The Next American City

Former OKC Mayor Mick Cornett has written an inspiring book about how smaller cities can punch above their weight.

I’m reading a very interesting book called “The Next American City” by former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
The book tells the story of OKC and other “second tier” cities that are thriving as a result of enlightened leadership and a fierce determination to succeed.

Often, the journey to success starts with setbacks or in some cases tragedy. Instead of collapsing, these cities dig deep and make good things happen.

OKC’s spirit could have been crushed by the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 and a failed bid to land a United Airlines facility after voters approved a sales tax to fund the deal. Ouch!

Its confidence could have been forever shattered when OKC’s mayor  pressed United about why they chose Indianapolis and received a harsh answer. United executives visited secretly with their families and nobody wanted to live in Oklahoma City. Double ouch!

But instead of folding, the adversity led to breakthrough thinking and today OKC is bustling. OKC invested in schools, recreation and encouraged entrepreneurs to reinvigorate its downtown. As a result, OKC is now setting an example for other cities across the nation.

Cornett’s book gives several examples of cities that were once overlooked or fell on hard times but refused to succumb to a death spiral.

By offering quality of life, abundant recreation, cultural opportunities, more affordable housing and vibrant downtowns these cities are attracting and retaining talent which in turn create jobs and opportunities.
One of the fundamental points of the book is that local government plays a role in economic success but it’s a specific one. Here’s what Cornett believes: businesses create jobs; governments and public servants build places.

The cities that thrive fix broken neighborhoods, invest in schools, understand the role of arts and culture in building desirable communities and welcome amenities that build a brand and contribute to quality of life.

They are competitive, aspirational and collaborative.

They ask tough questions, face up to their challenges, roll with the inevitable punches and never give up.

Even after devastating hurricanes (New Orleans), terrorist attacks (NYC and OKC), racial strife, economic losses and the list goes on.
They continue to aspire. And ultimately things get better.

They always get better.

The Next American City is a good primer for elected officials or anyone who cares about the future of their city.

Our Towns: A Formula For Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Place For Humanity Amidst Change

A vintage Sears catalog.

When I read the news, I look for patterns.

What’s bubbling just under the surface? What trends are starting to emerge? Are there clues out there to tell us where we are going next?
It’s fun to discern what might be happening and it’s also helpful in business to try and see where the world is heading.
What I’m seeing lately are a bunch of stories that indicate angst about technology and a push back against the dominance of our digital society. It seems that we are beginning to really worry about the addictive power of our smart phones, the amount of data tech companies like Facebook and Google have on us, the corrosive impact that social media can have on society and the ubiquitous reach of Amazon.
So this could get interesting.
One of the best trend spotters out there is marketing expert Seth Godin. Here’s what he wrote on Black Friday:
“The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.”
Godin was lamenting the herd mentality whipped up by media to shop on the day after Thanksgiving.
But while he acknowledged Amazon’s dominance, he also sees opportunity for physical retailers in the “real world” to compete by offering experiences, service, design, fun and community.
We better hope so, because there are a lot of jobs, sales tax for local governments and consequences for Main streets and shopping centers if retailers don’t figure out a way to compete more effectively.
Another go to source for trends is “Redef”, an email newsletter that aggregates great stories from a wide variety of sources.
One recent piece came from the LA Times which talked about the comeback of catalogs. In an era of seemingly endless growth for online shopping, the humble mail order catalog is getting new life as merchants strive to battle email fatigue. 
While nobody is predicting the return of the Sears catalog (or the iconic retail chain) there seems to be growing anxiety over a purely cyber world. 
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great in moderation. Amazon is convenient and Netflix is wonderful.  
But it would be sad if we lost face the face interaction we get at a great retail store and the experience of seeing a movie with a group of people. 
While these and other industries are under assault by the threat of mobile and internet technology, there is some evidence that the “analog” world won’t go without a fight. 
The New York Times has experienced a surge in print subscriptions, vinyl records and cassettes are staging a comeback,  physical books and independent bookstores are enjoying a mini renaissance and there are retail districts around the country that are doing very well. 
While AirBnB is thriving, smart Hotel brands like Aloft, Hyatt Place, Canopy, and Ace are also proving to be enduring competitors. Boutique hotels such as Cranes Beach House, historic properties such as the Colony Hotel and larger but stylish options like the Seagate remain desirable for travelers of all ages. 
As for theaters, there seems to be room for Netflix and iPic, Hulu and Alamo Drafthouse. 
While Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has reported on the phenomenon of people “Bowling Alone” which chronicled the struggles of civic groups and bowling leagues—there are a raft of new groups emerging:  One Million Cups, Creative Mornings, WiseTribe, Community Greening, Human Powered Delray and Better Delray carving out community. 
Locally, Rotary, Elks and Kiwanis remain vibrant and vital.
 
As for me, I don’t see technology retreating. I think we will see autonomous cars within the next 10 years, streaming services will grow and groceries will be delivered to our homes. But I do think that smart retailers who create experiences and relationships will thrive. Great restaurants will continue to draw crowds and while golf courses will continue to close— options like Top Golf (food, fun, night golfing) will fill the gap. 
I think the key will be placemaking. 
The cities that create vibrant, safe, walkable places will draw crowds and investment. Fred Kent, a part time Delray resident and founder of the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), has reported on the “power of 10” –the need for communities to create at least 10 activities in order for places to thrive.  PPS is right. 
We will look up from our phones–if there’s something compelling and active to draw us in.
 We will want to gather for concerts at Old School Square and Mizner Park. We may want to take a class or two online but there will also be a desire to interact in person with other students and a desire to go to happy hour even though you can order beer, wine and spirits online. 
I think a backlash is brewing. We will bend technology just enough to allow us to remain human. 
At least that’s my hope. 

The Power of Saying Yes

Peter Kageyama preaches the virtues of loving your city.

The talk could have been titled: “Just Say Yes.”

“Or for goodness sakes….relax and experiment.”

We’re talking about author/speaker Peter Kageyama’s keynote at last week’s “Community Conversation” at Old School Square convened by the Delray Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Kageyama is the author of “For the Love of Cities” among other books and pieces that encourage people to fall in love with their city and experiment. The St. Pete resident is a dynamic speaker who shows real world examples of how cities from Auckland to Anchorage and Grand Rapids to Greenville, S.C. have benefitted from “co-creatives”—people who move forward with ideas and projects that help you fall in love or stay in love with their cities.

Most of the projects are small—some are bold and some are simple and they can range in cost from $20 to a whole lot more—but the end result is often surprise and delight.

Kageyama believes cities should be fun places that encourage experiments and pop-up experiences—even if you have to break a few rules along the way.

Examples ranged from a lip dub version of “American Pie” in Grand Rapids that garnered 5 million views on YouTube to a $1,200 project in Greenville, S.C. that placed statues of brass mice in fun places downtown. It may sound silly—and it is—but the message is that’s Ok, cities should be fun.

But these projects also create value—Grand Rapids’ version of the Don McLean classic was in response to a report that the city was dying (Get it: “the day the music died”) and stirred hundreds of citizens to show the world that their city was alive and had pride. The statues of cute little mice in Greenville is an endless source of fun for visitors and locals alike and even led to a children’s book.

From murals and dog parks to public art and drum circles—cities that have personality win our hearts, minds and wallets.

And when you fall in love—you tend to commit, volunteer, invest, interact and put down roots. It’s community building and in a polarized world full of all sorts of sad and calamitous stuff these little “endearments” make a huge difference.

The cities that are fun will win and the cities that are boring will lose.

This debate has been simmering in Delray for a few years so Mr. Kageyama’s presentation was both timely and relevant. While Delray was named “America’s Most Fun City” there’s been a lot of hand wringing over festivals, parades, parks, 100-foot trees, tennis tournaments etc.

We hear about “full cost recovery” and the burdens that some of this stuff place on city budgets, staffing etc.

But we never really talk about the value of these types of activities or the cost of being boring.

Kageyama started his presentation with a pyramid giving a hierarchies of elements cities strive to deliver.

At the base is functionality and safety: cities need to function (permits, toilets flushing, roads in good shape etc.) and they need to be safe. The next level is the ability of a city to be comfortable: are there places to sit, is their shade, is our downtown walkable, can we ride a bike without being killed etc.)?

The next rung is conviviality—are we nice to each other? Is our public discourse toxic or civil?

The top of the pyramid is fun. Do we enjoy living here? Do we enjoy each other as neighbors? Does our city create opportunities for us to connect?

A local panel consisting of our Downtown Development Authority Director, Old School Square President, West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition Director, Chamber President and the head our Marketing Cooperative talked about the need to work collaboratively—which is the true definition of an All America City.

There was a palpable sense in the room—and I see and hear this in my travels around town—that Delray is tired of dysfunction, infighting, divisiveness and a lack of progress on key initiatives ranging from ideas to help South Federal Highway to enacting the hard work of the Congress Avenue Task Force. (Disclosure: I chaired the task force, it’s no fun to see the hard work of dozens of volunteers gather dust on a shelf).

But it’s not just the big ideas and vision that is lagging—it’s the small stuff too. The sense that city staff has been stifled, that talent is frustrated and that we are at risk of losing the creative spirit and sense of community that distinguished Delray.

Interim Chamber President Vin Nolan—an economic development professional—said it best when he said in cities “you are never done” and if you think you are then.. you really are done.

Rob Steele of Old School Square senses a desire to take Delray to a new level of creativity and inclusiveness. He’s right.

You can have progress, job creation, opportunities and fun without breaking the bank or losing your uniqueness and charm. Nobody said it was easy. But enlightened leadership welcomes ideas—isn’t afraid to experiment and looks for ways to engage citizens. Kageyama mentioned the Delray Affair—our city’s signature event, both historic and important.

Why not have a series of events that encourages us to have an affair with our city?

Why don’t we invite people to fall in love with Delray?

We can fix leaky pipes, collect parking fines and fill potholes—that’s the functional part and it’s important. But we can have fun too.

I think we’re ready.

Check that, I know we are.

 

What She Found In A Thousand Towns

A love letter to some great places.

When it comes to great books, I’m on a roll.
I just finished “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” by Dar Williams.
Ms. Williams is a critically acclaimed folk singer. I don’t know much about her music although I plan to fill that deficit as soon as I can find the time.
But she’s a good writer and an even better observer of towns.
The book chronicles what Williams learned visiting 1,000 or so towns as a traveling musician for the past thirty years.
Not content to hang out in green rooms and hotels when she’s on the road, Williams has become an urban expert of sorts. She knows what makes towns work and her book is a travelogue of places I now yearn to visit.
Places like Moab, Utah, Beacon, NY and Phoenixville, Pa.
Her insights are smart and refreshing.
She doesn’t advocate large scale transformations —stadiums, spending huge on luring Amazon to your town etc. –but she does talk about the importance of coffee shops, performance spaces, walking trails, art and projects that bring people together.

She coins two important phrases: positive proximity and conscious bridgers.
Both are important to creating special places.
Positive proximity refers to activities, places and initiatives that bring people together.
They could be hills for sledding, playhouses, art centers, great parks, coffee shops etc.
It’s important for towns to have these places. They build community, create relationships and lead to all sorts of cool outcomes.
Conscious bridgers refer to people in your towns who connect people to others. They are alchemists, initiators, starters—sort of like community spark plugs— essential for ignition.
I’ve seen both positive proximity and conscious bridgers since becoming passionate about cities some time ago.
If you have both magic happens.
If you have a deficit in these areas…well let’s just say your town will suffer.
So encourage great places that bring people together and activities that encourage collaboration and teamwork.
And when you find a connector, embrace her and let her connect you. You won’t regret it and that’s how great towns happen.

When Building a Vibrant City Each Thread Counts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You simply can’t.

The Greening of Delray

Community Greening has a simple but important mission.

We went to a fundraiser earlier this week at the new farm to table bar Death or Glory to raise funds and awareness for Community Greening, a Delray Beach non-profit that is beginning to make its mark in Delray Beach.

 

Community Greening provides eligible groups and neighborhoods free native trees. They do it all: from delivery and site selection to permits and tools for planting. The organization also invests in the environment by creating or maintaining sustainable green spaces, supplying the project management, native plants, art, volunteers, and maintenance needed to create great public spaces. They are also committed to educating kids on trees and plants.

That last piece is extremely important in our high-tech society. Community Greening believes it’s important to connect children to the natural environment. You don’t take care of things you don’t relate too and with our planet in a fragile state we need to seed the future with people who care.

The group has planted hundreds of trees and has quickly gained a strong reputation in the community.

Co-founders Mark Cassini and Matt Shipley have recruited an all-star board that includes Vice Mayor Jim Chard and emerging leaders like Emanuel Dupree Jackson Jr., Jason McCobb, owner of Farmer Jay Pure Organics and noted landscape architect Carolyn Pendleton-Parker among others.

Board member Sgt. Daniela Quinn of the Delray Beach Police Department likes the community building aspects of the organization.

“CG is important because it brings the community together to learn about our Delray Beach ecosystem and how to take more of a proactive stance in helping sustain it. CG seeks to clean up and bring life back to neglected spaces and it gives everyone a chance to plant a tree, leaving their legacy for generations to come. In an area where new development seems to be at the forefront, CG allows us to be reminded of the history of our natural habitat and bring back some native plants to our community to keep it green and beautiful.”

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Personally, I was moved by the humble passion of those involved in the organization that I had a chance to meet this week.

In a follow-up conversation with Mr. Cassini, I learned about an effort to “green” and plant trees at Catherine Strong Park in the southwest section of Delray. That park has a special meaning for me. The voters approved a bond issue when I was on the commission that funded the splash park, which was the first park in that neighborhood’s history. It’s also named after the first female mayor in Delray history who was known for her big heart and her desire to improve race relations.

A celebration of Community Greening’s efforts will be held from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 at Catherine Strong Park.

I hope you visit and most of all, we hope you get involved and support CG in its important mission.

To learn more visit http://communitygreening.org/. Next month, there will be a fundraiser at Pizza Rustica and then a Delivery Dudes fundraising effort.

Meanwhile, Death or Glory is just great. Don’t miss the fried chickpeas (and the Tommy Margarita is pretty good too!). We wish them well and salute their community involvement.

 

 

 

Q: What’s A Park? A: Everything.


We’re just back from a long weekend in New York City.
We stayed in the landmark Essex House on Central Park South and found ourselves spending a great deal of time in the 840 plus acre park.
The weather was glorious and the park was alive with dogs, children and people of all ages.
It seems like every time you venture into the park you discover something different and interesting.
The park is clean and you feel safe, a marked departure from when I grew up when popular culture and the news warned you about the perils of the place. That New York, which included a seedy Times Square, dangerous subways and Guardian Angels, seems like a distant memory.
Much has changed about New York some of it good, some of it not so good.
Inequality and gentrification are front burner issues and so are the losses of landmark businesses chronicled in the great blog “Vanishing NY” which is now a book on my must read list.
But a few things remain true to the Big Apple. The city still pulses with culture, energy and art. And its parks, particularly Central Park remain extremely important to the city’s soul.
Great parks enhance cities immeasurably and Central Park in New York and Millennial Park in Chicago are perhaps the two best examples of that theory.
When I was on the City Commission in the early 2000s we endeavored to enhance Delray’s parks authorizing a parks master plan that ultimately led to a parks bond.
One of my colleagues on the commission felt that our parks lagged other cities and that we were too much about ‘swings and slides’ and not enough about creating memorable spaces that would attract people to use our open spaces.
As was the style of the time, we consulted with the community and crafted a spending plan to address what we were hearing from parents, kids, seniors and other stakeholders.
Out of those efforts came the idea to create a large “Central” park at Old School Square replacing a surface parking lot with a mixed use garage and creating more open space near the center of our downtown.
Twelve years later that vision remains an unfinished goal. We have the open space, the amphitheater and garage (and the Arts Garage), but we envisioned more. Much more. The time has come to finally seize that opportunity.
A years long visioning exercise by the public is complete and I sure hope the powers that be fund the plan. It will be an important investment and will create enormous value.
Parks are hugely important statements that cities make.
They are critical investments that yield returns both tangible and intangible.
Similarly, failure to invest in open space  also makes a statement–not a good one.
As we watched kids wandering the zoo, dogs jumping in a fountain and couples walking hand in hand through Central Park I turned to my walking partner–who also happens to be my life partner –and said: “if I lived here I’d be in this park everyday.”
And that’s the key to a great public space: places where you can enjoy peace and quiet, spots to picnic, places to write, paint and read and places to exercise and celebrate (festivals). And yes, spots where you can take your dog. Places you want to be every day.

Keepers of the Flame

Jan Gehl--cities for people

Jan Gehl–cities for people

Jan Gehl is an award winning Danish architect who has worked on high profile projects all over the world.

Recently, he visited the Harvard Design School to discuss the role of politics and leadership in driving improvement in cities.

In his experience, he believes “the personal factor is very strong in bringing about transformative urban changes”.

Gehl’s new book New City Spaces talks about nine cities that have really turned things around, and in nearly all of the cases, it started with some centrally placed person or torchbearer who had a vision. It might have been the mayor of Curitiba, the longstanding director of urban design in Melbourne, or the mayor in Strasbourg. In Copenhagen, the city architect, city engineer, and mayor worked together, and in Portland it was more or less the Greens winning the election in 1968 that brought significant change, according to Gehl.

“It (transformative changes) could come from the bottom or above, but very seldom did it grow out of the day-to-day administration of the cities. It was often a force from the outside, or a new officer or a new politician.”

Interesting and I have no doubt that Gehl is correct in his diagnosis of the cities he has studied.

But I would argue that another model—outside the hero mayor or architect narrative—is citizen driven planning or visioning. Delray used this transformational model effectively from the late 80s until the mid 2000s for plans relating to the downtown, neighborhoods, culture, education and parks.

It works.

In many cases, change is driven by a threat or by conditions that are so poor, they drive people to organize and push for reform. In Delray’s case, the threat was a plan by the Florida Department of Transportation to widen Atlantic Avenue to facilitate hurricane evacuation and a downtown that was vacant, dark and dead. While this may not be the best week to argue against the evacuation idea, it was widely believed that if FDOT was successful we would have lost our downtown forever. Instead of being a narrow, pedestrian friendly street promoting slow traffic, the avenue would have been a highway—good for evacuation– bad for urbanism.

I’m hoping the new effort relating to the city’s update of its Comprehensive Plan is more like an old school visioning exercise than a top down exercise designed to check a box for the sake of optics because community visioning is critically important and so is the Comp Plan.

Gehl is correct when he notes that transformation rarely grows out of day- to -day administration.

Same goes for business.

When you’re leading or running a city or a business, you really have two considerations: the day to day and the future. You have to consider both or you are doomed to failure or disruption.

So yes when a citizen calls to complain about a tree branch you need to respond. But, you also should be thinking about your tree canopy and whether you have planned your open spaces well enough. Leadership requires taking care of the present and planning for the future.

In a council-manager form of government, in which the mayor’s position is supposed to be strictly policymaking and part-time (the part-time part is a fallacy, trust me), you can’t wait for a hero with a vision to come to the rescue. It’s up to the citizens to take responsibility, but leadership is critical. The best leaders seek input, constantly engage, try their best to raise the level of conversation and once adopted become the chief evangelists and defenders of the vision. Staff implements, leaders drive the vision.

And believe me; the vision will need defending and driving because change is never easy nor universally accepted especially if your vision is ambitious and not boring or incremental.

Every city aspires to be a great place to live, work and play—but the devil as they say is in the details. Vibrancy requires activity and public spaces may need to be activated and that may mean noise and people.

Change while often resisted is also inevitable. So you can count on your vision being challenged on a regular basis. The best leaders are guardians of the flame. If they resist the urge to cave when the critics emerge and trust in the people’s vision your plan will gain traction and soar. But if they capitulate—the vision will die and along with it any chance of meaningful change. Oh and you’ll lose the trust of citizens who helped to forge the vision and counted on you—the elected leader—to ensure it moves forward.

That’s a high price to pay. Many cities do. And they are the ones who are either left behind or caught and passed by other cities.

What’s at stake? Quality of life, quality of place, property values and whether or not you can provide opportunities for all.

In other words…just about everything.

Festivals Have Their Place

 

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

We know people who love the Delray Affair.

We know others who wait with baited breath for the Garlic Festival (pun intended). And we know people who love craft beer and spend extra to buy VIP tickets to support Old School Square and enjoy the latest suds from small purveyors— many of them local.

We also know others who avoid the Delray Affair, don’t get the whole garlic thing and have no interest in tasting anything named Swamp Ape.

Different strokes for different folks as they say.

But whether you like or loathe events—and a recent poll of Delray voters show that 83 percent of them support and/or attend downtown special events–there’s no doubt that festivals have played a large role in building Delray’s brand.

There’s also no argument that they can be disruptive and costly. But a smart look at the issue would not just focus on impacts but benefits as well. In the coming weeks, Delray Beach commissioners are expected to consider a new event policy and cost structure. While many (not all)  of the policy recommendations we’ve heard about seem to make sense, the cost structure attached to the policy threatens to kill the events. This would be a big mistake. In many cases, the cost of events would nearly triple, which would most likely drive them out of business. That would be tragic.

Special events are a form of economic development. They bring people to your urban core and they help to ring cash registers and fill restaurants—and not just on the day of the event. Many people will come back to Delray after having been exposed to the downtown at a festival.

They also attract tourists and day visitors and some of those tourists and visitors have ended up investing here. We know many residents who decided to live here in part because they enjoyed the events and the overall vibrancy of the city. Events are placemaking and creating a sense of place is critically important.

Festivals also serve as important fundraisers for key community non-profits and they help to build community too.

Delray Beach is very fortunate to have a downtown, a place to gather. Cities without downtowns feel different and many seek to create urban cores to generate that community feeling.

Old School Square was a brilliant civic idea because instead of bulldozing history past visionaries like Frances Bourque recognized the strategic importance of having a cultural center at the heart of our city’s redevelopment efforts. And make no mistake Old School Square was the catalyst. The outdoor space is ideal for events and the new park– approved by voters in 2005 to replace an ugly surface parking lot– should be designed to host events and every day activities.

The energy created by the restoration gave life to efforts to create a vibrant downtown which is at the heart of our success and our economic well-being. Other cities have a beach; very few have a downtown like Delray Beach.

If you are fortunate enough to live anywhere near the downtown you have seen your property values soar–usually viewed as a good thing. There’s a correlation between our downtown’s success and property values. It’s doubtful we would’ve seen any appreciation if downtown remain vacant, blighted and dangerous. But when you are a short golf cart ride away from over 100 great restaurants, shops and yes events you can bet that translates into value. It also translates into qualify of life.

So yes there is a strong need to preach quality over quantity. Some events are tired and need to go or at the very least need upgrading. But that’s a very different conversation than a wholesale “cull”.  Where possible disruption should be mitigated and costs are always a factor but chasing away events from our central gathering place would be a big mistake especially if many of those events are contained, don’t close roads and are enjoyed by many. We should also consider that many of the events raise needed funds for worthy community non-profits.

A few emails and complaints is not a reason to jettison a formula that has worked. Event producers have stepped up and agreed to compromise on items such as their footprint, vendor quality and road closures. Our city leaders should declare victory, perhaps gently raise some fees and move on. Events belong downtown.