by the community and implemented by elected officials, city staff and agencies.

Whenever I see communities slide into the muck, it’s often because the community has been cut out of any meaningful discussions on the future.

Delray got in trouble when we failed to realize that visions age and need to be renewed to reflect changing times and changing populations.

The hard feelings magnify when civic leaders fail to defend or understand previously adopted visions. What follows is often Monday morning quarterbacking in which past visions and strategies are questioned and disparaged. This really doesn’t serve a productive purpose. Assigning blame is hardly ever a tonic and rarely productive. What is productive is renewal.

Cities decline when visions dry up and aren’t refreshed and or replaced. You can’t fly safely without a net. It’s just that simple.

Delray’s Downtown Master Plan was hardly perfect, but it worked and it was implemented. It was incubated by hundreds of people who engaged in the process, we saw planned growth (downtown housing, the development of mixed use projects, investments in infrastructure, a race relations process that extended the downtown to I-95 etc.) and some maturation too.

Here’s a refresher summary. Delray’s Downtown Master Plan championed the following:

–A gateway feature to let people know that when they exited the interstate they were entering a special place and that the downtown extended from I-95 to A1A.

–The notion that design was more important than density. Rather than be caught up in numbers, the community should embrace well designed projects that look good and feel good in terms of scale, architecture, function and fit.

–A mix of uses was important and there was a need to break out from a sole reliance on food and beverage. Offices, retail, housing and entertainment uses were important to create a year round economy and a sustainable downtown.

But aside from policies that encouraged housing, sidewalk cafes, walkability and mixed use, the Master Plan process and past visions processes gave rise to a philosophy as well.

Here are just a few tenets:

–Complacency is a killer. When it comes to the downtown and other parts of your city, you are never done.

–The downtown is the heart of the city and you can’t be a healthy community without a healthy heart.

–You can and must do multiple things at one time—work on your downtown, focus on your neighborhoods, preserve history, invigorate other parts of your city, encourage sports, culture and art.

—Even though you don’t directly control schools, cities should take an active role in education.

So how do we avoid decline?

Cities decline when bedrock principles driven by personal preferences and priorities take precedence over values forged by the community.

That doesn’t mean that these values are written in stone and can’t be changed or amended over time. Indeed, they should be.

But that requires effort, engagement and a replacement of values, goals and visions.

When downtown Delray began to flower as a result of visioning and investment made in the late 80s and early 90s before taking off in the early 2000s, there was scant competition.

Downtown Boynton didn’t exist and while Boca was always a strong neighbor its downtown was also pretty much limited to Mizner Park and before that a failing Boca Mall.

Downtown Lake Worth wasn’t much competition at the time, there wasn’t a whole lot happening in Pompano or Deerfield Beach and West Palm’s Clematis Street was in a boom bust cycle.

Today, all of those cities are investing, have great restaurants, amenities, events and a fair amount of buzz.

We are not alone anymore—there is really good competition coming from nearby cities.

I don’t mean to take away from the achievement that was the redevelopment of the downtown because it was a remarkable turnaround, but in those days there was not a lot of competition and so we attracted consumers from neighboring cities and from our western neighbors who now also have options including the Delray Marketplace.

If we don’t realize the changing landscape we risk decline.

Today, there are tons of great restaurants, activities and events happening throughout the region.

If we become complacent and or give away what made us special, we are at risk.

The maturity curve affects cities, just as it affects iPods, Blockbuster video and cherished institutions such as Old School Square.

We need to wake up a little scared every morning and stay one step or two ahead of the competition.

Failure to do so, can be fatal. No city, product, company or institution is bullet proof.

Things We Loved In April

True Food Kitchen at the Town Center Mall is a welcome addition.

Things We Loved In April…
The Bombay Café—there’s a reward for trying new cuisine. And I received one when I tagged along for dinner with friends and discovered Indian cuisine. I didn’t go spicy, but I did try a whole bunch of new things, and greatly enjoyed the new flavors. Bombay Café in Boca is terrific.

Grand Luxe blood orange soda. –Grand Luxe is a Town Center staple, but I had never tried their craft soda until recently. Highly recommended.

Springsteen on Broadway—see past blogs— but if you can– don’t miss this show. It would play well at the Crest Theatre, just saying.

Delray Affair, great weather, great times.

The double clucker at Caffe Luna Rosa. Simply the best chicken sandwich imaginable.

White chocolate samples at the Godiva store At Town Center.  Yes, Godiva chocolate makes ice cream and it’s really good.

The top sixty Beatles rock songs on Sirius XM. Hosted by Beatles fan extraordinaire Robin Zander of Cheap Trick the list was welcome background music as we cruised Delray and Boca. The number one song: Helter Skelter.

Honor Bar veggie sandwich. The Honor Bar is in Palm Beach, a nice ride up the coast.

Rediscovering “Feelin Satisfied” by 70s rockers Boston. Great great great song.

Reading Aaron Renn’s views on cities and regions. Always smart, always interesting. If you love cities subscribe to his “Urbanophile” blog.

Eating at the bar at the Gazebo. Great service, wonderful food and a great place for conversation.

Seeing my stepson’s best friend land a dream job with the Boca Police Department.

True Food Kitchen, a welcome addition to the Town Center Mall.  Healthy offerings—don’t miss the charred cauliflower and the Havana Lager.

Seeing the Animal Rescue Force at Pet Supplies Plus on Linton Boulevard. We got Randy, our feisty chihuahua, 13 years ago from ARF at the Delray Affair. They really do rescue us.
It was fun to introduce Randy to his “alma mater” and the volunteers were happy to see a “graduate”.
We hope you consider a rescue.

Wishing you a safe and great May.

He Gave Kids The World

Henri Landwirth

Henri Landwirth died last week. He was 91.

You may or may not know the name. But he was a great man and a great Floridian too.

His obituary did appear on the front page of the Orlando Sentinel, but in many places his passing was obscured by the death the same day of Barbara Bush, also a great person with ties to the Sunshine State.

Mr. Landwirth was a remarkably successful hotelier in Central Florida who built an empire from scratch.

But I got to hear of him—and meet him a time or two—because he founded “Give Kids the World”, a magnificent charity that makes dreams come true for seriously ill children and their families. Over the years, Give Kids the World has served over 160,000 children from all 50 states and 75 countries.

I was introduced to Give Kids by former Delray Beach Vice Mayor Jon Levinson whose family was very involved in the charity.

Every year, Jon and his family would buy a few tables at the Give Kids the World Annual Banquet at the Peabody in Orlando.

And each year, Jon would invite a few friends to come for a fun filled but meaningful weekend. Diane and I and the kids were able to go a few times and we happily supported the organization.

Nearby, Mr. Landwirth and the charity built Give Kids the World Village, a warm and inviting place that served as a respite for families going through indescribable sorrow and stress.

A visit to the village gave everyone instant perspective on what was truly important and how if your loved ones have their health—well let’s just say that whatever is stressing you isn’t so bad after all.

Jon made it a point to take his guests to the village. This way it wasn’t just a fun weekend at the Peabody. (The Duck March is a hoot though).

Many of the visitors were deeply affected. When our friends Bill and Tracy Branning visited, their daughter Kelly was inspired to start an organization at Boca High that raised funds for the charity.  We all thought that was very cool and a big hint to the size of her heart. She now teaches in an inner city school in Washington D.C.

Mr. Landwirth was a Holocaust survivor who suffered terribly as a child in the camps. From the age of 13 to 18 he was imprisoned by the Nazis. He was separated from his twin sister, his parents were killed and he was frequently beaten. He came to the United States with $20 to his name, started in the hotel industry as a bellhop and built an empire, starting as a Holiday Inn franchisee. It’s a true only in America story.

His motivation for starting Give Kids was simple: he didn’t want children and their families to suffer.

So the village was built to give kids and their families a taste of a nicer world and allow them to experience a weeklong dream vacation. From humble beginnings, the village grew to 166 accommodations spread out over 84 acres in Kissimmee.

We urge to check it out and get involved. Visit http://www.gktw.org/

This kind of empathy is what’s needed to create a better world. And it’s important that we do.

We need more Henri Landwirth’s.

They not only give us a world with heart, they heal broken hearts too.

Land Of Hope And Dreams

Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa after a show at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway.

I can’t let my Springsteen on Broadway experience pass without sharing some takeaways with you.
First, the show is remarkable.
The power. The passion. The sharing. The stories. The humor. The descriptions of life and landscapes are masterful.
And the music…well the music is sublime.

With the exception of two songs performed with his wife Patti Scialfa, the show is all Bruce. Just a piano and an acoustic guitar.
Bruce’s songwriting prowess often overshadows  his guitar playing but on the night we saw him we marveled at how his acoustic filled the Walter Kerr Theatre.

It’s a rich sound. Powerful. And it allowed him to change arrangements on songs giving them new texture and meaning.

The stories and themes that accompanied the music were a big part of the night. Bruce covered a lot of ground as he told his life story weaving in themes ranging from love and trust to parenthood and aging.
As he ages..as we all age…there’s a poignancy that comes with a Springsteen performance.
We know it won’t last forever.

We know we won’t last forever.

And so we appreciate the moments more, we savor the experiences, the feelings, the closeness and the love we have for not only the music (which is truly magnificent) but for the community this man and the E Street Band have created since 1973.

Last week, I wrote that Springsteen was about hope. And he is. But he’s also about community.
He’s worked hard to create it. He’s worked hard to scale it and he’s worked hard to deepen it and keep it going. There’s lessons to be learned from how he’s built and sustained a large tribe. There’s also lessons in why it’s meaningful to belong to…something.

Bruce closed the show with a story about returning to his hometown of Freehold, N.J. recently only to find a beloved childhood tree had been removed.
He was angry and saddened by the loss. But he also noticed that the roots system was still in place.

While the physical tree was gone, he felt the energy of the tree was very much intact.

He concluded with a prayer and a wish that the community he had built, the music he had created, would hopefully live on. Much like the roots system of the tree.
As I reflect on the show, I realized that I just loved this message.

In many ways we all try to build communities, families, businesses, works of art, relationships and more. It’s imperfect, it’s lifelong and sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. But we hope it adds up to something. We hope it means something. I’m sure it does.

We also hope it lasts, even if we know that we won’t.

Bruce talked about the magic of his legendary E Street. How when you experience magic–one plus one somehow equals three. How true.

And so I thought back on my life and my friends. How when it clicks you can move mountains, make lasting memories with good friends, create a family, start entrepreneurial ventures, grow organizations and touch lives.
That’s what it’s all about: striving for magic, working hard to make it happen, taking risks and enjoying the journey knowing that there’s pain, loss and setbacks but love, joy and passion too.

In the song “Land of Hope and Dreams”  Bruce sings of a mythical train where there is room for everyone. You don’t need a ticket, you just climb aboard. The destination is a land of hope and dreams, a place where we all find love, acceptance and freedom.
Amen.

NYC Serenade: My Springsteen Obsession

“If the Beatles were about love and the Stones about sex, then Bruce is about hope. And hope springs eternal…as in Springsteen.” –Elliott Murphy, singer-songwriter.

In a few days, my wife and I will be making a pilgrimage to NYC to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.

While we are a hyperlocal blog, I ask for your indulgence because I want to spend a few moments on E Street, where I have lived off and on since 1975, when I was 11 and “Born to Run” was released.

The album is a classic. And I was instantly hooked on all things Bruce.

My Springsteen fixation has lasted 43 years and it is safe to say that it will be with me—happily—for the rest of my days.

My close friends know how much I love music—a wide range of it—at least in my mind.

Classic rock, 70s music, 80s music, pop, 60s music, disco, New Wave, Sinatra—even Neil Diamond—to the consternation of my wife and my ultra-cool friend Pame’ Williams.

(Just as an aside, there is nothing wrong with Neil Diamond. No one else can sing about chairs (“I am, I said”) and E.T. (“Turn on Your Heartlight”) like Neil and make it sound good—to my ears anyway.

But I digress.

My big five are the Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Beatles and Bruce; especially The Beatles and Bruce.

Sadly, while I have unbridled passion for music, I have absolutely zero talent. I can’t even play air guitar, but still I cannot imagine a life without music.

From an early age, I’ve found inspiration, solace, joy, motivation and a hundred other useful emotions from listening to great artists from the Allman Brothers to Warren Zevon.

But Springsteen is a touchstone. He’s the well, the mountain top, the apex— for me anyway.

His songs are cinematic, his writing is poetry mixed with journalism and his live performances are indescribable.

I can’t wait to experience his genius in a small venue.

So now the local part…Consider this:

-I built a talk I gave to Creative Mornings at the Arts Garage around the magic of his songwriting. The topic: genius. You can see it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5sz9scEoZ4

 

-E Street Band drummer “Mighty Max” Weinberg lives in Delray, played a benefit at the Arts Garage, loves Caffe Luna Rosa, has read our downtown master plan and has become a friend. They say never meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed, but the truth is Max is just a great guy.

-Inspired by Bruce’s first album “Greetings from Asbury Park”, I based the design of the cover of my book “Adventures in Local Politics” on the album’s iconic poster card.

-Local event producer Bern Ryan might be an even bigger fan than I am—hard to imagine—but he’s seen Bruce and the E Street Band all over the world, in Asbury Park and on Broadway. Bern has warned me that three songs into “Springsteen on Broadway” that we will be in tears. (I cry when I read a Hallmark card so Bern’s probably correct).

Anyway, I don’t expect that everybody will get my happy obsession.

But let’s just say that music that touched my soul at age 11 resonates even more as I grow older.

Hope does spring eternal—and Springsteen’s music provides me with a reservoir of hope.