Public Leadership (Doesn’t Have To Be An Oxymoron)

Former Mayor Nancy Graham.

I’m a big fan of ULI, the Urban Land Institute, a global organization that promotes sustainable land use and good design.
So when I was asked to appear on a panel on public leadership with two mayors I admire—West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and former West Palm Mayor Nancy Graham– I jumped at the opportunity.
My son lives in downtown West Palm Beach and so I visit more often than usual these days. I think the city has  some great things going on including start up incubators, some interesting restaurants and the new and exciting Grandview Public Market which has invigorated the Warehouse District.
Mayor Muoio, Mayor Graham and the citizens of West Palm have a lot to be proud of.

Mayor Graham was a transformational leader who put together the groundbreaking deal for City Place and brought walkability expert Jeff Speck to the city years ago to promote vibrant mixed use and pedestrian friendly development.
We’ve  been friends for years and it was good to see her back in West Palm after years in California. She lives in North Florida these days and remains a very vocal advocate for city’s and her beliefs.
We spoke to a group of young leaders who work in land use, planning, architecture, transportation, development, housing and other important disciplines.

Takeaways included the need to have political courage, the need to engage the public around development issues, the importance of having a vision and sticking with it in the face of opposition and the critical need for mayors to always be learning, evolving and leading.

After all, a bright future is not guaranteed. It  needs to be earned and it requires work, vigilance and determination.
Mayors are uniquely positioned to drive positive change. Local government is perhaps the last bastion of progress and possibilities.
Washington D.C. and state capitals tend to be partisan and therefore prone to gridlock and obstruction.
Cities and counties have unique opportunities to effectuate change and think long term.

But only if they choose to do so. I’ve seen many cities seize opportunities and make miraculous progress.
Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and an array of rust belt cities have managed to come back to life through reinvention, strategic investment and political will.
I enjoy reading stories about Detroit and other cities that are finding ways to reverse decades of decay.  It’s inspiring and gives you faith that problems can be solved.

Locally, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Pompano Beach, West Palm and Fort Lauderdale are interesting examples of cities that have employed vision, investment and public engagement to forge promising futures.
Each city was wise to choose its own strategy and “style”.

Delray’s scale and emphasis on the arts, culture, sports and diversity proved to be a winning formula that has paved the way to attract creative industries.  If we stay the course, market our amenities and add to the vision we can have more progress and solve our ongoing challenges.

Pompano Beach is pursuing an innovation district as an anchor offering. The city has made impressive strides in recent years.

West Palm seems to be embracing its role as the county seat and has aspirations to be an important city and not just a ‘hallway’ to the airport, Palm Beach and county government as the mayor noted.
BRAVÒ!
I love cities that aspire. I respect cities that have ambitions, plan for the future and honor the past.
Forward thinking. Political will. Vision. Engagement. Strategic investment. That’s the formula.
I’m glad to see ULI embracing the next generation of leadership. It was a joy to be in the room with energetic leaders who want to build anew and take our cities to the next level.
We have a bright future as a result of these efforts.

Mayor Muio.

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