Order Those Shades Because the Future is Bright

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Just when you are ready to write off the future—the universe provides you inspiration.

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to have a visceral reaction to the 2016 election. By visceral, I mean nausea. It’s triggered by TV ads, debates and cable “news”—so am I doing my best to avoid all three and commercial radio too.

Thank goodness for books (I’m reading the superb Bruce Springsteen autobiography “Born to Run”), magazines (a steady dose ranging from Sports Illustrated and Inc., to Fast Company and Entrepreneur) and SiriusXM Radio (E Street Radio, Tom Petty’s Buried Treasures and the 70s on 7).

With a little mercy, I will make it through Nov. 8.

But occasionally reality slips through my carefully constructed cocoon and I will accidentally see CNN or another Randy Perkins/Brian Mast ad. So I was grateful when I read Time magazine’s “Millennials” issue and Fortune magazine’s list of 40 under 40 standouts last week.

There is hope, my friends. There are good people out there working on big challenges and getting results.

Time’s list had an international flavor with social entrepreneurs in Rwanda, jazz musicians from Indonesia and a visionary architect from Finland.

It is well worth the read to see what’s coming down the pike.

Fortune’s list was decidedly more business oriented but no less exciting. There are incredible minds at work in areas ranging from artificial intelligence and virtual reality to curing hearing loss through medications versus costly and sometimes uncomfortable hearing aids.

But this is a hyperlocal blog and as such I started to think about what we have to look forward to right here at home.

It’s a good exercise because—believe it or not—there’s a world beyond endless arguments over festivals and budget concerns real or imagined.

Such as:

FAU’s Research Park—I had a chance to have lunch with Park President Andrew Duffel recently and it was enlightening. The park is 90 percent full and there’s interest in the rest of the developable property. The Park is packed with great companies that are creating jobs and influencing industries.

Boca’s Office of Economic Development—If you want to feel good, follow their Facebook feed and learn about all the companies coming to Boca. Jobs too.

Team Delray—It’s a simple idea but oh it can be so very elusive. We are referring to collaboration and team work of course. Team Delray, which consists of a variety of agencies and organizations, has come together to communicate and cooperate. Refreshing.

Impact 100 for Men—Spearheaded by Chuck Halberg, Impact 100 plans to raise at least $100,000 to benefit local non-profits dedicated to children. If you haven’t joined, please consider it. Another great effort by Chuck.

I can go on, but you get the picture.

There is much to be thankful for in Boca and Delray these days. If we look.

Youth Shall Be Served

Mayor Grant

Mayor Grant

If you are a baseball fan—as I am—you can see the trend happening in that sport:  a move toward youth.

Winning teams are investing in young players and putting them out there with some amazing results.

They are also stocking up on young prospects, grooming them in the minors and investing big dollars in their farm systems.

Some teams—are mixing youth with more seasoned veterans. For example, the Mets talented young rotation features a lot of young arms but also features 42-year-old Bartolo Colon, a beloved veteran who is still pitching well (and hitting too, he slugged the first home run of his career recently and it took him a few days to round the bases). Colon can still get hitters out but he also brings intangible value as a mentor to the talented but inexperienced pitchers on the staff.

It made me wonder: maybe cities should be looking at that model as well.

That’s why I am fascinated with the most recent election in Boynton Beach. Voters there elected a 33-year-old mayor—who beat an 80 year old longtime incumbent and also elected a 32-year-old and 27-year-old to the commission.

It will be interesting to see where this youth movement leads—and if their brand of leadership is different than those who receive AARP Magazine every month.

I took a passing interest in the campaign and the message of the young candidates was simple: they stood for a more “modern” government, the expanded use of technology, an independent CRA (rather than a commission sitting as the CRA), fiscal discipline and a desire to make the city appealing and affordable to millennials. Voters went for it.

In a New Times piece after the election Mayor Steven Grant talked about positioning Boynton Beach as a city designed for 18-35 year olds mentioning how many in that age cohort were priced out of Boca and Delray. He also talked about the next two years as being critical for the city’s future—exhibiting a sense of urgency critical to success.

According to New Times, Grant’s newly elected teammates; 27-year-old Christine Romelus and 32-year-old Justin Katz envision Boynton as a livable, high density, affordable, working class community.

It will be fascinating to see whether they can pull off their vision or at the least move the city in that direction.

Newly elected officials have to ask themselves one question when they win their seat: is being a commissioner or a mayor a job to do or a job to have? It’s a simple question but how they answer and how they act determines whether they will be officials who matter or those who sit up on a dais for a few years putzing around playing small ball only to be termed out or beaten having accomplished little or nothing.

If you major in the minor and spend your term in office playing dodge ball you’ll be relegated to the dust bin of local history—not remembered fondly if at all.

But if you choose to make it count—and what an amazing privilege it is to serve– you have the opportunity of a lifetime to touch lives, transform neighborhoods and make a dent in your little corner of the universe.

Local government is the best of all forms of government—small enough to make change happen quickly and large enough to be fascinating.

I was 35 when I was elected in 2000—young compared to most of my colleagues in Palm Beach County at the time. I benefitted from sitting next to older commissioners who had life and business experience far beyond my scope at the time. And I think bringing the perspective of a young dad with kids in school to the dais helped them too.

A blend of new ideas and experience—and a willingness to listen to each other and to learn can make a huge difference.

I’m excited to see what that blend brings to Boynton Beach.

On Teaching, Walkability & The Future

 

Streets like this one in Denver, just feel good.

Streets like this one in Denver, just feel good.

I’ve always had a desire to teach.

I think it correlates with a strong yearning to learn.

My early career was in the newspaper field, where your job boils down to learning about subjects and then sharing (reporting) what you’ve learned with your readers.

Working at a community newspaper is a dream job—if you discount the long hours, low wages and dim prospects for the future. As a young man I did—because the job itself is fascinating.

You get to write. You get to satisfy your curiosity by researching things you’re interested in. You to get meet interesting people and cover fascinating subjects; no two days are the same.

I’ve always liked the excitement of deadlines, it focuses you and you have to produce, which is a cool way to work. When everybody around you is on a similar deadline, there’s an energy in the room that is hard to describe.

I would imagine that teaching has a similar adrenaline rush. If you’re in the flow and connecting with your audience there’s just nothing like it. My daughter is a brand new teacher in Tampa—I plan to talk to her about what she feels when she’s working with students.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that when a friend called and asked if I would speak to his urban planning class at FAU—I jumped at the chance.

Still, it’s nerve wracking to walk into a room full of strangers; most especially young people who are beginning to look even younger to me with every passing year.

Can you connect? Can you relate? Do I have anything to teach them? And what can I learn from all these young minds?

We talked about how cities evolve and transform– one of my favorite subjects.

I love to tell the Delray story, because I think we are a good case study and that past leaders and city staff used sound strategies for over 20 years to achieve success. Success, not perfection.

For example, we went from 35 percent vacancy and little going on downtown in the 80s to a glowing feature story in the Wall Street Journal last week.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-sunny-escape-3-perfect-days-in-delray-beach-florida-1452796534-lMyQjAxMTE2NzExNjIxMzY0Wj

We talked a lot about Boca too.

But the best part is to hear from future planners, urban designers, developers and architects.

What do they see? What do they expect and want from cities? Here’s a few takeaways from an admittedly small sample, but the sentiments seem to match surveys I’ve seen.

Affordability—not just in housing but also reasonable costs for food and entertainment.

Mobility—The young aren’t car centric. Study after study show that millennials are delaying getting driver’s licenses, don’t feel a strong desire to own a car and appreciate and seek out walkable environments. They also believe in services such as Uber and Lyft and understand that driverless cars will change our urban environments.

Environmentally Sensitive and Realistic—They know that Florida is a popular place and that even if  “they want their own slice of heaven” i.e. a suburban home on ½ acre they know sprawl is bad for the environment and that we may need to grow vertically rather than sprawl to accommodate a growing populace.

Design Savvy—My small sample of future urban professionals were keen on good architecture and design. They appreciate art and culture, good looking buildings and a mix of uses.

They also talked about wanting their cities to be safe, diverse and chock full of amenities.

A few of the students have been interning in Delray. I hope that many end up staying here after they graduate FAU.

As for me, I kind of wish I was 20-something again, so I can experience it all again. The future is exciting indeed.

 

Can You Fall For Your City? Yes You Can

Peter Kageyama will be in Delray April 30.

Peter Kageyama will be in Delray April 30.

 

Have you ever been to a restaurant that was once a hot spot and now seems tired and old?

The kind of place where you look around think, “Wow, what happened? This used to be amazing. Now it’s dead.”

If restaurants don’t keep up with the times their customer base either ages or moves on, a sad fact of life.

I wonder if cities work the same way. I suspect that they do.

I read a lot about cities in a variety of publications, books and blogs and a common theme seems to be emerging: the notion of what some call a “switched on” city.

Peter Kageyama, who will be speaking 6 p.m. April 30 at the Crest Theatre, talks about this concept in his books and speeches. He focuses on the little things that cities can do that make people fall in love with them.

The concept of loving your community may sound sappy to some, but it’s critically important.

If you love something, you commit to it. And if you commit, you tend to care, invest and protect whatever it is you are passionate about.

Viewed through that lens, it would appear that getting people to fall in love should be the ultimate goal of a city.

Love is another word for engagement and can be measured by voting percentages, volunteer hours, and willingness to show up at community events, whether people speak out on issues and how they talk about their city.

I remember being a young reporter in Delray in the mid to 80s, a volatile time in the city’s history.

There was division on the City Commission, instability at City Hall, concern about crime and the Police Department and huge concerns about vacancy and the lack of traffic downtown.

But despite these significant headwinds there was optimism everywhere you looked. Why? Because people loved their town, cared for it and were willing to do whatever it took to solve problems and make things better.

The political divisions were largely personality driven. There wasn’t a whole lot of arguing over policy or direction in those days.

Wisely, the city’s leaders embarked on a process called “Visions 2000” which provided future city commissioners and mayors with a blueprint for what kind of city stakeholders wanted to see take shape. The Decade of Excellence Bond, CRA, DDA and city investments helped pay for the vision and good leadership and staff ensured progress.

Visions tend to unify. Without a vision, cities, businesses, organizations tend to drift. Drift always creates a vacuum and in that vacuum there is trouble in the form of personal agendas, score settling and other happy stuff. If a community is absorbed in implementing a vision, there’s little room for trivial matters and not a lot of tolerance for pettiness. Majoring in the minor, doesn’t work.

Visions create excitement. And excitement creates momentum. Momentum leads to traction and results.

It also builds confidence among citizens that ideas can come to life and that their precious time is not being wasted in some “check the box” process designed to placate residents and provide politicians good “optics.”

And when change occurs, love and commitment builds. Now you’ve really got something. You’ll have good people run for office, your elections will be about ideas and keeping things going not mindless generic campaigns (I am against crime! John Q. Candidate is a fill-in-the-blank bad guy) you get the picture. Your schools and police department will have volunteers and your non-profits will be supported.

But here’s the rub…you are never done. Even if you reach this nirvana and I think in many ways Delray and Boca Raton have tasted this level of success, you can’t let up. Complacency is a killer.

Like a restaurant, you better add some gluten free items, a delicious vegetarian menu and some local craft beers. You may have to change the decorations too and add some music as well.

For Boca and Delray, I believe a key will be how to create a community that appeals to millennials.

By the end of 2015, millennials are expected to officially outnumber the baby boomers. Marketers estimate that millennials control more than $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending in our consumer market, and this number is sure to grow. It’s their turn and it’s their time.

Do your museums and cultural venues appeal to millennials? Do your neighborhoods and parks provide what they like? Retailers and restaurants will make the shift, or not, at their own peril.

But cities need to be thinking about this generational shift as well.

Not that the boomers are done. Speaking as a boomer (1964 was the last year so I qualify) we will not go quietly into the night. But the world is changing. You can see it on Atlantic Avenue, Mizner Park, Palmetto Park Road and at The Fresh Market on Linton. Look around; there are a lot of young people.

So what do millennials like? According to researchers there are four key millennial pillars: Authenticity, Uniqueness, Meaningfulness and Innovation.

Not a bad list. Boomers and other generations might look those pillars too. Perhaps, cities can embrace that list as well.

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a city that is authentic, unique, meaningful and innovative?