Our Towns: A Formula For Success

Our Towns is a journey through what’s working in America.

James and Deborah Fallows are living the life I dream about.
Flying from town to town across America, embedding themselves in the community and writing about what they find.

James has done this for years as national correspondent for The Atlantic. For the book “Our Towns”, he and his wife alternate writing chapters as they visit places such as Eastport, Maine, Greenville, South Carolina, Burlington, Vermont and Winters, California.
Every town they write about is a place I’d love to visit.

Their prose is so vivid, their descriptions of the town’s stories are so compelling that you find yourself fantasizing about visiting or living there.
They seem to find the people that make a place go and spend time at brewpubs, YMCA’s, libraries and innovative schools.
They look for vibrant downtowns, committed business and civic leaders and along the way you become invested in the towns they write about.
All of the towns have a story and an arc: from despair to revitalization.
Some have  fully “arrived”, places like Greenville and Burlington and Holland, Michigan some are on the way (Eastport, Maine) but all have some common elements:
Committed citizens, a willingness to invest, a desire to improve, honesty about the problems they face, schools that take chances and set high standards, an embrace of culture and quality of life amenities and an ability to celebrate their wins. They aspire and they have civic pride. They also seem to have microbreweries. Seriously.

Anyway, the Fallows’ have come up with 11 signs a city will succeed based on their travels.
Here they are:
—Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.
—You can pick out the local patriots. You can answer the question “who makes this town go?” Sometimes it’s a mayor or council member. Sometimes it’s a volunteer or local business leader.
—Public private partnerships are real. Successful towns can point to examples and say “this is what a partnership means.”
—People know the civic story. America has a story. So does California. And so do successful towns and cities.
—They have a downtown. And that downtown is healthy and has some ambition. Good bones are critical but not enough.
—They are near a research university. This is somewhat controversial because not every successful town is so blessed. But it helps.
—They have and care about a community college.
—They have unusual schools. Schools that innovate, take risks and deliver.
—They make themselves open. Great cities are inclusive and work to assimilate newcomers.
—They have big plans. They aspire, they have vision and they execute.
—They have craft breweries. Fallows calls this perhaps the most reliable marker. His point: “ A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur and a critical mass of mainly young customers.”  He challenges us to find an exception.  Fortunately, both Delray and Boca have craft breweries. So does Boynton Beach.

Take a look at the list and see how many signs we have. Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a good summer read check out “Our Towns.”

 

In Praise of the Research Park

I’m a big fan of the Research Park at FAU and its CEO Andrew Duffell.

The park has become a major economic engine for Palm Beach County and beyond serving as warm and inviting place for talented entrepreneurs and researchers to build and scale their companies.

That’s important, because “economic gardening”–growing your own so to speak is smart policy.

As far as I’m concerned, Northern Virginia can have Amazon and its H2 Headquarters (and that’s where it’s going folks), I’d rather save incentive money and grow our own company’s right here at home. The Research Park is a good example of how that can work.

The Park’s impact has been profound– if somewhat unsung– in a region where it is hard to gain appreciation.

The 2017 numbers—which never tell the whole story—are nonetheless impressive. Consider:

  1. $387 million of investment capital raised
  2. $535.65 million in economic impact
  3. $67 million in annual payroll
  4. 3,088 total jobs sustained, that’s direct and indirect employment with another 250 jobs plus planned.
  5. 33 companies housed.
  6. 16 new patents in 2017.

On October 3, the FAU Research Park will host its annual awards banquet at The Addison in Boca.

It’s the fourth annual awards ceremony and it’s really a terrific idea to celebrate the success of the park and shine a spotlight on some of the standout players making it happen.

This is the power of having a university and a research park in our community. And the best is yet to come because I believe in the leadership of the park and their track record of results.

“The recipients of this year’s Research Park at FAU awards are all hugely impactful to the mission of the Research Park – to foster R&D at FAU and foster economic development in our region,” said Mr. Duffell, president and chief executive officer of the Research Park at FAU. “We are grateful to each for their unique contributions and hope that they inspire our stakeholders.”

The Research Park awards recognize distinguished contributions to the Research Park’s mission to create and sustain the ideal environment for innovation and invention, maximizing the academic and entrepreneurial talent and regional resources in South Florida to accelerate economic development and prosperity.

The award recipients for 2018 are:

Distinguished Researcher: Gregg Fields, Ph.D. is a professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the Center for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. Fields applies chemistry in novel ways to answer important biological questions, many of which assist in the diagnosis and treatment of major diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and cancer. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a renowned researcher who holds six U.S. patents and has one application being reviewed. The technology developed by Fields has resulted in three commercial products, currently sold by five different companies. He has authored or coauthored more than 260 scientific publications and has presented more than 190 invited lectures.

 

Distinguished Entrepreneur: Daniel Cane is the chief executive officer and co-founder of South Florida-based Modernizing Medicine, Inc., a healthcare IT company that is revolutionizing the way in which healthcare information is created, consumed and utilized to increase practice efficiency and improve patient outcomes. Joining the Research Park in 2012, Modernizing Medicine has grown to more than 650 employees and has raised more than $332 million in total investment. In 2016, the South Florida Business Journal named Cane as a “South Florida Ultimate CEO.” In 2015, he was named “EY Entrepreneur of the Year®.” Cane earned the Excalibur Award for Palm Beach Small Business Leader of the Year for 2013. Additionally, he also was named “Palm Beach County Ultimate CEO” by the South Florida Business Journal and “CEO of the Year” by CEO World. Recently, he and his wife, Debra, donated $1 million to FAU’s A.D. Henderson University School for STEM education initiatives.

Mr. Cane is a local product hailing from Lake Worth. What makes Dan extra special is that despite the rigors of running a hyper growth company, he has taken the time to be visible and accessible to local entrepreneurs and organizations. It makes a difference, because Mr. Cane serves as an inspiration and a role model for those aspiring to make a dent in business.

 

Distinguished Leader: Steven L. Abrams has been a member of the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners since 2009, winning re-election twice. Abrams has a lengthy record of public service. He is the former mayor of Boca Raton, elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2003 without opposition. In the 2005 election for mayor, Abrams received the most votes in city history and was later named mayor emeritus when he stepped down in 2008 due to term limits. Abrams’ work in regional transportation has been instrumental in the success of the Research Park at FAU’s access to Tri-Rail and the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard, making the Research Park at FAU the only research park to have a direct on-ramp to an interstate.

Mayor Steven has been a terrific friend over the years and has served with distinction wherever he has landed. Many years ago, we went after Scripps together leading our cities joint efforts to bring the institute to Boca. While we fell one vote short, Steven showed his mettle and his commitment to economic development. He’s a very worthy recipient.

 

Distinguished Organization: Small Business Development Center at FAU delivered substantial consulting and training services in 2016 that resulted in a significant return on investment, including delivering more than 13,000 hours of consulting to 1,360 entrepreneurs at no cost. The SBDC’s services resulted in the creation and retention of almost 6,000 jobs in our region, and generated almost $700 million in sales. The SBDC’s role in Florida’s economic development by assisting entrepreneurs in every stage of the business life cycle is invaluable and an important complement to the greater FAU community.

To purchase tickets to attend the event visit www.research-park.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Making History, Living History

Yvonne Odom

““If we lose love and self respect for each other,this is how we finally die”
― Maya Angelou, who would have been 90 today.

Last week, civic rights icon Linda Brown passed away.

She was the historic figure and namesake in the landmark Supreme Court case “Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas” which overturned school segregation in 1954.

When I heard the news, I immediately thought of my friend Yvonne Odom.

Mrs. Odom was the brave student who integrated Seacrest High School seven years later in September 1961. Seacrest would later become Atlantic High.

Mrs. Odom was in 10th grade that year when she walked into that school alone. It’s hard to imagine, from the vantage point of 2018, what that must have been like.

When Mrs. Odom went to Seacrest on her first day, a white stranger reached out and took her hand. That stranger was Paula Adams, a student council member. She wanted to help Yvonne cope with the stares of students.

As we remember the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Assassination today and this week, much is being written about the civil rights movement and how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go.

Race is clearly still a major issue in America—our schools, neighborhoods and many institutions remain segregated—despite the 1954 ruling. And yet there’s been progress.

Back In 1961 Delray, the school’s administration was so worried about Yvonne’s safety that they asked her to use the faculty bathroom.

They didn’t know her well. She insisted on using the student’s restroom. She was not afraid.

Mrs. Odom paved the way for future African students at Seacrest/Atlantic.

And she walked away from a lot to be a leader–people give up a lot to be “the first.”

At Carver High School, she was a standout in many ways. Her basketball coach was the legendary C. Spencer Pompey who had identified Ms. Odom as a leader. He was right, as he always seemed to be.

Writing the name C. Spencer Pompey gives me an opportunity to tell you how wonderful he was—a gentleman, an historian, a mentor, a leader, a teacher and a pillar of strength not only in this community but throughout Palm Beach County and the state. People like the Pompey’s (including his wife H. Ruth), Elizabeth Wesley, Solomon D. Spady and others are important. They become important people because of the impact they make, the legacies they leave, the lessons they impart and the lives they mold—positively.

Yvonne Odom was and is a leader. She is an important person.

The year she left for Seacrest to make history was going to be her sophomore year at Carver High School. She had been chosen by Mr. Pompey to be captain of the girls basketball team. She was also slated to be part of Carver’s Homecoming Court, which was a big deal and a major honor.

But she left for Seacrest for a more important mission….and because she was African American, school officials thought it best to minimize her contact with the white kids. That meant: no sports, (impacting her ability to earn a college scholarship), no physical education classes and no rides on the school bus.

According to Sun-Sentinel archives, Palm Beach County desegregation began with a lawsuit filed in 1956 by West Palm Beach attorney Bill Holland, who objected to school officials’ refusal to let his son be admitted to a West Palm Beach elementary school.

 

A committee, which included Holland and Odom’s father, the Rev. Randolph Lee, went to black families’ homes to recruit black students to attend white schools in Jupiter, Lake Worth and what was then Palm Beach Junior College.

 

Lee, a minister who worked with Holland and the attorneys, decided his daughter fit the profile of what they were looking for.

 

Mrs. Odom was one of five students who were used in the group’s plan to integrate. She fit the bill: a top student who exhibited strength and character.

Mrs. Odom’s father, Rev. Lee, worked hard to ensure his daughter’s safety, working with administrators to make sure she was OK.

In my own prior interviews with Mrs. Odom she said she was never physically abused but was called derogatory names on two occasions.

She went on to a distinguished career in education, including teaching at Carver Middle School.

She has also been involved deeply in the Delray community for decades.

Linda Brown also remained involved in the “movement”. She was an important person.

As was MLK.

A single bullet changed the world 50 years ago in Memphis.

A half century later we continue to mourn the death of MLK—but the work continues. It always does. We are nowhere near the mountain top. To some, that may be a depressing prospect and truth be told there are sad elements to this journey, but to others the dream is so compelling, so valuable and so important that they are willing to keep on going. Thank goodness for their commitment.

We are lucky to have people like Yvonne Odom in our midst—living testaments to history but like others she is not merely a relic of the past. She remains hard at work in the community. As it should be. As we all should be.

 

 

 

We Are All Going to School at Stoneman Douglas

A sixth grader from Don Estridge Middle School tells a large crowd at the Old School Square Pavilion that she’s tired of being scared.

We attended the “March For Our Lives” gathering at Old School Square Saturday.
It was moving and important.

We are experiencing a movement in our nation sparked by the amazing students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
They are standing up to the NRA.
They are standing up to our feckless politicians.
They are fearless, committed and have title to the high ground. Their timing couldn’t be better.
America is ripe for change.

And it will be the children of the greatest nation in the history of the world who will restore our ideals.
Yes, this about gun violence, school safety and gun law reforms. But it’s also about citizenship, accountability, responsibility and activism.
In 845 communities all over the world, people are saying they have had enough.

This time it feels different. You can see it in the eyes of the Parkland students and the young people they are inspiring all over the world.
They are not going away. They won’t be bought, co-opted, fooled, triangulated or kept quiet.
Thank G-d.

In Delray, we heard from students including a sixth grader from Don Estridge Middle School who electrified the crowd with a plea for change. She told a capacity crowd that she doesn’t want to be afraid anymore. She doesn’t want to worry about her 9 year old brother coming home safe.
And it was powerful.
We heard from teachers too, including an Atlantic High Journalism teacher who was passionate about voting and getting things done to create a change in our violent society.
It was a day for children and teachers to lead us—not for politicians to pontificate. (Although a few droned on and on and on).

Let the children speak.

It’s time for the adults to listen or get out of the way.

The day gave me hope.
The children will lead us.
Because the so-called leaders have failed us.
The lessons our children are imparting are profound and abundant.
We must hold our elected officials accountable.
We must vote.
We  won’t stop until we succeed.

They are just getting started.
We need change now.
These children are going to deliver it.
Yolanda Renee King, MLK’s 9 year old granddaughter, summed it up.
“Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation!”
Yes indeed.

And just in time too.

Parkland

Editor’s note: The sadness in South Florida is palpable. We watched coverage of funeral services in Boca Raton and Parkland filled with the tears of parents, students, teachers and friends left grief stricken. We are all touched and connected in more ways than we know. On our social media feeds we saw people we knew whose children were friends with those lost in the mass shooting. A man I used to coach in Little League many, many years ago, shared his grief over losing a friend of his son that he once coached. The circle. Connections. Humanity. We hope we find ways to act and to connect. I hope this is the tipping point. The students left behind at Douglas High are resolved to make lasting and positive change. I wouldn’t bet against them.

When my daughter told us she wanted to be a teacher we were proud and delighted.

We are a family that cherishes education—especially public education.

Our daughter Sam went to public elementary schools, a private middle school in Delray that we felt would help her with a learning disability and graduated from Atlantic High School. She went to Palm Beach State College and earned an associate’s degree before heading off to the University of South Florida to study Exceptional Student Education.

USF has a great program because Sam spent a whole lot of time in the classroom working with ESE students before she was hired to teach in Hillsborough County. She started her career with a fair amount of experience and exposure as a result of internships and student teaching. She knew what she was signing up for. And as a student who overcame a learning disability, she had the heart for students who are exceptional.

I’m not sure that our family knew as much as she did despite our long term involvement in education as volunteers and parents.

I never thought that teaching was a dangerous profession. I knew it was a difficult and stressful job, but I never felt that my daughter would be in danger working in a public school.

How naïve, I was.

Although it shouldn’t be considered dangerous and I don’t think she’s unsafe, we are now well aware that there are dangers.

School shootings—mass shootings—massacres have been a part of our national conversation since Columbine in 1999.

“How Many Times”, blared the headline in the New York Post just above a picture of a crying mother and her daughter outside of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in picturesque and upscale Parkland where 17 people were murdered by a deranged former student carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.

Since Sandy Hook in December 2012 (still the worse mass school shooting in U.S. history with 20 dead) there have been 273 school shootings in America. Twelve of those shootings are considered “mass” events. Overall, 473 people have been shot and 112 people have been killed.

According to the New York Times there are 7 school shooting incidents on average every month in America.

So yes, I now think my daughter has a dangerous job as well as a difficult job.

When I was a kid, we used to drill for a nuclear war by hiding under our desks. We didn’t really know what we were doing and I don’t remember a lot of worries about being bombed. Maybe my teachers were scared but I didn’t pick up on it.

A few years back, teachers would prep for tornados in areas prone to those, but that has morphed into active shooter drills all over the country.

By all accounts, the students and teachers at Douglas High were aware of and prepared for a shooting. They had drilled. They had talked about being vigilant and paying attention to students making threats. But it’s hard to prepare for someone coming at you with a lot of ammunition and a weapon that is lethal.

 

Jim Cavanaugh — a former ATF agent who is an MSNBC law-enforcement expert — points out that if someone can walk across your parking lot with a long gun and enter your school or business, “You don’t have security.” I get that. But how many places in America are prepared for that scenario and what would we be giving up if somehow we were?

Being a parent these days is a nerve wracking endeavor.

I remember talking to my daughter about roofies (date rape drugs), drinking and driving, peer pressure, inappropriate behavior and a whole host of other things awaiting her out there.

For years, we slept with one eye open, waiting for our children to come home at curfew.

But I thought she would be safe teaching young children in a cute little elementary school in Tampa.

When you talk to teachers—you hear stories. Stories about community and family dysfunction—violence, abuse, drugs, alcohol, financial stress, neglect.

When I was involved with Dare 2 Be Great, a charitable organization that gave scholarships to Delray children we heard a litany of stories during our interviews. We kept tissues close by because what our children go through breaks your heart. Right down the street from $30 hamburgers and expensive real estate are countless stories of neglect and violence.

And we know that society doesn’t stop at the doors of our schools. We also know that teachers and support staff provide love, attention, social services, an ear, nutrition and even clothing to the children they work with every day.

I don’t see answers coming from Washington. Forget gun control. It has been made an all or nothing argument. If you favor restrictions on assault weapons and background checks on sales you are against the Second Amendment.

I tell some of my friends who lean more conservative than I ever will, that I support the right to bear arms, I just don’t think there is any need to have military grade weapons with more firepower than our Police Department possesses or that people with histories of mental illness or violence should have them.

Most of my conservative friends get that. Most of them agree, but Congress can’t act.

Did they address “bump stocks” after Las Vegas? Did anything meaningful happen nationally after Sandy Hook?

Congress is a joke. The Founding Fathers would be ashamed. They can’t solve a problem or seize an opportunity and that’s on us. We stand for what we tolerate. And we tolerate a ridiculously partisan system awash in special interest cash. I think partisanship that values victories over the opposition is unpatriotic. It’s a disgusting disgrace.

I think most people agree since Congress has approval ratings in the single digits. I’d like to know who the 9 percent of Americans that think they are doing a good job are.

I know a few members of Congress and they don’t think the House or Senate works.

But we stand for it.

So I think the answers can be found locally. On the city and county level.

We can prepare and we can drill and we should. We can add metal detectors and security guards and we should. We can take a look at our mental health services and rush to bring more social services to those who need it. And we should.

But there’s something fundamental happening here.

In our society.

In our homes.

In our neighborhoods.

On social media. On cable TV and on the Internet.

There’s something that our humanity has to address.

Until then, our sons and daughters, our teachers, administrators, support staff and everyone in between—including concert goers at a Country Music Festival are at risk.

We are not safe.

And dammit, we should be.

A North Star Is Essential

As a close observer–and one time participant in city government– the biggest lesson I have learned is that cities get in trouble when they don’t have a ‘North Star’ to chase.

A North Star is another term for vision—an overarching set of goals that is compelling enough to include and excite just about everyone.

The vision should be citizen -driven, i.e. it must originate from a cross section of people in your city and it must be big enough to inspire as many stakeholders as possible.

The North Star must appeal to young and old, black and white, retiree and young professional.

Again, it can’t come from on high (elected officials or senior staff) it must come from the grass roots.

But it’s up to the grass tops (elected officials and senior staff) to deliver results. Elected leaders can lead the effort, they just can’t dominate it. If it’s going to last, it can’t be about them. It has to be about the community.

Having a compelling vision is your best economic development incentive and the best marketing possible for your city. If you sell the vision and that vision makes sense, it will attract investment, draw residents to your city and spark civic involvement.

How do I know this?
Because I saw it happen in Delray Beach.

There are several Delray examples of North Stars and if we value history and we should, now is a good time to take a look back so that we can find a way forward past division, dysfunction and inertia.

The Mayor’s 1984 Atlantic Avenue Task Force focused Delray on the potential of its historic downtown and on the threat of a DOT plan to convert the avenue into a high speed hurricane evacuation route.

The Mayor and Commission at the time wisely knew that a high speed road would ruin any chance of redeveloping the avenue into a pedestrian friendly warm and inviting place.  As a result, it was a hugely valuable effort—that warded off the state’s plans and gave our downtown a chance to succeed.

But, it was Visions 2000 that would prove transformational.

A cross section of citizens came together in the late 1980s to envision a better future for all of Delray Beach.

At roughly the same time, a citizen driven movement—launched by a home builder/developer but quickly joined by a large coalition of the willing—focused the city on the need to upgrade local schools.  The North Star spoke to the need and the potential: Delray schools needed help if we were ever going to attract families and businesses and if we worked together and partnered with the School Board we could make things happen.

“Sharing for Excellence”—spearheaded by Tom Fleming but embraced by citizens and the city’s leadership–gave us magnet programs such as the Montessori at Spady, a new Carver Middle School and a range of other upgrades. It positioned Delray as an active participant in local schools and we became the first city to hire an Education Coordinator and form an Education Advisory Board. I still remember a fateful lunch at the old Annex in Pineapple Grove when Janet Meeks, then a planner, presented her ideas to be our first ever Education Coordinator. We made the move and Janet has delivered remarkable results, including a third All America City thanks to the success of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading that she has led.

We had the confidence to experiment because of Sharing for Excellence’s vison and the momentum and culture it created.

The spirit of the times and the excitement of the possibilities spurred the Chamber of Commerce to raise money for schools through an Education Foundation and created inspiration for building a new high school with career academies, including a Criminal Justice Academy staffed by local police officers. And the list goes on; including a vocational charter school created by our two employees of our Police Department (first ever in the state to do so I believe) and programs such as Eagle’s Nest, in which students in Atlantic’s High School Construction Career Academy built affordable homes on lots donated by the city and financed by the CRA. That’s cool stuff. And it changes lives—students found careers and productive lives as a result of these programs.

Creating a citizen driven North Star provides a clarion call for involvement and also inspires people to get off the sidelines and get involved in the community.

Visions 2000 had an even more profound impact leading to the Decade of Excellence bond—a huge investment that taxpayers overwhelmingly approved. Imagine that: taxpayers voting to go into debt and raise their taxes so that they can improve their city. Those types of votes go down in flames if they are driven by elected leaders and staff without public involvement and buy-in.

While the investment was huge–$21.5 million for infrastructure and beautification, the equivalent of $42.7 million in today’s dollars—the city successfully implemented the list of projects giving citizens’ confidence in their local government’s ability to deliver. That’s invaluable, because it allowed future commission’s to make other big bets and it’s the big bets that distinguished Delray as a great place to live, work, play and invest.

The successful implementation of the Decade of Excellence bond allowed a commission that I served on to move forward with an ambitious Downtown Master Plan, Cultural Plan, Southwest Plan, Congress Avenue Plan etc. Every one of those efforts included and were driven by grassroots involvement and passion, especially the Downtown Master Plan and Southwest Plan—the grassroots telling the grasstops what to do.

As a policymaker, it’s wonderful to have a North Star—a vision plan that you can follow.

First, it helps you prioritize spending/investment and it helps you make hard decisions. For example, when faced with a tough vote— on say a development project —it helps if you can tie the decision to the vision. It also helps you say no to things that just don’t fit.

Elected officials get in trouble when they fly without a net—and often times you see them lean on personal preferences, their own pet peeves, personal agendas etc. in the absence of an agreed upon vision. You also see them begin to squabble, because it’s hard to be a “team” if you don’t have a playbook. Commission tension leads to dysfunction, inefficiencies, wasteful spending and a dispirited staff. When scared, bureaucracies freeze. It’s safer to do nothing than to make a decision that may upset a faction on the commission. This type of culture is not a recipe for progress or problem solving.

The worst officials use their positions to exert retribution—which leads to all sorts of issues including a form of ‘pay to play’ in which individuals and business owners feel they have to spread money around at election time or risk seeing their projects killed as payback for failing to pony up. Cities without an adopted vision or North Star create vacuums that are often filled by political bosses who lurk in the shadows to reward friends and punish enemies. Serious investors shun these types of cities because the risk is just too large and the price of playing ball is too high—both financially and ethically.

 

Still, even if you are in service to a vision there is ample room for personal judgment and discretion if you are a mayor or council member. And it doesn’t mean you can’t pursue some of your own ideas if you are talented enough to convince your colleagues and lead the public to a new understanding on issues. That’s called leadership.

It’s also important to note that North Stars and vision plans –even when created by lots of people –are not immune to political opposition.

The Downtown Master Plan is a case in point. We had hundreds of participants involved in the plan from all parts of the city but when it came time to vote on projects that supported the plan, we still had vocal opposition, typically from people who didn’t bother to show up at the variety of charrettes, workshops and presentations held throughout the community.

That’s OK. But it’s also a test of leadership.

Do you abandon the plan at the first sign of opposition?
Or do you use the occasion as a “teachable moment” to defend the plan, explain why it works and vote accordingly?
Delray was known as the city that stuck to its plans and didn’t let them gather dust on some shelf in the back corner of the Planning Department.

That’s why we came from where we were in the 80s—blighted and desolate—to where we are today.

I know that modern day Delray is not everyone’s idea of a good place. But what we see is largely what was planned (by citizens and implemented by staff and elected officials over a long period of time).

Sure not everything turned out the way we thought it would—and that is inevitable too. Economic conditions, changing trends, private property rights and the free market play a major role too. For example, I don’t think anyone anticipated rents on the avenue that in some cases exceed $100 per square foot or commercial properties selling for over $1,300 a foot. In the 80s, we had a high vacancy rate and rents were $6-$8 a foot.

Still, by and large, we envisioned, planned and worked to create a vibrant small city—and we got one.

I happen to love it. So do many, many others.

But all cities are works in progress and visions and North Stars need to be renewed.

My friends Chris Brown and Kim Briesemeister wrote a book about just that called “Reinventing Your City”. Their theory is that cities have to be reinvented every 20-25 years.

If you reinvent and find a North Star to strive for, you’ll thrive. If you fail to do so, you’ll drift…dangerously I venture to say.

We are overdo. We need a North Star, a unifying vision that can bring a divided community together.

We also need citizens to participate and leadership to defend the people’s vision. That’s the formula for a happy and successful community. Easy to articulate, hard to attain. But it has been done and we can do it again.

Restoring The Trust

The Sun-Sentinel ran an interesting editorial last week on the lack of affordable housing in Florida.

Affordable housing is an interesting and sometimes loaded term.

But the Sentinel offered a practical definition: if you spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing (rent or mortgage) your home is not affordable.

The editorial went on to lament that the state legislature is raiding a fund designed to create more affordable housing to pay for other things including pet projects, staff salaries and tax cuts.

The William Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund has about $322 million socked away for its intended purpose. But Gov. Scott’s 2018-19 budget plan recommends taking $154 million out of the fund for other state expenses. Mind you, these are good times. Imagine what could happen if/when the state falls into a recession.

Ultimately, Scott’s budget is a proposal. It’s now time for the State Legislature to weigh in.

It has been more than a decade since I traversed the hallways of Tallahassee meeting with State Senators and State Representatives and sometimes state department heads. Many of our local elected officials are in Tallahassee this week making the rounds.

Local mayors and city commissioners make the always difficult trek to Tallahassee (conveniently located in a place that’s a long drive for many Floridians with expensive and often ridiculous plane routes that included a stop in Atlanta). I used to wonder if the powers that be wanted to be remotely located so as to avoid the public they were trying to serve. But that’s a cynical view— I’m sure there are plenty of dedicated public servants doing their best to serve the Sunshine State. The proof– as they say– will be determined by the results they produce at the end of the legislative session.

While some of the specific issues we went to lobby for have faded from memory (an ability to design our own stretch of A1A, canker, help with some of our parks, reclaimed water etc. are some issues I remember) two themes seemed to be perennials.

  • Home rule—which is an elegant way of saying: please leave local government alone because we believe that the government closest to the people best serve our communities. Please no unfunded mandates and stop choking off our revenues so you can look good by cutting taxes. Cities and counties have needs, obligations and aspirations that have to be funded—and a partnership with the state would be ideal. And if we can’t partner…well then… don’t hurt us.
  • The Sadowski Fund—Don’t raid it, so you can look good; use it for its intended purpose.

 

The fund was established in 1992 and uses doc stamp taxes (generated through real estate documents such as titles) to help create affordable housing.

It seemed to work fairly well for about a decade, but than in 2003, the legislature decided to make it a piggy bank to pay for its own budget. Those raids increased during the historic recession that hit Florida a little earlier than most states.

It seems that the practice has become a habit, even during boom times.

Last year, the doc stamp tax generated over $290 million for the affordable housing trust fund. But the legislature grabbed $130 million of those funds to help balance the budget.

For the past 14 years—and if the Governor has his way 15 years—that raid has occurred—even as the legislature has passed tax cut after cut.

While nobody loves paying taxes—they are necessary if we are to have a functioning government. And while tax cuts feel good—the reality is they are often a bait and switch with the onus being placed on local governments to pick up the slack.

Local governments have nobody below them to stick with the bill—other than taxpayers.

That said, we all know there is colossal waste in government operations—at every level federal, state, county and city.

So it is impossible and disingenuous to argue that every dollar raised is needed or spent wisely. It isn’t.

But…

That doesn’t mean that a trust fund set up to provide affordable housing should be raided for other purposes. And it doesn’t mean that the issue/problem doesn’t exist because it does.

Florida has an affordable housing challenge/crisis.

Some might say—“well just wait for the next recession and poof the problem goes away”—but it’s not that simple.

People and families of all ages are having a hard time getting traction in Florida and especially in our communities Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

While long time homeowners are thrilled with the price appreciation they have experienced (often a home is our most significant asset) we must be cognizant that others would like to access our cities because of the quality of life/opportunities we offer.

An “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality is not only selfish, it’s short-sighted.

To maintain our quality of life and to be economically sustainable—we need to provide housing options that are attainable for working people and families.

Companies will not be able to locate or grow here if their workers cannot find housing that they can afford. And our children will not be able to live here either.

Economic sustainability is a complicated equation that also requires good schools, excellent health care, recreational options, culture, open space, job opportunities, safe streets, mobility, a clean environment and reasonable taxation.

P.S. that list goes on.

All the more reason why we need quality elected officials and talented staff at all levels of government who see the big picture, know how to create sustainable economies and craft policies that aren’t just politically expedient but also address long term needs.

Raiding the Sadowski fund so you can send out a mail piece that says you cut taxes misses the mark on a slew of levels. It puts off the need to create efficiencies in the state’s operations or grow revenue in other ways and it leaves families struggling to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

Call your legislator and tell them to stop raiding the trust and start solving the problem.

As for local governments, they play a role too.

Nimbyism—(not in my backyard) that prevents the creation of housing opportunities restrains supply.  And if you took an economics course you know what happens next—prices rise.

We are certainly not advocating out of control growth (or unsustainable traffic choking sprawl either) but we are advocating smart growth and new urbanism. Google “Strong Towns” or the Congress for New Urbanism—there are solutions that offer compelling math for taxpayers that back up these philosophies.

 

 

Catching Up On Ideas

Five years ago, we published a blog post outlining 25 ideas for Delray.

We stumbled upon the post this week and thought we’d take a look to see whether any of these ideas came to life.

25 Ideas …

1.Brand Delray Beach as a mecca for entrepreneurs—Progress: Delray has attracted a fair amount of interesting entrepreneurs including The Downtowner, Delivery Dudes, House of Perna and Rooster among others. There also several social entrepreneurial efforts including WiseTribe, Space of Mind, One Million Cups, Creative Mornings Palm Beach (not Delray based per se, but active in the city).

2.To accomplish the above, create a business incubator downtown and invite entrepreneurs to grow in Delray. Progress:  Not yet. There are a few co-working efforts—the Kitchn etc., but a true incubator has yet to be established. Perhaps, overlooking the Old School Square Park? Great opportunity.

3.Create a business accelerator in Delray so that once companies are incubated they have someplace to go for the extra needed help. Progress: Not yet.

4.Help existing businesses grow by offering classes and low or no-cost business advice at our own Old School Square. Progress: Not yet.

5.Speaking of Old School Square, offer executive education, certificate and graduate programs in the classrooms. Revenue for Old School Square and another tool for economic development. Progress: Not on the drawing board.

6.Program the Old School Square Park—add shade, music and a few tasteful vendors. Progress: Work has been done to forge a vision for the park, but not yet accomplished. Bond issue establishing the park was passed almost 13 years ago. Lots of discussion around what to fund.

7.At holiday time, create a holiday village at the Old School Square park and allow kiosks and “pop-up” stores to capture crowds heading to the 100 foot tree. Give local retailers a free or reduced stall and charge others for the month—use funds to offset holiday costs. Progress: A new tree, no pop-ups.

8.Creatively partner with the Elev 8 Sports Institute and bring “fantasy camps” to Delray. With the school’s extensive MLB contacts, tourists would come to Delray to play with their childhood heroes and enjoy the downtown after the game is over. Progress: Didn’t happen.

9.Install LED lighting in parking lots and parking garages. It’s green and it saves money. Progress: Several entrepreneurs interested in making it happen.

10.Create a leadership academy to train the next generation of local leaders. Teach the Delray success story. Progress: In 2016, Chamber ran a civics academy. It was well attended. But a follow-up has not yet occurred.

11.Create a local Business Development Corporation enabling local residents to buy “shares” in local businesses and invest in growing our own economy. Progress: Not on the radar.

12.Reinvigorate the Southwest Plan by borrowing a page from Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Empowerment Zone playbook. Seek foundation monies to move beyond infrastructure to developing Delray’s vast human capital. Progress: WARC working on a transformation plan, efforts to rebrand the area as The Set underway.

13.Arm the economic development director with a reasonable budget to market Delray. We have to get in the game and that takes marketing and… Progress: Nope.

14.Public Relations. Delray needs a publicity strategy outside the local papers to attract investment and build awareness of our assets and opportunities. After all, we are the jewel of Palm Beach County. Progress: Downtown Marketing Cooperative, Chamber and Downtown Development Authority do a great job.

15.Tie the new Arts Warehouse to a broader strategy to create an artists and artisans “village within a village” in the Third Avenue area. Progress: Five years later, we just attended the grand opening of the long-awaited warehouse. Better late than never, and it’s fabulous.

16.Help Delray’s Prep and Sports develop a national reputation for elite football training and make the 7 on 7 event one of the premier tournaments in the USA. Progress: Prep and Sports’ founder T.J. Jackson was hired to coach Atlantic High. He took them to the state finals this year.

17.Convene an economic development charrette to discuss our fiscal future and job creation—let the community decide the priorities and tie our spending to those priorities. Progress: Economic development will be a part of the comp plan. Yay!

18.Team up with our neighbors Boca Raton and Boynton wherever possible:  economic development, marketing to save money and leverage our strengths. Progress: An alliance has been discussed around government affairs on regional issues with area chambers.

19.Get serious about jumpstarting investment on Congress Avenue. The vision and zoning is in place, what’s needed is execution and beautification. Progress: Years after handing in a report, the Task Force plan has been largely shelved by the commission. Vice Mayor Chard has kept the flame burning with meetings among property owners and investors. Kaufman Lynn located to Congress, transforming a derelict property into a great new headquarters. Investor interest remains high on the corridor. The city could help by implementing the plan and amending the LDR’s as promised.

20.Add a Middle School of the Arts at Carver Middle School and tie it into all of our arts activities from Old School Square to the Creative City Collaborative to the new Plumosa School of the Arts. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

21.Bring a branch of a university downtown and one to Congress Avenue. Progress: Lynn University has partnered with the Delray chamber. Stay tuned.

22.Revisit the North Federal Highway Plan and come up with a new vision for the 21st Century. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

23.Host a competition and have our local techies develop some interesting local apps. Progress: Hasn’t happened. The city of Tallahassee and the Florida League of Cities has had success with this approach.

24.Develop a formal, aggressive and powerful Shop Local Campaign. Progress: Small Business Saturday has become a big deal in recent years.

25.Add entrepreneurship academies to Atlantic High and Village Academy. Progress: Hasn’t happened yet.