Western Stars

The songs tell the stories of loved lost, failure, hard living and longing. But somehow they are tinged with hope.

Bruce Springsteen released a new album last week and for me that’s always a reason to celebrate.

But this album, his 19th studio album, is something extra special for a few reasons.

First, it’s just really good.

The songs are beautifully crafted, the lyrics are packed with meaning and the album includes oboes, bassoons, French horns and other instruments rarely used on a Springsteen album. He’s evolving and I find that not only interesting but inspirational as well.

The reason this album has extra resonance is that it is being released three months before Bruce’s 70th birthday. That’s an age where most musicians are long past their prime and decades beyond their creative peak.

But there he is, still exploring, still pushing boundaries, still growing. And I find that awe-inspiring.

The best artists are those whose work seem to run parallel to our lives—as if they are somehow writing with us in mind. Of course, that’s not true, but the magic comes because their words and music remain relevant to where we are in life.

I’ve grown up with Bruce and now I’m growing old with him.

As a young rock fan growing up on Long Island in the 70s and 80s, you couldn’t avoid Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. They were on the radio, the posters were on the windows of the record shops (remember those) and the music was played loud at every party we went too.

I was bitten hard by the Bruce bug in 1978. I was 14 when “Darkness on The Edge of Town” was released and I was smitten by hard driving songs about life, love and work, the open but often lonely road and America itself.

Once I discovered “Darkness” I backfilled my collection with his first three albums—all of them brilliant and meaningful—at least to me— a teenager trying to figure it all out.

But unlike most teenage obsessions, rock music and Springsteen would continue to be meaningful as I went off to college, started my career, had a family, suffered the loss of loved ones, went through a divorce, found new love, changed careers, got involved in civic life and then re-invented myself again.

Now as I grow older, the music continues to resonate, inform, entertain, move me and make me think.

The old songs still strike something deep inside and take on new meaning as I listen to them 40 years down the road as Bruce would say.

And the new music is a gift; a beautiful gift.

I’m excited that my favorite artist is still out there creating as he nears his 70th birthday, long past the sell-by date we are force fed by a youth-oriented society.

In two months, I will turn 55 an age when you start to understand that the sands are running through the hour glass very fast and that more sand is on the bottom of the glass than remains on top. Many of my friends are my age or older and I am starting to see them wrestle with health issues and thoughts of hanging them up.

 I get it and can relate.

But I still aspire.

Last week, I was in a meeting with a younger man–a friend— and the talked strayed briefly from business to life. He looked at me and said “you have about 20 years left to be productive.”

Lord, I hope so.

He meant what he said as a compliment. But as you age you realize that 20 years passes in the blink of an eye.

I can still remember being that young boy listening to that Springsteen record with the volume turned up in my room in Stony Brook, N.Y. playing air guitar and dreaming of “The Promised Land.”

And in a blink, you see your 50s flash by, your kids grow up and your friends grow old.

But Bruce Springsteen is still singing at 70, with no plans to quit and so he gives me hope that we all can keep going for years to come.




A Man For All Seasons

A painting of Churchill by his granddaughter.

We went to see a magnificent exhibit at the Society of the Four Arts last weekend.
“A Man for All Seasons; The Art of Winston Churchill” features paintings and notebooks from the legendary British leader.
Churchill took up painting in his 40s and it quickly became a passion. It lifted his dark moods and he became quite prolific.
As you meander through the exhibit (and you should catch it before it closes Jan. 14) you can see Churchill’s growth as an artist. He just gets better and better.
And you marvel..
At his art.
At his sculpture.
At his writing.
Not to mention his speaking and his amazing mind.
It makes you wonder—do people like him still exist?
Where are the giants? Where are the leaders?
As we walked to the car– having spent the past two days or so being bombarded with what sadly has become a steady drumbeat of political claptrap in our society– we briefly discussed why many (maybe most) of our best and brightest shun political office.
And we are not just talking about president or prime minister, senator or governor. Lots of good people are avoiding running for local office too.
Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t superstars who run or serve—there are.
But not enough.
And if we’re honest, we know why.
While politics has never been genteel, civil, nice or easy it just feels particularly nasty, unusually small and extra frustrating these days.
It’s the inability to compromise, the competing sets of “facts”, the ridiculous trolls running their mouths on social media (often devoid of facts, empathy, context, respect or personal experience). It’s overwhelming.
Winston Churchill would have related to today’s ennui.
He once said about politics: “In war, you can only be killed once. But in politics many times.”
And yet..we need the Winston Churchill’s to do what they do.
Lead us. Inspire us. Save us from despots and fascists. And yes..paint.  So that we can marvel at their genius.
So that we can remember that having adults in our midst makes all the difference…

Imagine: Art Endures

Last week marked the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder.
In three years, he will be gone as long as he lived.
For me and for millions of others, the loss still stings.
I was 16 when Howard Cosell broke the tragic news on Monday Night Football.
Although my friends and I were only six when The Beatles broke up in 1970, we were devoted and devout fans. Yes we missed the band when they were active, but we didn’t miss out on their music. It was a big part of our lives.
It still is.
Thanks to The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM I get to listen to the band on my morning commute to the office. It’s great to have The Beatles and the solo music of John Lennon as a part of my daily life.
Great music and great art endures. It’s timeless.
The issues of the day come and go—worries bubble up and fade– but a great song, a great movie, a great book, a great painting– they last.
And so the music of John Lennon endures.
My friends and I joined 225,000 people in Central Park a few days after the tragedy for a vigil to honor Lennon. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime; throngs of people singing, crying and trying to make sense of a senseless act of violence.

All over the world, people mourned. In Palm Beach, fans were welcomed onto the grounds of John and Yoko’s home to pray and grieve. It was interesting to read the coverage in the Palm Beach Daily News last week chronicling John and Yoko’s ties to our area.

Years later, hundreds of fans streamed  into a tent on the grounds of Old School Square to view Lennon’s art work– a testament to his lasting impact.
That’s the power of great art and great artists. Their work resonates and lasts.
Readers of this blog know that I’m a huge admirer of Bruce Springsteen another artist whose work has endured.
William Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company magazine, recently went to see “Springsteen on Broadway” which has gotten rave reviews. It’s an evening of intimate songs and stories about Bruce’s life. The magic of great art is that it somehow becomes about all of our lives. We gain insight and clarity from music, art, drama and literature.
Here’s what Mr. Taylor shared on Facebook.
“Well, some folks have asked, and now that we are back from NYC here is my very brief reaction to Springsteen on Broadway. The show is as overwhelming as people say it is. It is a funny, joyous, unbelievably personal celebration of life. It is also an aching, painful, unbelievably personal meditation on mortality, the unbearable sadness of so much of what happens to us and how it shapes us. What’s also striking is the sound. The theater is so small, the sound system so good, it feels like you are inside the guitars, like you can feel the strings on your skin.  And when Bruce, time and again, steps away from the mic and talks or sings directly to the audience, with no amplification, you truly can hear a pin drop. I am man enough to say I reached for the Kleenex three times, which actually showed some good emotional restraint. I know tickets are impossible, but keep trying….”
That’s the power of music. That’s the power of a great artist to touch and move an audience.

We won’t be talking about the small bore politics of the day six months from now never mind decades from now .
But we will be listening to John Lennon’s music.
Of that I’m certain.
When WPBT recently ran a special on The Beatles, we watched and smiled. The music is amazing. The chemistry still crackles.
It’s genius. Pure and simple.

Old School Square Makes Us A Village

The anchor is a beacon.

We went to a great party Sunday afternoon to celebrate a generous donation to Old School Square.

And we were reminded about how art builds community.

Margaret and Robert Blume stepped up to make the transformation of the Cornell Museum possible.
When the newly renovated museum re-opens in November, we predict that visitors to the space will be amazed.

As Old School Square CEO Rob Steele puts it: the museum will become an important community asset for Delray Beach with profound and enduring benefits.
That’s exactly what it should be. Community museums and art centers are meant to be treasured assets valued by residents, tourists and artists.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of donors like the Blume’s, dedicated staff (and Old School Square has a terrific staff), a committed board, volunteers and a supportive city.
It really does take a village.

The Blume’s were taken by Old School Square’s story and it’s importance to the community and stepped up as a result.
Let’s face it, when it comes to philanthropic dollars there is enormous competition. You have to have a compelling mission and an ability to deliver in order to stand a chance with so many worthy causes to choose from.

Those of us who are board members and fans of Old School Square are hopeful that others will be inspired to step up and help Old School Square in its important mission. Rob and his dedicated team have created naming rights and other opportunities for philanthropy and involvement.

Here’s hoping that many seize the opportunity to shape the future. Old School Square is a special place and plays a central role in our community.

I’m reading a great book by musician Dar Williams called “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” which is devoted to the observations of an artist who has spent a life on the road.
Ms. Williams is a self taught urban anthropologist and her eyes have been trained to see what works in towns she visits that thrive.
In her book, she notes a concept she calls “positive proximity” —or the creation of spaces where people can gather, meet, talk, experience music, art and community.
Sound familiar?

That was the genius of Frances Bourque’s idea when she looked at a dilapidated old school sitting on the very best real estate in town.
She saw a place that could be the focal point of our city. A place that could build community.

Over the years, Old School Square has delivered.

It’s where we practiced for our All America City awards, where we gathered to light the Christmas tree and Menorah, where we thanked volunteers, where we held a vigil after 9/11 and where we met as neighbors to discuss race relations.
It’s also where we met to discuss our downtown master plan, where we have lit unity candles on MLK Day and where we attended weddings and other important personal celebrations.
In its classrooms, we have seen artists of all ages learn and explore their passions. On its stages, we have experienced magic.

Old School Square is our most important asset. It belongs to everyone. It honors our past, informs our present and speaks to our future.
And it needs our help. Now more than ever.

We need to complete our parks plan, reinvent for the future and make the most of the amphitheater.
If we fulfill its promise, we will remain a strong community. In  a world that’s increasingly polarized and growing more remote thanks to technology (and fear of one another) we risk losing “positive proximity.”
That’s a loss we may never recover from and will be sure to regret.
Old School Square was the key to Delray’s revitalization three decades ago. It’s even more important to our future.

When Building a Vibrant City Each Thread Counts

Editor’s Note: Please keep a close watch on Hurricane Irma. Be vigilant and be prepared.

“There’s an energy New York pulls out of people. Nowhere else has this kind of energy. It always feels like there is something going on that you want to be a part of.” Gregory Zamfotis, founder Gregory’s Coffee.

When it comes to building great cities and great places, energy and vibrancy is the holy grail.
It feels good to be in a place where something desirable is going on.
Sure there are times when we seek solitude and great places offer that as well.
But you need both. You need energy and a place to renew.

Although I haven’t traveled as widely as I once hoped, I find myself gravitating to places that offer energy and solitude.
Asheville has a vibrant downtown  but in minutes you can be in the mountains.
Portland, Maine feels like a big little city but in minutes you can find peace along the beautiful Coast.
Boulder, Colorado offers an amazing downtown ringed by golden mountains.

Delray Beach is similarly blessed.
We have energy. It seems like a fun and vibrant place. There’s a lot going on.
But if you want to hide,  there are spots on the beach and in Lake Ida Park and out west at the Morikami or the Wakadohatchee where you can disappear and find a quiet place to walk, read and think.
We are truly blessed.

But it takes vision and effort and planning and investment to create an energetic city. And once created you have to tend to your city, like a garden.
You need the right scale, the right mix of businesses to make it work. You also need art and music and culture and great parks too.
It needs to be walkable, safe, clean and authentic.

You need festivals and restaurants and sidewalk cafes and you need the intangibles too.  The intangibles make all the difference.
Strong local leadership, a shared community vision, creative problem-solving, and ideally an inclusive economy. You also need cross sector collaboration and a set of civic values.
Sound hokey? Well, try building a great place without those things.

You simply can’t.

Mysteries Revealed: The Gateway

Unifying east and west

Unifying east and west

Editor’s Note: An occasional series in which we go beyond the headlines to provide some needed institutional memory.

Today’s mystery: the origins of the “gateway feature”

Way back in 2000-01, a group of concerned citizens met to discuss the future of downtown Delray Beach.

The goal was to create a Downtown Master Plan—which sounds sinister but really was nothing more than an open process to forge a common vision for how to support a sustainable year-round downtown.

Countless meetings were held. Experts were hired. Data was generated and then shared in an effort to build on work that was done in the 80s and 90s by visionary citizens, city planners and elected officials. While it was a fun process, the Master Plan was conceived in the wake of a bitter debate.

In 1998-99, the city went through a bruising battle over a project called “Worthing Place.” The CRA had aggregated land downtown in what was known as Block 77. Developers were invited to present concepts and a local team was chosen to build condos with ground floor retail or restaurant space. The project was six stories tall—60 feet, the city’s maximum height. And it was 93 units to the acre.

The developers promised to build parking for the project and a separate public parking garage on First Avenue, which would later be named the “Federspiel Garage” after a beloved local attorney—Bob Federspiel– who had died tragically in an accident in North Carolina.

The Worthing Place project led to years of expensive lawsuits, with the city prevailing each time. But what was supposed to be the first downtown mixed-use housing project had actually ended up being among the last built thanks to the delays caused by litigation. The “for sale” condos became high end rentals. Today, when I show visitors the project and tell them the story about how divisive the battle was, they can hardly believe me. Worthing Place has become a valuable residential property and its businesses including Salt 7, a charming market and the wonderful Park Tavern have become local hot spots creating lots of jobs. Opponents feared traffic and said the building would resemble a tenement filled with raucous residents. They were mistaken.

The Master Plan process was designed to avoid future feuds over downtown development. We were a tad naïve I suppose. But the process was inclusive and included lots of opportunities for the community to learn about urban design, how traffic behaves in a downtown and what we would need in terms of uses and densities in order to create a sustainable and complete downtown.

Our major funder for the plan was the wonderful MacArthur Foundation, which at the time was very prominent in Palm Beach County. The foundation was active in our northwest and southwest neighborhoods which around that time were also heavily involved in a master planning/visioning process.

It was decided that it made sense to develop synergies between the various planning efforts and one of the earliest and most important decisions we made was to include the West Atlantic gateway and streets to the north and south as part of our Downtown Master Plan.

This was an historic; some might say landmark decision, to redefine the geography of our downtown to extend from I-95 to the ocean. Historically, and rhetorically when we referred to downtown Delray it was always East Atlantic Avenue—from Swinton to A1A. As a result of the master plan, downtown’s borders would expand and we would try to erase the Swinton dividing line; a major goal of race relations which was a front burner effort at the time.

Once the decision was made to expand the downtown to the Interstate, we (the hundreds and hundreds of citizens who participated) decided that we needed to make a design statement to signal to visitors and residents alike that when they exited I-95 they were entering a very special place—downtown Delray Beach.

That’s an important distinction to make. And it needs to be said. Because over the years, the bean counters have failed to grasp that important nuance. We. Wanted. To. Make. A. Statement.

We thought it was important to do so. We thought it would change the look, feel and brand of our downtown gateway and I think it has. We also wanted to unify the east and the west.

Great cities and great businesses don’t become great by accident or because they declare themselves so. There’s a moment—or a series of moments—when communities say “go”. Let’s go for it. Let’s be special. Let’s be different. Let’s be great. And then they plan, strategize and execute. That’s what happened in Delray Beach and what hasn’t happened in so many cities. They never say go…instead they waffle, they wring their hands, they hedge or they simply pronounce but lose the courage to follow through. And make no mistake, it takes courage to follow through. There’s always opposition, always controversy and obstacles to overcome.

Delray made a decision to “go” way back in 1984 when Mayor Doak Campbell formed the Atlantic Avenue Task Force, they doubled down on that decision with Visions 2000, Visions 2005 and the Downtown Master Plan.

Now back to our story…

After trotting out various design schemes, including a building in the median (which was rejected by the Department of Transportation), it was decided to move ahead with a large public art installation to be mostly paid for by the CRA. Total cost: about $1.2 million, with about $980,000 coming from the CRA and the rest from a state grant.

A team of residents and city staff worked with an artist (Michelle Newman) and eventually a design was chosen.

But the project didn’t happen right away. A lot of other stuff did—like the beautification of Northwest/ Southwest Fifth Avenue, the addition of paver bricks, decorative lighting and landscaping from Swinton to 95 and more–about $60 million invested on the West Atlantic corridor from 2000 forward by our CRA.

Still, the gateway came a little later but only after the CRA and citizens went back to commissioners to make sure they were still OK with the project. They were repeatedly assured that the gateway project was an important one and so it was built.

You may like it (I do) or you may loathe it. That’s what happens with art…I remember when the Public Arts Advisory Board commissioned a large piece on South Federal Highway and people went ballistic. I’m talking about the red noodle like sculpture near Knowles Park. I think it’s Ok, others don’t like it. Art is meant to be discussed and that piece certainly sparked conversation.

But the larger point is, the gateway is a statement. It says welcome to downtown Delray and it also says that this city is willing to invest west of Swinton which it has, largely through the unsung efforts of its CRA in partnership with neighborhoods and groups such as WARC. And largely as a result of the master plan, West Atlantic visioning, the Southwest Plan and the West Settler’s Historic District initiative we are beginning to see returns on that investment in the form of private development and new businesses. This is how it works, folks. Cities say “go” and execute and investors know its safe to make bets on your town.

Are more sidewalks needed? Certainly. Nobody is arguing that point. But come on, look around and take some time to enjoy the investment that has been made—plazas, a water park, a library, Spady Museum and yes a gateway feature.

Great cities—and Delray Beach is a great city—invest and reinvest in themselves. The return on that investment is quality of life, quality of place, quality of community and the spurring of private investment, which the West Atlantic corridor is getting (Atlantic Grove, Fairfield Inn, the Equity Project).

So when I see a suit stand up and take political pot shots at the gateway and moan about how poor and broke we are ($30 million plus in reserves, double digit property value increases, at least a half billion in investment dying to come here) I chuckle. As my beloved late mom used to say “we should all be that broke.”

If only we didn’t spend on the gateway…

If only we didn’t have a library…

If only we didn’t build that tennis stadium and try to put something in the place…

If only we didn’t have our own fire department…

If only we didn’t have an Arts Garage or festivals or an Old School Square or a CRA.

If only we would just pick up the trash and make sure the toilets flush—then our “problems” would be solved but we wouldn’t be Delray would we?

No, we would not.