The Roads Not Taken

Neal Peirce

Neal Peirce died over the holidays and we shouldn’t let his passing go without a look back at his life and his influence.

Mr. Peirce was a journalist and researcher who studied cities, regions and states—not exactly a sexy beat but an important one because communities change or stagnate on the local level far from the gaze of Cable TV pundits and national media.

As a result, if you were a policymaker in the 80s, 90s and 2000s with a burning desire to make your time in  office count, you were most likely aware of Mr. Peirce and influenced by his work.

As an elected official in Delray Beach from 2000-07, I read every word he wrote, subscribed to his column and poured over his reports seeking ideas, insights and wisdom.

He was a hero of mine. And he inspired many other mayors I go to know through the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Florida League of Cities.

In addition to a syndicated column, Mr. Peirce was a partner in a firm called Citistates.

Cities, states and regions would hire the firm to study their communities and make recommendations on how to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities, some of them hidden.

About 20 years ago, business, non-profit and civic leaders in South Florida engaged Citistates in a unique effort that also included major regional newspapers which agreed to publish Mr. Peirce’s “think” pieces so that stakeholders could be educated on some of the opportunities and challenges we faced.

When Mr. Peirce passed during the holidays, I went back and read a few of the old newspaper columns including a wonderful piece on U.S. 1 that included recommendations to turn the auto-oriented highway into more of a neighborhood.

Peirce envisioned U.S. 1 becoming a new “Main Street” linking South Florida from the Treasure Coast to South Dade. He recommended that the Florida Department of Transportation reclassify U.S. 1 as a “local access road”, not a thoroughfare for moving traffic as a rapidly as possible.

“High speed traffic is the job of I-95 and other such arterials,” he wrote.

And he was right.

Delray took that advice and I was a policymaker at the time the decision was made to narrow Federal Highway. It was not an easy or obvious decision and the opposition to the plan was formidable—as were the proponents who wanted to make the road safer (there was a high incidence of accidents) and more picturesque. They argued that it made no sense to have a high speed freeway bisecting a pedestrian oriented downtown. We studied the issue for a year, studying speeds, looking at accident history and traffic volume before ultimately deciding to proceed with the project.

In my mind, it turned U.S. 1 in Delray from a highway into a neighborhood and gave the area a host of economic and placemaking opportunities.

Reading Mr. Peirce’s column on U.S. 1 I have no doubt that his thinking had an effect.

Peirce and his partner Curtis Johnson published a series of articles in 2000 in local newspapers on topics ranging from sustainability and traffic to New Urbanism and the difficulties of getting things done in a sprawling region with a vast variety of governments and players to navigate.

If you want to check out the articles that ran in the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald here’s a link. http://www.floridacdc.org/roundtable/index.html

If you read the pieces, you are struck by their continuing relevance and also by what wasn’t done.

Twenty years have gone by and we still haven’t addressed sprawl, environmental issues and affordable housing.

With Mr. Peirce’s passing, I can’t think of another journalist covering the urban beat that measures up. Governing Magazine had the great Otis White some years back and he did two major pieces on Delray Beach but he left the magazine and now that wonderful publication is going away too.

The newspapers that partnered with key non-profits to produce the Citistates project are a shell of their former selves. As a result, we no longer have a regional or community water cooler; a place to share ideas and create momentum for positive change.

Back in 2000, New Urbanism seemed like a logical solution to traffic, sprawl and environmental degradation and a chance to return some charm to what can be a cookie cutter landscape of bland design.

But in 2020, we see the same tired arguments against New Urban style development despite growing traffic and a lack of affordable housing and walkability. I cringe when I get vapid campaign emails from candidates decrying density in one sentence and vowing to save the environment in the next breath. Folks, sprawl like development is not good for the environment. It creates traffic, uses more water and will never create the amount of housing we need to help teachers, police officers and firefighters be able to live in our communities.

All of this may sound like the work of people like Neal Peirce doesn’t matter. That’s not what I believe.

I think crusading journalists and thinkers like Neil Peirce make a difference.

In 2000, Peirce wrote passionately about highway gridlock and the dangers of sprawl. If only we had listened and acted as a region, but I would argue Delray did listen and did act and that we need to continue with smart growth and community engagement practices.

Mr. Peirce had a prescription to address sprawl: utilize planning and community engagement to design a better future. He called for “mega charrettes” to bring the community to the table.

“Consider the 1.8-million-by-2020-population projection (I think he meant additional residents moving in not total population) and debate honestly, openly where the new growth ought to go. Even if a consensus wasn’t reached — and it might not be — the true, region wide issues would be a lot clearer.

 

How can the emerging technologies, starting with neighborhood planning programs, be made available to ordinary citizens, businesses, people interested in new development possibilities and futures? One solution: walk-in urban design centers in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, designed to marry the worlds of professional design and grassroots activism.

 

Ideally, architecture or planning departments from local universities would run these centers. Information on the whole gamut of planning challenges — from single transit stops or suburban neighborhood centers to growth corridors, waterfronts and affordable housing — would be available.

 

Such centers are already open and operating in such varied places as Chattanooga, Birmingham, Little Rock and Portland, Ore., with very favorable reports on their performance. For democratized development in South Florida, they might represent a dramatic breakthrough.”

Alas, it didn’t happen. But it’s not too late. Or is it?

 

 

The Rise of the “Urban Burb”

Options for sprawl repair

It’s 2019 and as dedicated trend seekers what do we see?

Well, here’s one prediction based on what we are reading and seeing.

Look for the rise of the “hipsturburbia” or “urban burb”—suburbia with a touch of the city meaning walkability, mixed use development and multi-family housing.

As the Urban Land Institute says: “The first phase is millennials moving to the suburbs for larger, more affordable homes and access to schools, so adequate single-family and multifamily housing will be necessary. Retail follows rooftops, so retail development to meet the new residents’ requirements will follow. Finally, you may begin to see more emphasis on employment centers as residents decide they want to work closer to where they live.”

Sounds good. It also sounds logical.

Pick your nickname but the trend of urban suburbs is playing out all around us.

Consider The Delray Marketplace (which would be so much better with housing), a slew of urban (lite) “lifestyle centers” in Broward County and future plans for places like the old IBM campus in Boca, the old Office Depot headquarters in Delray and the prospective rezoning of the Boynton Beach Mall. All are moving toward a walkable, mixed use environment in which people can live, work and play as they say.

Live, work and play has become a bit of cliché, but there’s a lot of wisdom and traction in the concept.

As the world becomes more technology dependent, there is a blending going on. If you are like me and many others, our work life doesn’t end when the whistle blows at 5 p.m. anymore. We are accessible before and after traditional office hours and business is conducted at all sorts of hours.

My colleagues at Celsius, the Boca-based beverage company, work all sorts of hours as they interact with partners and distributors in China, Sweden and other parts of the globe. As a result our lives tend to meld—we live, work, learn and play wherever we are these days so doesn’t it make sense to make these activities convenient, walkable and accessible.

While I was born in borough of New York City, I spent the majority of my childhood living on the North Shore of Long Island. Levittown—America’s prototypical suburb—was a short car ride away. In fact, we lived mostly– in Levitt Homes—in traditional suburban neighborhoods in which everything we did required a car.

It was an idyllic life in those days and traditional suburbia certainly has its attraction. But it’s also the definition of urban sprawl, not great for the environment, not the most efficient use of finite land and designed for cars not people. As a result, urban planners often frown on the traditional suburbs blaming it for congestion, sedentary lifestyles and even segregation.

As a result, some cities are responding with policies to promote more diversity, density, affordability and sustainability. Minneapolis recently banned single family zoning districts—a remarkable policy that will promote duplexes, triplexes and other forms of housing in once traditional suburban neighborhoods. It will be interesting to see how the policy plays out in the real world.

I’m a fan of New Urbanism which is really a throwback to how cities were traditionally designed before suburbia became so popular. New Urbanism promotes walkability, a mix of uses and supports density as long as it’s well designed.

So I cheer the advent of urban burbs or “hipsterburbias”—even if the brand names are borderline obnoxious. I do question how many “mini downtowns” markets can absorb especially with the headwinds facing retail these days.

While big box generic retail seems to be a goner these days (so long Sears, Kmart etc.) experiential retail is all the rage. But again….how many retailers will be talented enough to give us enduring experiences and how many location can they serve?

As we begin 2019, it will be interesting to see where this all headed. Two things we can count on: first, the innovators will find a way to succeed and second it is becoming far riskier to offer the same old, same old. The times are changing and the bar has been raised. That’s a good thing.

 

 

 

 

Campaign Rhetoric & Truth

Two years have passed since the Task Force completed it’s report.

Ahhh campaigns.

Or should I say oy…. campaigns?
We are at the height of the silly season with 8 days left until Election Day in Delray and the insults, innuendo and flat out lies are flying.
I thought I’d delve into two whoppers but first a disclaimer: I’ve endorsed Jim Chard for mayor (not a shocker he’s got a slew of endorsements including from six other past mayors) and Ryan Boylston. So if you need to stop reading here that’s ok. We understand.

The two campaign barbs I want to explore relate to new urbanism and the Congress Avenue Task Force.
One mail piece attacked Mr. Chard for having a “new urbanist” agenda as if  that was some sort of hideous malady. So I thought I’d clarify.
Here’s the definition of new urbanism: “New Urbanism is a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns had been built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces. In other words, New Urbanism focuses on human scaled urban design. 

Have mercy…who would want that?!
Perhaps, sprawl –which promotes traffic and uses more resources (which is bad for the environment)– would be a better approach?
We think not.

Folks, Delray has long embraced the concepts of new urbanism. It’s been the strategy and game plan and it’s achieved some pretty impressive results.
Someone either wasn’t paying attention to the past 30 years or they really think sprawl and large seas of asphalt parking lots are charming.
Which is a nice segue to Congress Avenue.

I was asked to chair the Congress Avenue Task Force a few years back and we assembled three dozen volunteers who worked for the better part of a year to produce a plan for the important corridor.
We were proud of our work and thought we produced a viable and exciting plan to create jobs, housing and tax base on what has been an underperforming corridor.
We wanted to create ‘Delray’s next great street.’
The commission “accepted” the report (whatever that means) praised it publicly and then let it gather dust on a shelf.
It’s not wise to waste the efforts of volunteers especially when one of our top recommendations was to get moving right away.

Sigh…
Anyway, one of the campaign mailers attacked Mr. Chard for the plan, unfair on many levels because while Jim was a major contributor, he was part of a larger team.

I find it poor form to attack the work of volunteers especially when you don’t bother to attend a single meeting and especially when you are misrepresenting the work of the task force for political gain.
At no point did the task force recommend narrowing Congress Avenue. We did talk about making the road safer, more efficient and more aesthetically pleasing. There was also discussion on creating a job creating destination instead of a speedway to jobs in Boca and Boynton Beach.

A member of the task force called me expressing disgust at the mailer.
It’s just politics I said.
But I was quickly corrected: “well it’s unacceptable to throw volunteers under the bus by lying about what we recommended.”
Yes it is.
But that’s where we are these days.
And it’s why citizens tune out and why they don’t trust politicians.
Vote accordingly.
But please vote. It’s important.

Restoring The Trust

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

Affordable housing is an interesting and sometimes loaded term.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

Florida has an affordable housing challenge/crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. that list goes on.

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

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

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

As for local governments, they play a role too.

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

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

 

 

It Don’t Come Easy

I spoke to an urban planning class at FAU last night.
Adjunct Professor Glenn Gromann invited me and I enjoy speaking to students so I said yes. (And it doesn’t hurt when the adjunct professor makes your book required reading…wink, I will work for book sales).
It’s not the first time I’ve had the privilege of speaking to college students. Usually I tell the story of modern Delray Beach taking them through the decisions, policies and leadership choices that brought Delray out of the dumps. We cover the ups and downs, the mistakes and triumphs and the rationales behind decisions that to some may seem counter-intuitive.

I don’t have any formal training in urban planning–but I do have real world experience. I am so interested in the subject that I have read everything I could get my hands on and listened to smart planners, architects, urbanists and good developers at every opportunity. I even created a few–by reaching out, by attending seminars, joining the Urban Land Institute, visiting Seaside, joining the Congress for New Urbanism and studying placemakers like Jane Jacobs and Delray’s own part-time resident Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces.

I also understand the politics that go into moving an agenda forward–because change and new urbanism isn’t always embraced. Today, I find myself in the strange position of having to defend policies that clearly worked–that created vibrancy, value, quality of life, jobs, opportunities and future potential if we would just open our eyes to the possibilities. Often, I’m debating new residents who moved here attracted by what they saw (I suppose) but vehemently against everything else and resentful of those who played a role in building our town. It reminds me of the phrase: “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder.” My main point to them: we aren’t done and we have a responsibility to the future to manage change and do it intelligently.
There are many planning and leadership principles to convey to tomorrow’s planners, developers, department heads and architects: the merits of new urbanism, the importance of visioning, the need to engage the community and the value of making investments. Every city needs to be able to provide running water and trash pickup but the cities that make a ruckus are those that do more: art, culture, dynamic downtowns, sports, festivals, food scenes etc.
We did that.
It took 20 years of hard work by a multitude of people. But it happened.
So I shared that journey. And as many times as I share the story, it never fails to move me. Because I know what it took and I have deep respect and admiration for the people who made it happen and I’m privileged and proud to tell their story and I suppose defend their efforts. Some previously important people (PIPS) go away, I’ve decided not too. It’s my town and I love it.
But I’ve started to add to the narrative. I’ve started to talk about what can go wrong. How cities can give back gains and how as aspiring planners or public administrators having great ideas, state of the art policies and stellar execution won’t be enough to make a lasting and permanent  difference.
In fact, you won’t be able to get to the policy part if you don’t understand politics. I shared how good ideas get squashed and how even sound policies suffocate if the wrong elected officials show up to stifle and or choke the life out of progress.
Students need to understand this. As citizens they need to know this and get involved. They need to vote. They need to run. They need to insist that elected officials serve them, not the other way around.

As prospective planners they need to know how corrosive “leadership” can impact their careers and if they go the private sector route they need to know how this can cost them. How it can break their spirits and their bank accounts.
As a result, they need to know that progress can be ephemeral and they need to be able to articulate to citizens why the planning principles they learn are good ways to build communities and manage growth.
But sadly, good planning principles often don’t cut it on their own.  You need to market those policies, constantly sell their rationales and educate voters as to why your plans and visions make sense.
Take for example, new urbanism or the newer “strong towns” movement. Both philosophies have sound thinking behind them and eloquent manifestos.
But…
It don’t come easy, as Ringo once  sang.
Students need to know that and prepare to engage the future communities they will serve.
Because you can guarantee that regardless of how much success you enjoy or how far you’ve come there will always be forces lining up to stop you and in some cases roll it all back.

We used to call it municipal math…30 years to build, two years to screw it all up, no guarantee you can get it back.
That’s the hardest lesson of all to learn and the most important.

Adventures in Local Politics

Cross one item off the bucket list

Cross one item off the bucket list

I wrote a book.
It took me years to finish and I must have started and stopped 100 times but I got it done. Finally.
“Adventures in Local Politics” is a personal story but it’s also the book I was looking for during my seven years as an elected official in Delray Beach.
The shelves are pretty bare when it comes to books on what local politics are really like. Sure, there are plenty of books written by “big city” mayors but most of America is not like New York, Chicago or Boston.
Elected officials in small cities face far different issues than their big city brethren. But the issues are complex nonetheless and personal too.

And if local officials choose to make their terms about something other than playing dodgeball with the tough issues, they can actually make a positive and lasting difference in their communities.
The commissioners I served with called it moving the “big rocks”; a concept we have turned to frequently on this blog.

And in our case, the big rocks  meant tackling attrition and retention issues in our police and fire departments, trying to improve race relations, crafting a downtown master plan, passing a parks bond, moving the library to a more central location (and freeing the old site up for meaningful redevelopment), creating a community land trust, wrestling with workforce housing, passing a parks bond and re-envisioning culture, Congress Avenue and the four corners of Military Trail and West Atlantic Avenue. There was more: beautifying Pineapple Grove, passing and implementing the southwest plan, moving the high school, building a warm and entrepreneurial culture at city hall, revamping our historic preservation rules and encouraging downtown housing while improving communication with our stakeholders.
Am I bragging?

You bet I am. I’m very proud of the team and the hundreds of residents and business owners who invested their time, talent and money to move a city forward. We inherited a great hand from our predecessors and did our best to move the ball forward.
Did we get it all right?

Not on your life.

Did we make mistakes? Yep, a whole bunch. But we got a lot right too.

And I would put our city’s accomplishments up against any city in our region and beyond. We have built a great city. Not a perfect city, but despite our myriad challenges and problems we have an awful lot to be grateful for and our civic pride is well placed.
My purpose in delineating some of the big rocks is to point out the incredible opportunity local officials have if they are willing to seize the moment. If they have vision, courage and the ability to collaborate with their stakeholders and motivate their staff and affiliated agencies and partners they can make a difference.
My book speaks to this opportunity. So while it captures my personal experiences, it has universal themes as well. Such as: Community policing works, but it has to be authentic and a forever commitment. New urbanism principles work if you have the courage to educate residents and design places for people not cars. Community visioning works if you are serious about engaging your community and work hard to bring new voices to the table.
It felt good to finally finish the book and it’s gratifying to speak to local groups about some of the “adventures.”
Local government is the government closest to the people. Washington is broken, maybe hopelessly so (but I remain optimistic). Tallahassee is remote and partisan. Our hometowns are where we can make a difference. But it’s a choice: major in the minor or play dodgeball or move the big rocks.
I’m looking for those willing to take risks and build. I’m looking for uniters not dividers. We have enough of that horror in Congress.
The big rocks are all around. And they are the most fun to move.

Adventures in Local Politics is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com. If you’d like to schedule a talk or raise funds for your group, please email us at perlmanjeff@gmail.com. Portions of the sale of Adventures in Local Politics can be donated to your charity of choice.

The Vision Thing

Citizen driven

Citizen driven

iPic is a symptom.

Just the latest. There will be more.

The skirmishes over specific development proposals mask an underlying dynamic 30 years in the making: what do we want to be when we grow up?

That question was first posed in the 80s when the Atlantic Avenue Task Force and later Visions 2000 convened to talk about a future vision for Delray Beach.

At the time, we were not exactly a charming “village by the sea”. Sure, there were charming elements; a grid system, a nice beach and historic homes but vacancies were widespread downtown, there was a dearth of activity and our crime rate was horrible. People were clamoring for change.

The Task Force and Visions 2000 efforts were launched as a response to those conditions; nobody was arguing that vacancies were good or bragging that we had no place to eat. There was not a whole lot of crowing about property values that were stagnant and a real estate market that was hot in Boca and West Boynton but anemic in Delray.

Visions 2000 laid out a blueprint for renewal and listed projects to be completed in order to fix and— yes save Delray. Voters overwhelmingly approved the $21.5 million Decade of Excellence bond and city officials went about the task of renovating the city.

They did a remarkable job.

Delray won an All America City Award in 1993 and another in 2001. The city earned a ton of good press (which was very rare for Delray at the time) and Florida Trend named Delray the “best run town in Florida.”

Private investment began to flow into town, a coffee shop opened and oh did we celebrate. A few restaurants came…Damiano’s, Splendid Blendeds, 32 East, Dakotah..and we were off to the races.

But community building and downtown revitalization is not an overnight effort. It takes years and then some more years. Truth is, you are never done.

The first coffee shop went out of business. Some of the first restaurants didn’t make it. Retail had a hard time gaining traction. There was and is a lack of office space. Back then, nobody was living downtown. That would come later when some pioneering developers took a risk and put some townhouses on Federal Highway. Their efforts were mocked and there was strong resistance to projects that are now part of the fabric and filled with residents who are great contributors to our community.

I was in town for the Visions 2000 and Visions 20005 efforts—covering the process as a reporter for the old Delray Times, part of the defunct Monday-Thursday Papers.

There was talk about a village by the sea during those exercises, but nobody was calling for a sleepy or seasonal village by the sea. The consensus in the 80s and 90s and then again in the early 2000s during the Downtown Master Plan process was to create a dynamic village. Words such as vibrant, bustling, compact and dense, walkable and sustainable were used.

There was a desire to be a complete downtown; not trendy or seasonal, but year round and built to last. There were calls for mixed-use projects, the master plan emphasized design and yes—(horrors!)– density. We learned that design trumped density and that density was needed to support local businesses and was desirable because it was better for the environment than sprawl, which generates more traffic and is more expensive to service. We didn’t make this up, we brought the best minds in downtown planning to town over and over again and all of them cited the virtues of new urbanism, density, design and mixed used development. We just brought them back for another round and the message is the same.

And guess what? Unlike a lot of other places, this city delivered. We ought to be proud.

Delray Beach executed and implemented its citizen driven visions. Not developer driven, not staff driven, not even commission driven, but citizen driven visions. It takes a village…it really does.

So what you’re seeing today is a manifestation of 30 plus years of planning, execution and investment.

It’s not developers flouting rules or building things contrary to the vision.

Have waivers been granted? Yes. But never for height and density.

Have variances been given? Yes, but never for height and density. When you’re working in an infill environment, sometimes you need a little flexibility to make good projects happen.

Wait… there’s more.

Was conditional use employed; you betcha. Conditional use built Delray, because it enabled a generation of policy makers to support good projects and– just as important–reject bad ones.

So what we are seeing is not some aberration or abuse, it’s the result of a vision. Now, you may not embrace the vision or you might think the vision is misguided, outdated or moronic. I don’t. I suspect many others like what has happened. But I get that some don’t.

Maybe you think it’s time to put a lasso on the vision and shut it down. But please understand that what you’re seeing after nearly a decade of no development did not come out of nowhere.

Has it been good? I believe so.

So do many others who love and enjoy Delray Beach.

Have property values increased? Oh yeah, especially if you live anywhere near the urban core.

Is that a good thing? For most, it is. I’d rather have my home appreciate than depreciate, but affordability is an issue not only for homeowners but for mom and pop merchants as well.

Are there strategies to maintain affordability that we should be considering? Yes. Almost exactly a decade ago we were one of the first cities to create a Community Land Trust to keep properties in the trust affordable in perpetuity. We also enacted a workforce housing ordinance, a flawed but  sincere attempt to address a pressing issue at the time and one that is back in a big way.

Density was one of the strategies to create affordability as well. It may not be the silver bullet, but it’s hard to have affordability without it.

As for iPic, I would love to see it happen. I like that a corporate headquarters wants to be downtown and that 42,000 square feet of office space would be built. We need the jobs and we need to make Delray more than a food and beverage success story—that wasn’t the vision, only part of it.

The vision was to create a city that was more than a resort town. It was to create a sustainable, walkable village with opportunities for people of all ages, including young people and families that need jobs.

I understand why people are concerned and worry about losing the soul of the city. These are viable concerns that leadership needs to address. In my opinion these concerns can be addressed. Others would disagree that’s OK.

These conversations are important to have because all the “sides” in town love Delray Beach.

But before a meaningful conversation can take place it’s important to put the issues in context and understand where the latest project came from. Discussions about the redevelopment of the old library site date back more than a decade. The discussion began when the land-locked library decided to move from an antiquated facility to West Atlantic and when the chamber decided to move as well, rather than invest in an old building that was functionally obsolete.

The direction given to the CRA at the time was to redevelop the site and get it back on the tax rolls. There was a policy decision not to seek residential development which was well underway downtown but to seek retail and office space, which we felt was needed. It was later amended to consider a hotel and entertainment options. The hotel proposal fell victim to tough economic times and a new RFP that mirrored the old one was issued. IPIC responded and was selected.

There was never any serious talk of a park on the site in large part because we were creating a large downtown park adjacent to Old School Square and we already had Veterans Park, Worthing Park, The Skate Park and Teen Center and some small public plazas planned for West Atlantic, which is also part of our downtown. We felt there was a need for office space and year-round employment to support our merchants during the long hot summer months.

Right or wrong, that’s the back story. The rationale was in service to a larger vision created by citizens.

 

 

 

 

Town Hall Lecture Series: A Can’t Miss

Joe Minicozzi has done groundbreaking work in Asheville, N.C.

Joe Minicozzi has done groundbreaking work in Asheville, N.C.

If you haven’t attended the town hall lecture series you are missing out on some extraordinary speakers.

Mayor Glickstein, the City of Delray Beach and the sponsors of the events are to be commended for bringing the best urban thought leaders to Delray to discuss a range of topics. If only we would listen…

I’ve been privileged to moderate two recent events and both were outstanding.

We wrote earlier about placemaker Fred Kent whose powerful message kick started discussions on what to do with the Old School Square Park, a conversation that has started and stopped for at least a decade. A subsequent community discussion on March 21 regarding the exterior uses of the Cornell Museum of Art, what should happen at the park, the OSS parking garage and how it all connects to Atlantic Avenue produced a range of ideas. A follow-up to that meeting is set for Tuesday, April 28, from 6:00 – 7:30 pm in the Ocean Breeze Room at the Delray Center for the Arts, 51 North Swinton Avenue.  Make sure to attend and bring your ideas.

It is really encouraging to see plans for the downtown park take shape. The park was created as a result of the 2005 Parks Bond, which envisioned a lively downtown park. The goal was to replace an ugly surface parking lot with open space and then build a mixed use parking garage that would yield a net gain in parking. The garage later became home to the Arts Garage and the Chamber of Commerce, but the park has remained lackluster, a great site for the CRA Green Market and good event space, but lacking the daily vibrancy that was originally envisioned.

If plans proceed—and I believe they will—the lecture series should be credited for jumpstarting the process.

Now, the city should use the same template from the Kent lecture to re-assess how we look at development in Delray Beach.

The most recent lecture featured Joe Minicozzi, an Asheville, N.C. based urban designer/planner, Chuck Marohn, an engineer and founder of the amazing “Strong Towns” blog and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, the president of the Congress for New Urbanism.

Minicozzi’s talk focused on the financial side of development. Using simple math, Joe is able to compare the value of sprawl like development versus dense, mixed use development, often referred to as smart growth or new urbanism. His work is groundbreaking and clearly shows the stark differences in taxes and economic impact between making efficient use of land versus inefficient, traffic inducing sprawl. No judgment, just numbers.

Marohn, a reformed engineer, takes on the cost side, showing graphically how our pattern of development in America is slowly but surely bankrupting us because tending to sprawl costs a lot more than building walkable, compact and yes somewhat dense communities.

Norquist talked about his experiences as mayor of Milwaukee, where he earned a reputation for deploying new urbanist philosophies.

At the end of the lecture, Norquist asked me what I thought and my initial reaction was that I did not know of any cities that were doing this type of financial analysis when they evaluated development.

Upon further reflection, I think that in many ways we were moving in the opposite direction of what Marohn, Minicozzi and many of the other speakers we have invited to Delray have suggested.

Instead of a form-based code, we are still hung up on numbers. Instead of understanding that suburban parking codes don’t make sense in urban cores, we are still fearful of not having enough surface parking. Instead of understanding that parking isn’t free (courtesy of a fascinating lecture by the world’s foremost parking guru Donald Shoup) we still haven’t made a decision on whether to charge users or not (meanwhile taxpayers are footing the bill).

From Andres Duany and Viktor Dover to the most recent speakers, the common thread is a full-throated embrace of urbanism, smart growth, design, placemaking etc.

If it leads us to have a better conversation about growth and development, the lecture series will be remembered as the catalyst for an even better Delray. But if it’s just an exercise in what we can’t have, it will be remembered as a lost opportunity.

Readers of this blog know that as the co-chair of the downtown master plan, I had deep disagreements with our most recent attempts to “fix” our Land Development Regulations. I was hoping we would have gone to a form based code that emphasized design and desirable uses but feel we ended up with a more prescriptive code that I believe will hinder innovation and infill development. Just my opinion and I certainly empathize with the concerns that people who love Delray have regarding traffic, parking and gentrification.

But I still don’t think we’ve addressed design and use and I’m afraid by capping density, we’ve given up on creating affordability downtown.

Regardless, the lecture series has given us an invaluable opportunity to raise the level of debate in Delray—if we so choose.

Fred Kent got us thinking about placemaking again—and that’s a good thing. We have some lazy assets that can be so much more.

Hopefully, Minicozzi and Marohn can get us thinking about the cost and revenue side of development patterns, a timely conversation as we look at corridors such as Congress Avenue and as budget season kicks off.

The next Town Hall lecture is set for 6 p.m. April 30 at the Crest.

Peter Kageyama, renowned community development consultant and author, will discuss on “What Makes Cities Lovable.” You won’t want to miss Peter. He spoke at Leadership Florida two years ago and they are still talking about it. When he got done speaking, I grabbed a bunch of his books and have been given them away ever since.

Kageyama is the co-founder and producer of the Creative Cities Summit, an interdisciplinary event that brings together citizens and practitioners around the big idea of the city. Internationally sought after as a community development consultant and grassroots engagement strategist, he addresses audiences all over the world about bottom-up community development and the amazing people who are making change happen.  Kageyama has authored two best-selling books, For the Love of Cities:  The Love Affair Between People and Their Places (a great and fast read), and its follow up Love Where You Live:  Creating Emotionally Engaging Places.

Hope to see you there.

Meanwhile check out www.mydelraybeach.com for more information on the series and for tapes of the talks.

 

 

New Urbanism Charter Still Inspires

First released in 1999, the New Urbanism charter has inspired hundreds of communities, including Delray and Boca's Mizner Park.

First released in 1999, the New Urbanism charter has inspired hundreds of communities, including Delray and Boca’s Mizner Park.

Note: The original Charter for the New Urbanism, published in book form in 1999, was a groundbreaking document aimed at reclaiming cities and towns from the destructive force of suburban sprawl. Thoroughly updated to cover the latest environmental, economic, and social implications of urban design, Charter of the New Urbanism, Second Edition features insightful writing from 62 authors on each of the Charter’s principles. Featuring new photos and illustrations, it is an invaluable resource for design professionals, developers, planners, elected officials, and citizen activists. Real-world case studies, plans, and examples are included throughout. For a copy visit www.cnu.org/charter. Some of the authors of the charter were on the panel that awarded Delray Beach the Nolen Award last year. I had the pleasure and the privilege of serving on the jury to award the 2015 winner.

The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.

We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.

We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.

We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.

We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions, and environment.

 

We assert the following principles to guide public policy, development practice, urban planning, and design:
The region: Metropolis, city, and town The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor The block, the street, and the building
1) Metropolitan regions are finite places with geographic boundaries derived from topography, watersheds, coastlines, farmlands, regional parks, and river basins. The metropolis is made of multiple centers that are cities, towns, and villages, each with its own identifiable center and edges.
2) The metropolitan region is a fundamental economic unit of the contemporary world. Governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies must reflect this new reality.
3) The metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to its agrarian hinterland and natural landscapes. The relationship is environmental, economic, and cultural. Farmland and nature are as important to the metropolis as the garden is to the house.
4) Development patterns should not blur or eradicate the edges of the metropolis. Infill development within existing urban areas conserves environmental resources, economic investment, and social fabric, while reclaiming marginal and abandoned areas. Metropolitan regions should develop strategies to encourage such infill development over peripheral expansion.
5) Where appropriate, new development contigu- ous to urban boundaries should be organized as neighborhoods and districts, and be integrated with the existing urban pattern. Noncontiguous development should be organized as towns and villages with their own urban edges, and planned for a jobs/housing balance, not as bedroom suburbs.
6) The development and redevelopment of towns and cities should respect historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.
7) Cities and towns should bring into proximity a broad spectrum of public and private uses to support a regional economy that benefits people of all incomes. Affordable housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities and to avoid concentrations of poverty.
8) The physical organization of the region should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.
9) Revenues and resources can be shared more cooperatively among the municipalities and centers within regions to avoid destructive competition for tax base and to promote rational coordination of transportation, recreation, public services, housing, and community institutions.
10) The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor are the essential elements of development and redevelopment in the metropolis. They form identifiable areas that encourage citizens to take responsibility for their maintenance and evolution.
11) Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways.
12) Many activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young. Interconnected networks of streets should be designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, and conserve energy.
13) Within neighborhoods, a broad range of housing types and price levels can bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.
14 ) Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, can help organize metropolitan structure and revitalize urban centers. In contrast, highway corridors should not displace investment from existing centers.
15) Appropriate building densities and land uses should be within walking distance of transit stops, permitting public transit to become a viable alternative to the automobile.
16) Concentrations of civic, institutional, and commercial activity should be embedded in neighborhoods and districts, not isolated in remote, single-use complexes. Schools should be sized and located to enable children to walk or bicycle to them.
17) The economic health and harmonious evolution of neighborhoods, districts, and corridors can be improved through graphic urban design codes that serve as predictable guides for change.
18) A range of parks, from tot-lots and village greens to ballfields and community gardens, should be distributed within neighborhoods. Conservation areas and open lands should be used to define and connect different neighbor- hoods and districts.
19) A primary task of all urban architecture and landscape design is the physical definition of streets and public spaces as places of shared use.
20) Individual architectural projects should be seamlessly linked to their surroundings. This issue transcends style.
21) The revitalization of urban places depends on safety and security. The design of streets and buildings should reinforce safe environments, but not at the expense of accessibility and openness.
22) In the contemporary metropolis, development must adequately accommodate automobiles. It should do so in ways that respect the pedestrian and the form of public space.
23) Streets and squares should be safe, comfort- able, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbors to know each other and protect their communities.
24) Architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.
25) Civic buildings and public gathering places require important sites to reinforce community identity and the culture of democracy. They deserve distinctive form, because their role is different from that of other buildings and places that constitute the fabric of the city.
26) All buildings should provide their inhabitants with a clear sense of location, weather and time. Natural methods of heating and cooling can be more resource-efficient than mechanical systems.
27) Preservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society.
Congress for the New Urbanism

New Urbanism Guru in Delray Tonight

Andres Duany is in Delray tonight for a free lecture at the Crest Theater.

Andres Duany is in Delray tonight for a free lecture at the Crest Theater.

Do you love cities?
We do.

If you love cities and are interested in hearing what the future holds, Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein invites you to attend a free lecture, tonight, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Crest Theatre, 51 N. Swinton Ave.

Visionary architect Andres Duany, known world- wide as one of the fathers of “new urbanism” will offer a provocative talk entitled “A Century For Cities – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”.

The talk is part of a new series of town hall meetings curated by Glickstein who recently held a session on the state of education in Delray. Last week, he announced an ambitious lecture series that will feature top thought leaders on a variety of subjects ranging from parking and smart growth to urban design and transportation.

All lectures are free.

Duany is a particularly compelling figure. Along with his wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Duany is a pioneer in the new urbanist movement which essentially calls for a return to some of the traditions of early American towns—town squares, compact development, walkability and yes the dreaded word, density.

New urbanism was developed as an answer to suburban sprawl and urban disinvestment.

One of Duany’s signature projects is Seaside, Florida in the Panhandle. The picturesque community has earned widespread acclaim for its architecture and pedestrian orientation. Critics say it wasn’t dense enough and therefore wasn’t sustainable economically. As a result, Seaside has become a popular vacation and second home destination, but the community doesn’t have the economies of scale to support a true, live, work, play lifestyle.

Regardless, it’s influence has been immense and several communities strive to mimic Seaside’s stunning design.

Duany is a founding principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company which has designed over 300 new towns while also working on regional plans and community revitalization projects. Their codes have been adopted throughout the world.

Duany has lectured internationally and is the co-author of three books including his most recent on smart growth. He is a founder of the Congress of New Urbanism and has won several prestigious awards for his architecture and planning work.