A Peak Into Our Crystal Ball

Casey Stengel said never make predictions, especially about the future. Sorry, Casey.

Can you believe it’s 2020?

Didn’t it seem like only yesterday when we were sweating Y2K?

Well not only did our computers survive the millennium, they have become ever more ingrained in our lives.

The beginning of a decade is a good time to dream and to take out our imaginary crystal ball.

So here are some predictions and prognostications for the 20s…

Boca Raton:
Boca Raton will continue to flourish driven by the power of FAU and Lynn universities, the growth of the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, the successful execution of the Brightline deal and a refresh of Mizner Park with several new tenants.

Fueled by new investment, the Boca Raton Resort and Club will solidify its place as one of the world’s premier resorts hosting important conferences and attracting titans of industry who will fly into an ever busier  Boca Airport.

Boca’s decade will be marked by its strengths in health care, education and technology. It will become known not only for excellent health care, but also for medical research and education.

It’s “A” rated public schools, excellent parks system, great hospital and corporate base will continue to fuel the city’s growth and success.

Yes, we are very bullish on Boca.

Headwinds: traffic and affordability. Nothing new there. But big challenges nonetheless.
Opportunities: leveraging Brightline and bringing a pedestrian orientation to the downtown. Not easy but worth a try.
Stretch prediction: By 2030 FAU will play in a major bowl game and go deep in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Delray Beach: 

Delray can achieve whatever it wants to—or it can squander the decade. Sounds harsh…maybe. Still, history has taught us that this city works best when it has a North Star and goes after it. But only when it engages the community. There has been no large scale effort to do so since the Downtown Master Plan in the early 2000s. We are long overdue and deeply in need of a unifying vision.

Delray will squander the decade if the focus remains on petty politics and settling personal vendettas and if the grass tops ignore the grassroots.

Opportunities:
Getting something going on North Federal Highway.
Getting something going on Congress Avenue.
Attract private investment to West Atlantic East of 95.
Fix City Hall.
Empower city staff.
Build on the city’s many strengths-vibrancy, a strong brand, events, culture and restaurants.

Fix an aging infrastructure while interest rates are historically low.

Engage citizens.

Build on the city’s tennis heritage to create economic opportunities.

Headwinds and land mines:
There is a pressing need to focus on Delray’s public schools.
The city needs to ramp up economic development which is virtually non-existent.

There is a need to raise the level of discourse on important issues ranging from development and investment to how downtown can survive rising rents and the changing retail environment.

Stretch prediction:
Delray’s culinary scene will get national attention. We have some exceptional culinary talents in the city.
But we need to diversify and add some strong ethnic offerings.
Regardless, the future is not yet written. So if you don’t like what you see, or if you want to see something happen, get involved.

 

The Art Of Continuing Education

 

A wonderful shot of the Portland Lighthouse commissioned by George Washington. One of many incredible photos of New England splendor.

Every now and then I get the chance to speak to a young person about their lives and their career aspirations.

They all seem to be in a rush and I suppose that’s good. I was too when I was twentysomething. In time, you learn to slow down. In fact, you long to slow down.

The young people I meet with all want to be connected to people who can move them ahead and that’s cool.

I did too.

And if I can, I try to help them, but with one condition: that they listen and learn from the people they meet along the way.

Careers are often described as a ladder and we are urged to climb ever higher— rung by rung.

But life is more like a meandering path, with starts, stops, new roads, a bunch of obstacles, oceans, mountains and hopefully time to stop and reflect.

So I urge those who seek my help to build relationships and be open to learning—those relationships will enrich you in ways that defy description.

It’s OK to ask for help or request that a door be opened, but if you don’t pause to learn from those around you, ultimately you are cheating yourself.

I’m fortunate and very, very grateful to have a number of special people in my orbit who I continue to learn from as I slide well into middle age. I’ve learned that you are never too old to learn and in many ways the older I get, it seems the more questions I have and the more knowledge I need to help me navigate life.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I have made a special friend in retired Delray and Boca fire chief Kerry Koen.

Chief Koen was very helpful to me during my term in office, which ended long ago. But he has been even more helpful to me as the years have passed.

I’m not sure that he knows it, but Kerry is a wonderful teacher.

He’s well-read and has traveled to places that resonate with me. He always brings back beautiful photographs for me and others to look at over long Friday afternoon lunches that cover a whole range of subjects from history and politics to cities and society. I feel special that he takes the time to show me and to teach me what he’s learned and what he’s seen. It’s a gift. And it’s priceless.

A collection of his wonderful photos—some look like paintings—are available for all to see until Friday, Oct. 25 in the front entrance of the Boca Public Library, 400 NW Second Avenue.

“Autumn in New England” depicts my favorite part of the country in all of its colorful splendor. It’s a spectacular exhibit.

Recently, members of a breakfast group that I sometimes visit, broke with routine and re-located from Ellie’s Diner to Tom Sawyer’s in Boca so that we could accompany Kerry for a personal tour of the exhibit.

Over breakfast, we talked and joked about the usual stuff before we followed Kerry to the downtown library where for 30 minutes or so we were transported to New England.

Make sure to visit, it’s worth your time. The photos are breathtaking.

Meanwhile, I made sure to schedule my next lunch with Chief Koen. I want to talk about local and national politics, history, management, cities and a whole range of things with a wonderful friend, teacher and man.

I have a whole lot left to learn and even more to do.

 

 

As The Teachers Go…

In a few weeks, we will elect School Board members, choose gubernatorial candidates and judges and determine who will represent us in Tallahassee.

Sadly, few of us will vote.

I sure hope I am wrong on that account because voting is hugely important (even if often times the choices seem limited or uninspiring).

This year, the August elections dovetail with the start of a new school year in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

The beginning of school is always a good time to look forward but also to reflect on where we are as a community.

Education is a core component of a healthy community. It drives economic development, impacts investment decisions and often determines where people decide to live.

In Boca Raton, education is a strength; a competitive advantage. The public schools have historically been largely A-rated, parental involvement is usually very high and city and business support through the Chamber of Commerce’s Golden Bell Foundation is enviable.

As a result, schools operate at or above capacity and some are calling for the building of new schools to accommodate the growth and demand.

Across the border, in my hometown of Delray Beach, the story is a little more complicated and the challenges more complex.

Since the late 1980s, the City of Delray Beach has been involved in education despite it not being a “core” city responsibility. The School Board is in charge, but that has not stopped Delray Beach and its leadership from caring deeply and doing a lot in the education space. In fact, millions of dollars in city money has been spent in support of public schools in Delray Beach.

There have been notable achievements as a result, and I would argue that they would not have happened without the city leading and putting real skin in the game.

Examples include: hiring the first city education coordinator in Palm Beach County, creating an Education Advisory Board, adopting and driving the completion of an educational blueprint entitled “Sharing for Excellence”, leading the effort to build a new high school with career academies, advocating for a new S.D. Spady Elementary School, supporting a grass roots effort to build and grow the Village Academy, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the list goes on and on.

It’s a lot to be proud of, but the challenges are very complex and ongoing. While Boca schools are at capacity, many Delray schools are under capacity, which is something that deserves some serious analysis.

What’s beyond debate is the value of good schools and how it drives economic development and quality of life.

In my capacity as a “PIP” (previously important person, i.e. a former elected official) around election time I often get approached by candidates seeking endorsements. A few even ask for advice, which I don’t give unless expressly asked.

I have had the occasion to talk with two of the five Democrats vying for governor: Mayor Phillip Levine and Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

But I’ve known Mayor Andrew Gillum since he was a rookie Tallahassee commissioner with huge potential a decade ago and I’ve met Jeff Greene and seen Chris King speak in West Palm Beach. All seem to be good people. I’ve never met or talked to the Republican candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis. I’d like to.

But the two I met with—Levine and Graham—I offered one piece of advice after being asked: Make Florida the best place to teach in America and you’ll solve just about every problem the state has and create untold opportunities.

We are far from being the best place to teach in 2018. Our educators are vastly underpaid, the pressure to teach to the test is intense and while we say we value education, our budgets don’t reflect that. I don’t know of any teachers who enter the profession thinking they are going to get rich, but entering the field shouldn’t require a vow of poverty either. We need to invest in teaching talent, it’s just that simple. And apparently that elusive too.

But until we do, we can expect the same old results. And in a very competitive world the same old doesn’t work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

We Have Some Work To Do

Most of America is deteriorating economically.

That’s the conclusion of a new study recently reported by Axios.com that has created a stir in cities and state capitals. It probably hasn’t made a dent in Washington, where they are too busy talking past each other and raking in big bucks for re-election to care.

Axios is on online news organization. They have some really good journalists and their coverage is usually pretty insightful. So what did Axios find?

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite ZIP Codes, but economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating.

What does that mean?  U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. Which means that your location better have a plan to keep their economies viable.

A large portion of the country is being left behind by today’s economy, according to a county-by-county report released this week by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization.

Key findings:

New jobs are clustered in the economy’s best-off places, leaving one of every four new jobs for the bottom 60% of ZIP Codes.

Most of today’s distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000. In fact, more than half have seen net losses on both fronts.

Half of adults living in distressed ZIP Codes are attempting to find gainful employment in the modern economy armed with only a high school education at best.

The map: The fastest growing Western cities (such as Gilbert, Ariz., and Plano, Texas) and “tech hubs” (Seattle, San Francisco, Austin) dominate the list of the most prosperous cities in the country. Cities that were once industrial powerhouses in the Midwest and Northeast, like Cleveland and Newark, are now more likely to be on the distressed end of the spectrum.

The cycle: Fewer new companies are forming than ever before, which disproportionately hurts distressed communities. The new businesses that do get started are often located in thriving communities where educated workers are. So talented people are forced to leave places with little economic opportunity — even if they have personal and family reasons to stay — to move to those where there is opportunity.

So how do we rank?

Economic Distress Indicators for: Palm Beach County, FL

Population: 1,378,810

% in Distressed Zip Codes: Palm Beach County 4.7%

% in Prosperous Zip Codes: Palm Beach County 35.1%

 

No High School Diploma: Palm Beach County 12.2% U.S. 13.3%

Housing Vacancy Rate: Palm Beach 8.2%  U.S. 8.3%

Adults Not Working: Palm Beach County 26.9% U.S. 28.2%

Poverty Rate: Palm Beach County 14.5%  U.S. 15.5%

Distress Score: 14.3

Distress Rank: 446

Overall, Palm Beach County is rated “comfortable” with indicators meeting or exceeding other counties and the national average. I also looked at three zip codes in Delray Beach and found interesting stats.

In 33445, which includes a lot of Delray Beach west of 95 and 30,460 people, the distressed rating was 30.2, more than double the rate for Palm Beach County. In my zip code, 33444, home to 22,440, the distress rank was a dismal 59.5. The downtown/beach area zip code, 33483 had a distress rating of 21.6 and consists of 11,850 people.

Distress was measured using 7 metrics.

  1. No high school diploma: Percent of the population 25 years and older without a high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Housing vacancy rate: Percent of habitable housing that is unoccupied, excluding properties that are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use
  3. Adults not working: Percent of the prime-age population (ages 25-64) not currently in work
  4. Poverty rate: Percent of the population living under the poverty line
  5. Median income ratio: A geography’s median income expressed as a percentage of its state’s median income
  6. Change in employment: Percent change in the number of jobs from 2011 to 2015
  7. Change in business establishments: Percent change in the number of business establishments from 2011 to 2015.

This blog has long championed the importance of economic development and the need to strengthen and diversify our economy.

The stakes are high.

The report also indicated that less distressed communities are healthier communities. The healthier the economy, the healthier the person: People in distressed communities die five years earlier, according to the research.

If we care about our long term financial sustainability and the prospects for our children, we need to figure out a plan to be competitive with other healthy regions.

It’s not about chasing Amazon (good luck with that one) or waving incentives at companies—it’s about leveraging our strengths, improving our schools, nurturing entrepreneurs (economic gardening) working with universities, increasing quality housing that is affordable and building an inclusive community open to ideas, innovation and creativity.

 

 

 

Here’s To The Teachers

Geoffrey Canada

I had always wanted to see Geoffrey Canada speak.

We tried to get him to come to Delray Beach many years ago, but for some reason we were unable to pull it off.

Canada is a legendary educator and community builder who did some miraculous work running the Harlem Children’s Zone until his recent retirement. He continues to speak around the country and we caught him recently at The Breakers in Palm Beach where he spoke to the annual meeting of Leadership Florida.

He’s a riveting speaker. Riveting with a capital R.

And his message is powerful and built on a lifetime of experience. It’s also timely with our children heading back to school in a few weeks.

While there were many lessons packed into his presentation my two takeaways were this:

  • We completely disrespect the education profession in this country and;
  • Where you grow up and how you grow up matters—a lot.

Canada who grew up in the South Bronx was a bright student who went to Bowdoin College in Maine in the 1960s.

Back home, he saw the plague of heroin stealing young lives (sound familiar) and so out of curiosity he took two science classes his last year of school: pharmacology and physiology.

He wanted to figure out what it was about heroin that made the drug so addictive and deadly.

He aced both classes and a group of professors intervened in his career path and urged him to go to medical school.

“But I want to be a teacher,” he told them believing that education was the best way to lift a community and break the cycle of poverty.

“No you don’t,” they answered trotting out the usual reasons: you won’t make money, you won’t be able to drive a nice car and you won’t be invited to all the cool cocktail parties.

It was a full court press and his professors talked him into going to medical school which was where he was heading right up until he had to sign a commitment letter and he decided that he just “didn’t like sick people.”

So he escaped medical school and instead launched a career that has touched the lives of thousands of kids.  An astounding 97 percent of children enrolled in the Harlem Children’s Zone program go onto college—all of this in a community in which poverty, crime, drugs and despair are deeply rooted.

The Harlem Children’s Zone is changing the trajectory of that universe. That’s what great leaders do.

They change lives.

But the point was well taken. Every effort was made– by educators no less—to dissuade young Geoffrey from what would become a brilliant and important career.

Based on his 40 plus years of experience, Canada believes that education needs an infusion of talent to lift the fortunes of American students.

“When we think talent, we think Google, Facebook, Netflix,” he said. “We don’t think of the local elementary school in Fort Lauderdale.”

But we should. We need bright young minds to go into the field. Canada believes that education is beyond a full time pursuit, it requires immense dedication, talent and resources.

“We pay teachers part-time wages,” he argues. “And we entrust the future of our nation to them. In business, there is an intense struggle for talent. In education, we’re not competing for talent and we need to be.” That was not a knock on the quality of teachers, but rather a call to arms. Educators should not have to take a pledge of poverty in order to teach our children.

As the father of a young ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher who loves her students and goes above and beyond that argument resonates with me. I simply don’t know how teachers can live in Palm Beach County given the high cost of housing these days.

The second point is that place matters.

“The place you’re in is either going to help you succeed or be a barrier,” he said. “It’s hard for a child in the fourth grade who has to go home to parents addicted to drugs, living in chaos. He or she won’t be able to compete with a child coming home to loving parents.”

Unless….

Unless we start to think deeply about how we are going to make the child successful.

The brilliance of the Harlem Children’s Zone is its holistic approach.

“We start at birth,” he told Leadership Florida. “With baby college which is for newborns to three year olds. And we stay with them through college.”

That’s a big and expensive commitment—financially and emotionally. But it works. It gets results, especially when you introduce remarkable teachers into the equation.

“The message is we are going to do whatever it takes,” he said. “This is the deep end of the pool. In the beginning, the data is going to be bad. We have to get comfortable with that. And know, that over time, we will move it..slowly.”

On August 14, our kids will be heading back to school.

When you take a look at the educational landscape in Southern Palm Beach County you see lots of bright spots and lots of areas of concern.

The state recently released school grades for 2017.

More than half of District operated schools earned A’s and B’s overall and 30 schools operated by the School District of Palm Beach County improved by at least one letter grade. A total of 63 District-operated schools earned A’s from the state and 35 schools earned B’s, which equals 61 percent of traditional schools in Palm Beach County. No District-operated school received an F in 2016-17, and only eight District-operated schools received a D.

Twelve District-operated schools improved from a B to an A, including the following schools in Boca Raton and Delray Beach:

  • Banyan Creek Elementary School
  • Boca Raton Community Middle School
  • Hammock Pointe Elementary School
  • Olympic Heights Community High School
  • Sandpiper Shores Elementary School

But we all know we have lots of work to do.

Locally, we are fortunate to have Delray Students First, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, magnet programs, career academies, the Golden Bell Foundation, the Delray Education Foundation, the Achievement Center, the Milagro Center, Florence Fuller Center and more.

I’ve always felt that the Village Academy and a concept called “Village Center” had enormous potential to employ the Canada Harlem Children’s Zone model.

But it takes money. It takes leadership. It takes vision and it takes a long term commitment.

In other words, it takes a village.

We say we are one, but it’s not about the size of buildings or whether we get a Publix—(for the record I like our scale and I want to see a Publix on West Atlantic) it’s about the size of our collective hearts.

Some Internet trolls love to sit back and bash and pontificate about what they don’t want to see.

I get it. And that’s cool—to a point.

But I often wonder if that same energy was channeled into thinking about the future rather than fighting the latest outrage if we might actually get somewhere again—as a community and as a nation.

I see a lot of loud people who are comfortable with their lot in lives paying lip service to kids but barely lifting a finger. I see others who have placed their comfort and personal convenience over the needs of future generations. What do our kids need?

They need attainable housing. They need good jobs. And we need to nurture our entrepreneurs and have a strategy to both attract and retain talent.

Place matters and that could be our competitive edge.

We’re walkable. We’re cool. We have amenities. We have art and culture. We have great restaurants and a wonderful beach. We have great weather and recreational opportunities.

Sure, we have problems. But you don’t solve your problems by driving down your positives. You solve your problems, you meet your challenges, through collaboration, investment and a can-do mindset.

Frankly, I’m seeing the opposite from our so-called “leaders.”

We have some deep end of the pool issues in Delray these days. It’s not the first time we’ve had them.

Last time, the community said “let’s work together.” Three words=profound results.

And it sure beats “divide and conquer.”

It’s our choice. Which path do we choose?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s To The Winners

Delray Beach won another All America City Award last week and that’s  a good excuse to write a whole lot of nice things about Janet Meeks.
Prior to winning last week, Delray had won the award twice before in 1993 and 2001.
Back then, the award recognized cities for three community projects. These days the award recognizes strides communities make for advancing reading scores.

Janet’s leadership on behalf of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading gained real, quantifiable results sustained over time.
When she asked a few people to serve as peer reviewers to look at other cities efforts, we all said yes.
After I read and reviewed the applications from a few communities I knew Delray would win.
We know how a city can impact education and based on the applications we read it was easy to tell that Delray is a pacesetter.
We should be. We’ve been at this a long time.

Since at least the late 80s when Tom Fleming led an effort called Sharing for Excellence.

Back in those days, Tom was a home builder and he became frustrated by the negative perceptions enveloping Delray’s schools. Young families weren’t buying homes in the beautiful Andover development because they didn’t want to send their children to Delray schools.
Realtors called it the “Delray Dilemma.”
So Tom and members of the community crafted a vision for education in Delray. It called for magnet schools, a new middle school, upgraded facilities and more. The City  got it done.

Mayors Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin were passionate advocates for education investing city monies to help improve neighborhoods near schools. Tom went on to serve on the School Board for 8 years, including 7 years as chair. He did a lot for education during his tenure.
Mayor David Schmidt was also a champion for education leading the city’s efforts to work with the School Board to build a new Atlantic High School, which the opening of career academies including an innovative Criminal Justice Academy in partnership with our Police Department.

The leadership around education in Delray came from all segments of the community. Residents of the Southwest Neighborhood pushed for a new school and the Village Academy was born.

The Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce raised funds through a foundation to support local schools and teachers. Parents, volunteers, non-profits, business leaders all rolled up their sleeves to support better schools. It has made a difference.

Janet was there for many if not all of these efforts.
She became our education coordinator, served as the staff for the city’s Education Board and became our advocate at the School Board fighting for resources, boundaries, facilities, programs and to make sure our schools had solid principals.
The campaign for Grade level reading built on literacy efforts, chamber programs, the work of key non profits and other community partners.
She’s a huge asset to Delray.
Along the way, I’ve been lucky to call her a friend. She’s a fountain of knowledge, does her homework and cares passionately for kids and for Delray Beach.
Over the years, there have been whispers of cutting the position. Luckily they did not come to fruition because Janet Meeks has provided tremendous value.
Delray’s leaders have long recognized that schools are an important part of our community.
We have had our struggles but also our triumphs.
From an award-winning Montessori program at Spady Elementary and the IB and career programs at Atlantic to the creation and growth of the Village Academy to the terrific gifted program at Banyan Creek and so much more we have come a long way.
Obviously, there is more to do. Much much more to do.
But Delray has shown over and over again that a city can impact education, even when it’s not its direct responsibility. If we make the investment, we get the return. It’s just that simple.

In Praise of the Delray Chamber

Delray Chamber CEO Karen Granger

Delray Chamber CEO Karen Granger

Editor’s note: We are off to Las Vegas on business (really) and we’ll be back next week with some new posts. But if we don’t return, it’s because we won big at the tables (boardroom tables) and we have bought an island. Have a great week.

You could feel the enthusiasm as soon as you walked into the room.
These are good times for many local businesses and the Delray Chamber is once again at the forefront of commerce in this city.

A large crowd gathered Friday night at the Delray Marriott to honor its best and there was genuine happiness and appreciation for the talented business people in the room.
Under the leadership of President Karen Granger and the hard work of a happy staff, the Delray Chamber is back to doing what it does best: creating a sense of community among local businesses through networking, advocacy, programs and events.
Chambers of commerce can seem old fashioned in today’s high tech environment. But there is still a need for local businesses to know one another and to support each other. As a result, chambers still have an important role to play in communities.
Boca’s chamber has long been the gold standard of local chambers– flush with members and resources.
In Delray, the chamber has always been a little less corporate and more small town in its style and approach. But it seems today that the Delray chamber is both honoring the warmth of its past (the organization is marking 90 years) and moving boldly into the future with outreach to younger professionals and tech companies.
The Chamber is also recognizing and working closely with local non profits, has always sought a close relationship with the city,  and is championing collaboration, smart growth, intelligent debate and strong schools.
It’s a compelling mission.
And an important one too.
As Delray changes, there is a desire to honor and preserve its rich history which is critically important. But there is also a desire to “round out” Delray’s compelling list of attributes in order to make its success sustainable.
The chamber– which has always supported arts and culture and food and beverage– wants to grow and diversify the economy by nurturing entrepreneurship, encouraging a nascent fashion cluster, strengthening retail and promoting office development.

There is also a strong desire to look beyond the downtown to places like Congress Avenue, the Linton corridor and areas west of the city limits. There is also a push to work with neighbors and be a larger player in Palm Beach County and South Florida.
It’s going to happen. Why? Because there is passion and talent and when an organization aspires great things happen.
Great cities need strong schools, safe neighborhoods, quality housing, good government, involved citizens and a thriving business community.
Business is not a special interest. It’s a stakeholder; an essential piece.
As I saw the best and brightest win awards last week while mixing and mingling with each other I couldn’t help but get swept up in the moment. When business is strong, so is the community.
Our chamber deserves a round of applause for its role as a resource, convener, advocate and friend to all of Delray. We are a greater Delray Beach as a result.