Planning Is Great; Action Is Better

Don’t let your plans gather dust. If you do, you burn public trust which is the most valuable currency.

 

It happened a long time ago, so I guess it’s safe to tell the story.

It was the early 2000s and Delray Beach was still reeling from a bruising battle over Worthing Place—the apartment building that also houses Park Tavern and Salt 7.
The city commission agreed to a Downtown Master Plan process and we got some funding from the MacArthur Foundation to hire a slew of planning and design consultants.
A large cross section of the community turned out for meetings that surfaced a bunch of cool ideas.
It was a true community building experience.
We felt  a lot of civic pride, it was exciting and we felt as if we could do anything we set our minds too. It was a special time.
Then the plan was sent to the commission for adoption with a list of priority projects.
But despite the enthusiasm and effort, the commission never adopted the plan. They ignored years of advocacy from residents pleading for the plan to be adopted. And nothing happened.

The gateway wasn’t built. None of the downtown garages were ever built, and we never got Old School Square Park.
All of the innovative policy ideas that enabled restaurants to thrive, the grid system to flow and events to take root vanished along with our hopes.
Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue which we had hoped would include public art, small businesses and interesting streetscapes never happened.
Downtown housing, which we had wanted so that we could add vibrancy and support for local businesses didn’t happen either. The plan was placed on a shelf where it gathered dust.
And all of the participants who gave their time and energy to our town went back home disappointed. Some moved away. Many never participated in anything “civic” related ever again.
Instead, we watched neighboring towns flower and attract investment and entrepreneurial energy.

Eventually, our talented staff began to send their resumes out hoping to catch on in a place where they could make something happen and feel that their careers were meaningful.

Property values stagnated. The momentum we started to feel in the late 80s and 90s faded away like so many other things we hoped to do.

At this point in the story, I can share that all of this is bunk.
The plan was not only adopted it was largely implemented in a blizzard of civic projects and investment that helped our town blossom.
Oh some people didn’t like what happened. One guy referred to our vibrant downtown as a “concrete jungle.”  I’m not sure what he was referring to, it is a downtown of course. We have concrete. We also have open space, art, culture, sports,
music.  restaurants and nightlife that cities all over the country envy.

But hey, you can’t please them all.
The downtown master plan was the first to expand the boundaries of our downtown from the ocean to I-95, an important symbolic step.
But it wasn’t just symbolism.
We added an attractive “gateway” feature just East of 95 because the citizens who participated in the process felt it was important to send the world a message. When you exited the Interstate at Atlantic Avenue you were entering a special place. We wanted people to know it.
Some criticized the art work and lighting that decorated our gateway. It was too expensive they said. They always say that by the way. And they are always wrong.
My friends cities work when you invest in them.
You get a return on that investment in the form of increased property values and civic pride. If you fail to invest, you fail your citizens in ways that you can measure and in ways that you cannot.
Atlantic Grove got built—“they” said it couldn’t be done. Nobody would build market rate housing in “that neighborhood.”
Once again, they were wrong. The market rate and the affordable housing sold.
So did the commercial portion of the project and for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—we saw people from all parts of Delray mingling at places like Ziree, a wonderful Thai restaurant.
The streetscape that made East Atlantic so trendy was extended all the way out to 95, a new library was built where it was needed —again despite some people coming up to the microphone and saying you can’t put the library “out there” because people will be afraid to go. Once again they were wrong. Lots of people use the library.

There were other plans that were implemented too.
The southwest plan called for infrastructure  upgrades that were funded and done. The plan called for an expansion of The Village Academy and that was done too.

The parks plan added a splash park named after our first female mayor Catherine Strong, becoming the first park in the long neglected Southwest neighborhood.

A community land trust was formed, I think it was the first in the county, and they built some adorable homes for first time buyers.
We had an independent CRA back then, and by the way it was independent in name only because it worked collaboratively with the City Commission. The agency won a ton of awards and was recognized as one of the very best in the state before a mayor came along a few years back and used it as a punching bag.
That was shameful. Truly was.

How smart is it to take your best economic development tool and put cheese in the engine? Answer: not very.
Oh well, thankfully so much got done before the dysfunction set in.
Which is a good segue I suppose.
Last week, after four years of trying, a neighborhood calling itself “The Set” finally got their plan on the Commission agenda thanks to Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston. The neighborhood, which used to be called the southwest and northwest sections of the city, came together to work on  “The Set Transformation Plan.”

Of course, you might not know that because when it hit the agenda the word “Set” was removed. Kind of like when the Egyptians removed the name Moses from their history books when they discovered he was Jewish.
It struck me as odd, petty, political, small and disrespectful.
It struck others that way too.
Anyway, it’s a good plan. I’ve read a bunch over the years and this is solid. But it needs to be adopted, funded and implemented. Otherwise, it’s just platitudes on paper.
Unfortunately last week, after four years and after many a campaign promise to get moving, the adoption of the plan was postponed so it can be workshopped.
Interesting.
The decision or lack thereof, smells.
It just does. And it smells worse considering where we are as a nation right now wrestling with issues of equity and racism.
There are some players tied to the plan who are controversial.
So what?
One of the guys spews a lot on social media as is his right. He gets some things right and he is way way way off on other things. For example, he’s wrong when he says nothing has ever been accomplished by the city or CRA in or for his community. A whole lot has been done. And nobody has ever said that things were finished.

But it’s really not about him or his friends. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Is the plan worthy? Is it supported by the neighborhood it aspires to help? Is it good for Delray?
If the answer is yes, it ought to be adopted and put into action not put on a shelf.
If the answer is no, well then we need another plan and leadership ought to make that happen. But they better be able to explain why the plan falls short. And the answer can’t be because a few people who run their mouths on Facebook are behind it.
We are at an inflection point in this City and this country.
I don’t watch city meetings but my phone sure blew up when the plan’s adoption was postponed.
I’m not a bellwether. I’m just a middle aged white guy sitting at home watching Netflix riding out the pandemic.
But I’m feeling something and it ain’t COVID. People want change. They want progress. They want to be heard and respected. Those are not unreasonable demands.
Many are not feeling like they are being heard.
That’s not healthy.
It’s time for the plan to be adopted, funded and implemented.
It’s past time really.
As Sam Cooke sang, “a change is gonna come.”
Even in sleepy ole Delray.

Comments

  1. Katherine Smith says:

    Jeff,
    Kathy Smith here, friend of Diane from many moons ago when I was Kay Anderson at the Chamber. Finally found a way to find you.
    Please pass my email address along to her.
    Thanks
    PS
    Nice article.

  2. It is very disappointing that the City Commission took over the CRA Board over 14 months ago – with the argument that they could do more for the City as the CRA Board – and this plan is STILL not approved! There was hope that it would have been the first thing the City Commission did after getting the full “picture” of the NW/SW areas.

  3. Yvonne Odom says:

    The sad news is that it is deliberate. The constant is our mayor. No question about it. Not just to disagree but to destroy. Not to cooperate but rule with the attitude of “my way or no way”. Even in the legally segregated Delray I’ve never felt this bad.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Dear Ms. Odom.
      It saddens me to see you feel this way.
      Delray is in need of healing. We have lost our way and that risks not only what has been accomplished but more importantly it risks our future.

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