How To Lead

An easy to read primer on leadership.

 

I saw an interview with the philanthropist David Rubenstein on Face The Nation recently.
Mr. Rubenstein just released a book on leadership that waits for me patiently on my night stand each evening.
In the book, Rubenstein talks with a variety of successful leaders and distills some of the things they’ve learned along the way.
I was sold on the book by his answer to this question by host John Dickerson.
“What do you look for in a leader?”

DAVID RUBENSTEIN: I’m looking for their ability to focus, their ability to communicate well, their ability to have some sense of priority of what’s most important to them, their ability to inspire people, their ability to rise to the occasion. And I also think humility is important. Anybody that is really a successful leader I think has failed in life. And you have to persist after your failures. But failure gives you some humility.”


Isn’t that cool? I mean, doesn’t that sum it up?
Let’s break it down.
Focus: the best leaders I’ve seen are focused on goals. They don’t get distracted by bright shiny objects and they don’t let distractions throw them off their game. In other words, they don’t major in the minor. A good local example is former Mayor Dave Schmidt.
I learned many things sitting next to David for my first three years on the commission. Mayor Dave was focused on the big picture and always exhibited calm under fire. And he faced some raging ones: protests against the move of Atlantic High School and the discovery that several of the 9/11 terrorists were living in Delray which put an international media spotlight on our town. Regardless of what was thrown at him, Mayor Schmidt kept his eyes on the prize and made sure his fellow commissioners did so as well. 
Communication: Good leaders communicate. They have an ability to explain their positions and views. And they take the time to do so.
I thought former Mayor Tom Lynch did a great job articulating the city’s goals, aspirations and potential when he served from 1990-1996. I was a young reporter back then, assigned to cover city government. I always knew where the city was headed because Tom was a consistent and reliable communicator.
A sense of what’s important: Great leaders want to accomplish something. They don’t seek power for power’s sake. For the good ones, it’s a job to do, not a job to have.
I kept that phrase in my wallet through my term in office. It means that you are willing to lose your seat if it means doing the right thing for the city. Sometimes that means taking positions that are not the most popular at the time but that you know is the right thing to do for the community long term. Great leaders are willing to plant trees knowing they won’t be the ones to enjoy the shade.
An ability to inspire: I’ve seen some good leaders who were lacking in charisma, but that’s not the same as inspiration. A solid steady leader can be quietly inspiring. Why? Because they are solid and steady.
Former Chamber President Bill Wood did have charisma. And he was also very inspiring because he was reliably optimistic, had a wonderful sense of humor and a warmth that made everyone in his presence feel good. Consequently, he made businesses feel good about being in Delray. That’s an intangible that is hard to place a value on.

Rising to the Occasion: Good leaders have a way of meeting the challenges they are presented with. So if tragedy strikes they meet the moment with compassion. If there’s some sort of disaster (man made or natural) they have a way of handling it that calms the community and helps inspire confidence in the future. My local examples for this item are former police chief Rick Overman and former fire chief Kerry Koen. 
Both leaders were battle tested and enjoyed widespread support among the troops and the broader community. So during hurricanes or difficult incidents —which are par for the course in their line of work —they always rose to the occasion and you felt that everything would be OK. Steady hands during stormy seas..invaluable. 
Leaders who rise to the occasion find ways to create wins even when the going gets tough. 
Consequently, if there’s an opportunity they can seal the deal.

Humility and Failure: The best leaders are humble, real, honest and service oriented. I also happen to think a sense of humor is enormously important. The best leaders can admit when they are wrong and are committed to personal and professional growth. They have an ability to evolve. They know they aren’t the smartest person in the room and seek to surround themselves with people they can learn from. I call it intellectual humility. Those that have it can learn from others. Those who think they know it all, really don’t. 
I also think that failure is an important life experience. Failure informs. It keeps us humble and enables us to learn critical lessons. 
A good leader knows that as long as you learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them the experience is not really a failure at all.
As we edge toward national, state and local elections in November and again in March it may be helpful to review this list of traits and see how the candidates measure up. 
 
 

 

A Legacy & An Ecosystem

BDB President Kelly Smallridge honors Brendan, Tom and Connor Lynch for their business leadership as Plastridge Insurance celebrates its 100th year.

Eight years ago, while serving on the board of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, I had the opportunity to co-chair a brand new task force focused on entrepreneurship in our community.

While the BDB is well-known and highly respected for its economic development efforts and its ability to recruit, retain and help businesses expand we felt there was a gap when it came to helping and celebrating local entrepreneurs. So we created a task force and held a successful event that filled the vast ballroom at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. We clearly had tapped into something.

The task force continued on and eventually my good friend Connor Lynch, the talented and super smart CEO of Plastridge Insurance became chair. I’m proud to report that Connor, the task force and the BDB have taken the effort to a whole new level.

The recent “Entrepreneurship Luncheon” presented by JP Morgan Chase & Co., attracted a large crowd, included a hallway full of booths featuring new companies and was graphic evidence that something special is happening here. And that’s a good thing.

The entrepreneurs are here. They see Palm Beach County as fertile ground to grow their companies and they are impressed with the talent that is available in the local job market.

For sure, we aren’t Silicon Valley, Boston, New York or Austin. But we don’t have to be. We can grow something special here. Something unique. Something sustainable.

Groups like Palm Beach Tech, 1909 and yes the BDB are playing a critical role as are our universities and the FAU Research Park.

The luncheon’s two keynote speakers were two young entrepreneurs who are proving that companies can start here, grow here and thrive here using local talent and attracting talent from other markets.

Ryan Gay, CEO of Levatas, an AI solutions firm and Shay Berman, founder and president of Digital Resource were beyond impressive to listen to—they were downright inspiring.

Mr. Gay started out in 2006 with a small team: a visionary, an operator (himself) and someone with a big brain. They paid their first employee with Taco Bell meals—he was joking (I think). But from those humble beginnings, Levatas now has 80 employees and does digital work for clients such as IBM, Intel, Dell, Office Depot and Nasdaq.

Mr. Berman came from the cold of Michigan to West Palm Beach and started a company on a couch that has twice made the Inc. 500 list as one of America’s fastest growing companies. He has stayed true to his adopted hometown, growing his company while remaining in downtown West Palm.

He started the company with $5,000 and a dream. Today, at age 27, he is growing by leaps and bounds.

At the luncheon, my friend Connor, his brother Brendan (another super smart businessman) and their dad Tom, a former Delray mayor (among the very best in my opinion) were recognized for Plastridge’s 100th anniversary—an astounding achievement in today’s complex and fast changing world.

All three Lynch’s are devoted to Palm Beach County making significant marks in business, entrepreneurship, government, education, philanthropy and economic development. They are writing an amazing legacy. I’ve been fortunate to watch them and occasionally work alongside them.

Brendan and I serve on the board of a company we’ve both invested in and 30 years since meeting Tom, I still find myself seeking out his advice and counsel. Connor and I have served on several non-profit boards together and he’s always brought good ideas and insight to the table.

Kelly Smallridge, President and CEO of the BDB, noted that she if ever wrote a book about the history of economic development in Palm Beach County Tom Lynch would be at the top of the list of contributors.

It was heartening to me to hear that, because I believe that Kelly is right and that Tom is immensely responsible for so much of the good we see in Delray and also in Boca where he was also very active as a past chamber chair and School Board chair.

To see his sons run with that legacy of civic achievement makes my heart sing with gratitude.

In order to build a better community one that will support entrepreneurs and everyone else frankly—we need civic leaders. We need champions and long term thinkers who focus on the horizon and then do their best to make things happen.

It’s called leaving a legacy.

The job is never done. Success is never final. We will never arrive at the destination but we still need to commit ourselves to the journey.

Check out www.bdb.org and make sure you get tickets to next year’s entrepreneurial event. Better yet, let’s commit to helping grow entrepreneurs—whether it’s trying out a new product, spreading the word, becoming an angel or seed investor, starting your own company or encouraging someone who has done so we all have a meaningful role to play.

 

Plastridge Makes History

From left, Brendan, Tom and Connor Lynch.

If you Google companies that last 100 years…you stumble on some interesting facts.

The number of businesses that last a century is a very short list….less than half a percent of companies according to one study I found. It’s a rare company that lasts these days.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton are home to one of them. Plastridge Insurance, founded in 1919, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year and we were honored to attend a banquet for employees, friends, retirees and family recently.

For my wife and I, it was a true pleasure. We feel very close to the Lynch family, who have led the business for the past 50 years or so. That’s when Tom joined the company after teaching English for a spell at St. Vincent Ferrer School on George Bush Boulevard.

I first met Tom 32 years ago when I moved to town to take a newspaper job. He was considered an up and comer in those days, a prominent business leader who was a founding chair of the CRA, chair of the Chamber, active at the local hospital and a key member of the Mayor’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force.

When Tom was elected mayor in 1990 it proved to be a landmark election for the city. As a reporter, I had a bird’s eye view of the changes he and his fellow commissioners were poised to make—implementing the Decade of Excellence bond, bringing Visions 2000 to life, working on local schools, stabilizing attrition at City Hall and hiring a police chief who would turn around the fortunes of the Police Department.

It was a great time to be in Delray and I loved covering the goings on. Diane, who came to work for the city during the same era, would later tell me that she (and others) were inspired by the vision, professionalism and team work that Tom and others on the commission championed. She (and others) were also struck by the courtesy extended to staff. Department heads and rank and file employees felt empowered to bring forth ideas, question assumptions and suggest the best path forward.

As a journalist, I was paid to question and to be skeptical. But I was won over by the leadership style of Mayor Lynch. Later, when I pursued my own entrepreneurial endeavors, I sought advice from Tom and began to become fascinated by his success with Plastridge and some of his other business endeavors. He was always generous with his time and advice. When we would get together, it would seem that we would never run out of subjects to talk about and while we agreed on many things, we also proved that you can be friends and politely disagree on the subjects where we saw things a little differently.

I’ve written before that Tom encouraged me to pursue local politics and it was his initial belief in me that got me to seriously consider a run for office in 2000. During my 7 years in office, he served as a trusted sounding board and I can’t overstate how valuable that is. He never once told me what to do, but he helped me through some difficult times with advice I knew was always meant to help me and the city we both cared a lot about.

Sitting at the Marriott listening to long time colleagues such as Mike Bottcher (38 years at Plastridge) and his assistant Paula Post recount how many lives he’s touched at the agency and in the community, I realized how lucky I was to be one of them.

Over the years, I got to know Tom’s wife Hillary who is wonderful and community focused too and his terrific children all of whom are accomplished and kind.

Out of the six kids, I’ve gotten to know Connor and Brendan the best. Both have done a great job moving Plastridge into the future now that Tom is taking some time to paint and indulge other interests.

Both Connor and Brendan are friends and I’ve grown to admire them both greatly. They are smart, talented, dedicated and effective in business and in the community. I was thrilled when Connor was recognized by the Sun-Sentinel last week with a prestigious award that recognizes his devotion to the community and his business acumen and potential for even greater success.

As I made my way around the party and ran into a few folks I’ve known over the years—Tom McMurrian, Peter Arts, Lula Butler, Janet Meeks, Ryan Boylston—all noted the incredible achievement of lasting and thriving for 100 years. And all noted how special the Lynch’s are.

Communities rise or fall based on the quality of people that show up to lead, encourage, mentor, volunteer, run for office, serve, give, employ, invest, think, risk and nurture others.

We were so fortunate that Tom came from the cold of Chicago to the warmth of Delray. Here, he and his family have chaired non-profits, given generously to good causes, dreamt of a better city/county/state and did something to make it so. The list goes on and on. Now, thanks to a new generation, all the good is sure to endure.

Here’s to the next 100 years.

 

 

To Sam, Love Dad

This photo, taken years ago at the Boynton Beach Mall, remains one of my favorites.

Twenty nine years ago today I became a father for the first time.

I was 25, working for the local newspaper and had recently bought my first home—a townhouse on Barwick Road for $69,000 with a few upgrades. Different days indeed….

George H.W. Bush was president, Michael Dukakis spent his winters in Delray and locally Tom Lynch was running for mayor in a hotly contested three-way race as part of a loose slate with Jay Alperin and David Randolph.

January 1990 was an interesting time in Delray. The late 80s were a volatile era with lots of intrigue on the commission and turnover at City Hall but by 1990 the city had a few blueprints on which to draw inspiration and hope.

Visions 2000 led to a $20 million plus bond issue that would pay for all sorts of improvements downtown. A city once split between east and west of 95 came together to vote overwhelmingly on a plan to beautify the downtown and replace crumbling infrastructure.

The city had also adopted an ambitious plan to improve local schools called “Sharing for Excellence” and community oriented policing was beginning to take root and build trust in neighborhoods beset by crime and drugs.

Professionally, I was excited to write about it all. I was living my dream of being a reporter.

Personally, I was thrilled and a little bit scared about becoming a father.

Secretly—for some reason—I wanted a girl and I was granted my wish when Samantha Arielle was born at West Boca Medical Center with Jimmy Buffett music playing in the birthing suite. I high fived the doctor and the nurses—it was a surreal feeling. She was a beautiful baby—happy, healthy with big brown eyes. When we brought her home she was greeted by a big golden retriever named Magnum (after the TV detective). She’s loved dogs ever since.

Today, Sam is a beautiful woman. Still happy. Still healthy (thankfully) and still with big brown eyes.

She grew up in an evolving Delray—going to pre-school at Little Friends with the legendary Mrs. Echols, attending Poinciana Math, Science and Technology’s magnet in Boynton Beach, Trinity School for her middle school years and Atlantic High School for the perilous high school years—which thanks to her goodness weren’t so perilous after all.

After graduating from USF, she taught ESE for two years in Tampa before leaving this fall for Cary, North Carolina to continue her career working with exceptional students.

We miss her. I miss her.

It seems like a blur….decades fly by. Babies grow up. The new townhouse we were so excited about seems like a lifetime ago.

Tom Lynch would be elected in March 1990 and would spend six years as our mayor. He was as good a local mayor as I’ve ever seen and a role model for when I got elected a decade later. I never dreamed that would ever happen as I sat in the back row with Darcie Lunsford of the old Boca News covering the issues of the day.

These days, Darcie is chair of the National Association of Institutional and Office Properties (NAIOP). We still work together. We retained her to represent The Arbors office building that my company owns—back in the 90s, it was an IBM building. There were so many IBMers in Boca that they spilled into Delray. Today, I hear there are less than a handful in Boca these days. Don’t quote me, but someone recently said there were two IBMers left. Is that possible?

Regardless, Boca survived and thrived. So did Delray.

Visions 2000 came to fruition, we won a few All America City Awards, and we adopted a Downtown Master Plan and got that done too. Pineapple Grove—which was a dream back when Sam was born– is thriving too.

You can’t buy much for $69,000 these days…never mind a three bedroom townhouse.

Time waits for no one says the old Rolling Stones song.

Birthdays have a way of focusing us on the value of time, the inevitability of change and the beauty and pathos of life.

I’ve been blessed to have the best daughter a dad could ever wish for…here’s to the next 29 years. I hope to be here to celebrate.

 

 

A Gathering Of Mayors

“It’s possible to be fierce, fierce in your dedication to change, to what’s right, to making things better–without finding the source of your power in the destruction of others.”– Seth Godin

 

Last week, thanks to the efforts of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce and the talented Suzanne Spencer, seven former Delray Beach mayors met with the new class of Leadership Delray for a roundtable discussion on leadership and local history.

It was a blast.

And the Seth Godin quote above was a common thread for these mayors who represented local history from the 1980s through today.

Doak Campbell, Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin, Dave Schmidt, Tom Carney, current Mayor Shelly Petrolia and I shared stories, challenges and experiences from our days and nights in the trenches of local government.

It was a special afternoon and we need more of these types of get togethers because local history is special and relevant to the issues that we face today. The gathering was recorded by the class and will be given to the Delray Beach Historical Society. I look forward to seeing and sharing it with you someday soon. Each mayor brings a unique perspective to the job. My theory is that public office is much like an MRI–it reveals who you truly are. Your good qualities are revealed and your weaknesses too as expressed in decisions you make and your leadership style.

Doak Campbell presided over a somewhat tumultuous time in the 80s, with a revolving door of city managers and department heads, worries about crime and concerns about how to revive a desolate downtown. Despite a fair amount of political infighting, Doak’s commission made some huge and important moves: establishing a CRA, forming the first historic districts, agreeing to restore Old School Square, focusing on downtown and passing a landmark bond issue which led to tremendous improvements in the city’s infrastructure and how we viewed our future prospects. Mayor Campbell left his successors with money, a vision and some very promising seeds. He was a successful mayor.

Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin followed Doak. They successfully implemented the Decade of Excellence bond and brought needed stability to City Hall and to politics itself. On their watch, the Tennis Stadium was built and the seeds were planted for a downtown renaissance. Stability is very important to success. We tend not to appreciate stability until we lose it and we see the damage that volatility can bring to a community. Tom and Jay were gentlemen and they treated city staff and the public with respect; challenging both to bring solutions not just complaints to Commission chambers. I respect their leadership skills and learned a lot from watching them as a young reporter covering city government.

David Schmidt and I followed and we emphasized community engagement and citizen driven planning which led to a downtown master plan, a cultural plan, a parks plan, an effort to improve race relations and a continued focus on education. I learned a lot from sitting on the dais next to David. The commission’s we served on were ambitious and energetic–we wanted to bring about positive change and work to advance what other mayors had started. We saw ourselves as civic entrepreneurs and wanted very much to engage and involve the community. David empowered those who sat next to him on the dais and was always a calm and reasonable voice even amidst heated controversy.

Tom Carney wasn’t mayor for very long but he has been involved for many years serving on the Housing Authority, CRA and as founding president of the Arts Garage. We were glad he was at the roundtable to lend his long term perspective.

Newly elected Mayor Petrolia was gracious in her remarks referring to the success of Delray and her role as a steward giving the analogy that she was handed a golden egg and it’s her responsibility not to break it.

She also outlined the pressures facing current leadership ranging from crime concerns, schools, how much growth there should be (and where) and the need to shore up our infrastructure.

Based on the questions that Leadership Delray students asked, I think there was a good appreciation for the challenges of being a mayor of a town like Delray.

I often consulted with my predecessors because I knew that they loved Delray, had relevant experience in the issues we were facing and would understand the unique pressures of the job.

I saw former mayors and commissioners as resources that I could tap into in order to understand the genesis of issues and what paths were possible.

To their credit, they gave advice willingly knowing that ultimately I would make my own decision but that it would be informed by their valuable input and perspective.

I couldn’t imagine not tapping into the wealth of knowledge that exists here and I’m sure in other communities as well. Of course, you want a range of opinion and so the most effective elected officials seek out all sorts of voices—young and old, business owners, people from different parts of the city etc.

That’s how you succeed in what is a very difficult and all-consuming job.

Delray is a dynamic and challenging city. There are incredible opportunities and a lot of daunting challenges as well.

We need people with passion, a love for the town, humility, emotional intelligence, strength, foresight and courage to step up and lead.

Last week, I found myself in a room with a bunch of those types of people and I left feeling connected, happy and excited about our past, present and future.

Thanks Chamber, thanks Suzanne Spencer, thanks Leadership Delray and thanks to my fellow mayors for being so inspirational.

 

 

The Restless Wave

“Maybe I’ll be gone before you read this. … I’m getting prepared. I have some things I’d like to take care of first, some work that needs finishing, and some people I need to see … I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times. … The bell tolls for me. I knew it would … I hope those who mourn my passing, and those who don’t, will celebrate as I celebrate ,a happy life lived in imperfect service to a country made of ideals, whose continued success is the hope of the world. And I wish all of you great adventures, good company, and lives as lucky as mine.” -John McCain in his new book “The Restless Wave.”

 
John McCain is quite a man. 
If we can put partisanship aside– for just a moment– and focus on our common humanity, our love of country and basic empathy we might be able to agree that Senator McCain is an extraordinary man who has lived an “imperfect” but remarkable life. 
Personally, I don’t share much of his politics, but I admire much about him. 
I admire his patriotism. I admire his sincerity and I admire his willingness to be a maverick and speak his truth to power. Even if  it doesn’t mirror party orthodoxy—especially when it doesn’t meet party orthodoxy. 
People respond to Senator McCain not just because he’s willing to “stick it to the man” –as one of my Leadership Florida classmates used to say– it’s because he can be counted on to speak his mind regardless of circumstance or consequence. 
John McCain typically does not go along to get along—and on the rare occasion that he did—it cost him. I’m referring to his choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate in 2008 when he wanted to choose his friend Joe Lieberman. 
His illness brings to mind my late mother’s struggle with cancer. She had lung cancer that spread to the brain and so I empathize greatly with Senator McCain’s struggle. 
Cancer is a horrendous disease. And when it enters your brain it’s positively horrifying. 
But like my mother, John McCain is facing his fate bravely, with strength and dignity. He’s become a model of grace to so many in an era where grace is in short supply but desperately needed.
Regardless of political persuasion, I think most of us could agree that our cities, counties, school boards, state governments and federal government would be better off if they were populated by elected officials who spoke their minds, were willing to buck convention and had something more in mind than their next election. 
When I was elected to the Delray Beach City Commission in 2000, I found a quote in one of the city related magazines we used to get. 
Being an elected official was “a job to do, not a job to have” it read.
The quote grabbed me and so I clipped it out of the magazine and put it in my wallet where I managed to see it everyday. 
I strived to live up to the ideal—even if at times I fell short. After all, as Senator McCain reminds us, we are all imperfect. 
Still, when newly elected officials ask for advice I repeat the quote. And I often follow with something former Mayor Tom Lynch used to say: “vote your conscience. Be willing to lose an election if it means doing the right thing.” 
Too many officials at all levels of government don’t live up to this fundamental ideal. Too many go along to get along, refuse to speak their mind, stay silent when they need to lead and then wonder why nobody respects them. Too many spend their precious time in office rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Then one day, it’s over and we are all left to wonder: what did they do to help the people they were elected to serve? In too many cases, the answer is not much. When they fail, we the people bear the brunt.
I may not agree with Senator McCain on many issues. But I sure do respect him. So do his colleagues from what I’ve been told by people who would know. 
We could use more politicians who stand for something (even if we don’t agree with that something), speak their minds, vote their conscience and understand that public service is a job to do, not a job to have. 

The Genius of Creative Mornings

Creative Mornings Palm Beach is attracting big crowds to their monthly events.

Editor’s note: I had the opportunity to speak last Friday at the Arts Garage to Creative Mornings Palm Beach. It was a thrilling experience. I have been asked by a few attendees to post my remarks, which are mostly accurate, but I did veer off on a few tangents. The talks are videotaped and live streamed so the actual talk should be posted on the Internet soon. In the live event, I thanked my dad, for being an inspiration and guiding star. He was in attendance, which was very special. Special thanks to Yulia, Amber, Nichole, the Arts Garage, Marjorie Waldo and the Creative Mornings team for giving me the opportunity.

Good morning…

I’m going to start with a confession….I am not a genius.

That’s probably not a surprise or a revelation to those of you who know me.

But I believe in genius.

I have seen genius and I appreciate genius—and I’ve learned that while genius is important to success, it’s not essential… there are ways we can tap into genius without actually having to be one.

There are ways we can leverage genius by using the work of great artists, great leaders, great entrepreneurs, great musicians—to inspire us and help us improve our world.

This morning, I want to share a little of my story with you and how I’ve found the motivation to take risks, overcome fear, try new things and hopefully find a way to make my little corner of the universe just a little bit better.

First, let me say that I’m inspired by genius every day…

The Beatles.

Bruce Springsteen.

Abraham Lincoln.

Winston Churchill.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Nelson Mandela.

Maya Angelou, Joni Mitchell, Frank Lloyd Wright..

Geniuses….whose body of work motivates us to dream, strive and aspire.

But even the geniuses can’t do it alone…and that’s my message this morning.

If you are a genius, you still need a team….—Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Johnny Ive and thousands of employees…some of whom work at the local Genius bar. Mark Zuckerberg connected 2 billion people on Facebook but he needed Sheryl Sandberg to scale his platform…

Lincoln put together a team of rivals—to win the Civil War and preserve the union.

Even Bruce Springsteen has the E Street Band….or as he describes them—and I quote: “the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making -Le-gen-dary E – Street – Band!” ….Which includes Delray resident Max Weinberg…who has become a friend of the Arts Garage and this city.

No man or woman is an Island. Genius or no genius, nobody can do it alone.

The best way we can move forward as a culture is to harness the power of people to build community.

There’s genius ready to be tapped, created and deployed —anywhere –at any time– for anything—if we take the time to build community….

There’s no problem we can’t solve…no challenge we can’t overcome –if we build community.

I believe, that if we cultivate genius, nurture talent and encourage aspiration we can move mountains…we did it in Delray, I’ve seen it done elsewhere, it happens in business and it happens in organizations too….to capture genius is to embrace the magic of the crowd….to be open to ideas and imagination….

And consequently, there is a price to pay if we don’t engage and make connections…

If we tell people to go elsewhere to pursue their dreams—we will lose not only our present —but we will squander our future too….

Genius unites….it brings people together around ideas and visions of a better future.

Genius incites…the ideas that you have to fight the hardest for are often the ones you will be remembered for. (Let me say that again)….Everything that people now love about Delray Beach faced initial and often strong resistance…but if you believe in your vision, if you persevere—over time, you will make real and lasting change.

Genius also excites….it makes you feel alive with possibility and hope, but genius can’t take root and spread if it’s isolated and alone.

I attended my first Creative Morning….last month in Boca. And frankly, I was blown away.

I walked into that meeting not knowing what to expect…and in need of community and inspiration…

We live in a very challenging world…the news can be heartbreaking and overwhelming, the personalities we confront on a daily basis can deflate even the most optimistic among us.

And so I walked into Creative Mornings… feeling a little lost …as if I was at sea without any navigation—I felt a little lonely and exhausted that day…which I think all of us feel from time to time.

We are living in significant times…our anchors are being ripped from the ground…our world is moving so fast and I’m not sure if we are always aware of what’s happening.. It can leave us feeling unsure and unsettled…..

And then I met you …and the sense of community I felt in the room awakened something inside of me…it awakened my belief in community

and in leadership…

and in entrepreneurship—the three pillars of my life outside of  family and friends.

There is power and beauty in what you are building here with Creative Mornings….

your inclusiveness, your openness, your energy and your warmth not only impressed me but it moved me…

there is genius in what you have tapped into and it shows leadership, it builds community and it nurtures creative entrepreneurs. And our world needs what you are creating—now more than ever.

So I feel at home here with you….And this morning I want to share a little of my story and some thoughts on genius and how it relates to your work and our world.

One of my favorite quotes about genius is the following by moral philosopher Bernard Williams: “Talent is a flame. Genius is a fire.”

I’m impressed by talent…but I am awed by genius.

I am also inspired by genius…as I think most of us are….genius is what moves us….it stops us cold and it makes us pay attention. And when you are exposed to genius—it starts a fire and it changes the world.

For me, genius is a step or two beyond excellence….it’s something you feel. It hits you…stops you cold, and makes you reach for the railings because once you see it…you can’t go back….It looks like this…(cue Bruce Springsteen video).

As I mentioned, I am not a genius. But I think we all have the ability to tap into genius and in some ways we have a responsibility to do so.…

I showed you that clip of Springsteen at age 25…because there’s something about him that spoke to me on a visceral level…moments in his songs that hit me deep in my soul and listening to him made me want to go out and do…(pause)… something….to do something of significance with my life.

I wish I could write like Steinbeck, or think like Seth Godin, or scale like Mark Zuckerberg or write songs like Bruce Springsteen….but I can’t….Still, I’m here to say that accomplishment and achievement are possible if we dare to try…if we allow ourselves to experience life. If we don’t play it safe and succumb to fear.

I use the geniuses that move me as fuel…a great song gives me faith in the future and great writing makes me want to write—so that maybe I could taste— if just for a moment— something magical.

So we should seek genius—that magic….in our businesses and in our communities…., it’s there to be discovered and awakened.

It’s waiting there for us to be leveraged and turned into something positive and special. And that’s what we did in this city by reaching out to the stakeholders of this community and asking them what they wanted to see their city become. When we did that—through visioning and civic engagement—we tapped into the genius of this city. And we were able to move mountains as a result. This kind of magic is available to us as entrepreneurs and artists…if we reach out to our audience…if we devote ourselves to making their lives better.

So how did I get involved in this kind of work? I have no idea…

This is a picture of me…on my first day of college.

I’m 18 or 19…I’m away from home for the first time in a place called Oswego, NY, a world away from my Long Island roots.

This young man….who I barely recognize as me….has no idea what’s in store for him.

I had never heard of Delray Beach…had never dreamed of being mayor of a city….and I had never met a person from Pittsburgh PA….

And yet those three things—Delray, serving as mayor and marrying a woman from Pittsburgh would completely shape my life in magical ways that I could not have fathomed way back when….

I moved to Florida after experiencing several Oswego winters…which by the way last 11 months a year.

I came here to be a newspaper reporter….and trade endless winters for endless summers. My best friend lived here and I thought it would be nice to be in the sunshine.

And then I fell in love with this little city…because I saw its potential and its possibilities and I was attracted by the leadership that was here and by the vision that was just starting to take shape….First I wrote about it for a newspaper and then I decided to help make it happen.

And we did….

We got a lot done…

It was a team effort, it was fun. It was thrilling. It was also exhausting and at times stressful.

But a group of people worked together over a period of years because they believed in this place, they believed in each other and they believed in the value of creating a better future for ourselves and our children. What a concept….why can’t we embrace that philosophy for our country?…find a unifying vision and work together to bring it to life….

If I were a genius…I probably would have had a solid plan for my life based on that genius….John Lennon knew he wanted to be a musician from the time he was a young boy.

Scientists and engineers are fueled by their interests…Me…. I was trying to figure it out on the fly…

I always enjoyed writing….but I also knew that I was never go to be a Hemingway or a Pulitzer Prize Winner…But I discovered that I enjoyed people, that I loved to connect and that I had a passion for cities and an entrepreneurial streak…and so Delray resonated with me….

I saw in this city a chance to be a civic entrepreneur and inspired by local leadership I decided to run for office, about a year after I lost my mother to cancer.

She died at a young age…and I saw how life was fragile and that tomorrow was not guaranteed and so I made a conscious decision to say yes to things….even though I was afraid, way outside my comfort zone and not really sure I had leadership skills.

But Delray’s formula…its secret sauce of involving people— spoke to me. I also saw that it got results and that in small cities you can make big strides pretty quickly if you want too…if you harness the genius and talent in your community.

It’s a simple concept—there’s nothing in that success formula that is complicated or requires an Albert Einstein like brain. But there was genius in the simplicity of engaging the community’s stakeholders, forging a vision for a sustainable future and having the courage and the fortitude to stick with it—despite the roadblocks, despite the naysayers, despite the people who tell you that what you want to do is impossible.

We heard all the excuses– the instant you announce an idea you can count on the critics to whack you over the head.

. So what do you do when you encounter resistance…

My advice—listen.

Listen to the critics—and then defy them. Dig deep and make it happen. Or as Steve Martin advises…Be so good they can’t ignore you…

And I realize in preparing for this creative morning…that while I am not a genius, I was surrounded by a few…

talented leaders, incredible entrepreneurs, amazing public servants—and together we captured genius and we built a place and a vibe that made us fall in love, encouraged us to take risks on businesses and projects and compelled us to keep going when the going got rough…and we all know —it always gets rough.

I kept going…through the loss of my mother—who was my biggest champion, the end of a marriage, a terrible accident that almost took my father, through hurricanes that exhausted me, controversies nearly every week, protests and the shooting of a 15 year old that challenged all of us—-we kept going.

And because we created community….because we harnessed the genius of our citizens, we survived it all—whatever was thrown at us– and we thrived.

My adventures in local politics….opened up my world.

I went from a journalist—a noble profession to an elected official—-which should be a noble profession—to business and entrepreneurship….where I have been able to apply the lessons that I learned over the past 30 years….

And that’s how those of us who aren’t geniuses can succeed…by finding good people, understanding that you are never the smartest person in the room and by committing yourself to lifelong learning and experimentation.

I am as curious and as aspirational today….as I have ever been. Probably more so. Because in 8 days I will be 53…and while I still feel that is young, I can see old age for the first time…it’s out there…still hazy…but I see it…it’s coming. If I’m lucky…So I have a renewed sense of urgency…

And I wish that I had five lives to live….because there is so much that I want to do and experience. So many people I want to learn from…so many people I’d like to help.

I think it’s important to share actionable lessons…so I will conclude with a few from the geniuses I have encountered and studied….in the three important areas of my life…leadership, entrepreneurship and community..

First leadership…

From Churchill and Lincoln….I learned about the power of belief….Churchill’s belief that England would never be defeated and Lincoln’s belief in our better angels…these leadership lessons that we can all use regardless of where we are in life.

Failure was not an option to Churchill, because he knew failure to beat the Nazi’s meant certain death for his country and the values that shaped western civilization. Lincoln understood his weaknesses and sought to build a team that bolstered his blind spots—He was a strong enough leader and a secure enough person to surround himself with people who held different views.

I’m no Lincoln or Churchill…but I believe that leaders at all levels of life can learn from their example….I did not fight a World or Civil War when I served as mayor…but I was challenged– as we all are– by events that are out of our control….my biggest challenge was trying to keep our city together in the wake of a tragic shooting that took the life of a 15 year-old boy named Jerrod Miller.

Jerrod was shot and killed by a rookie police officer outside of a school dance in the southwest section of Delray… there is no playbook when these tragedies happen…and so you have to rely on your team and your own inner reserves in order to keep the community from spiraling out of control.

Jerrod was shot exactly 5 years before Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida and we all saw what happened in Ferguson and Baltimore after Freddie Gray…

My best advice to any of you who might face a similar challenge is to channel Lincoln and Churchill…to reach deep and lead with your heart.

I had a 15 year old daughter at the time…so Jerrod’s death was something that struck me very deeply. Because I could not imagine losing my child in such a way…or in any way for that matter.

And so I followed my heart…

I met with everyone who would see me and I absorbed the anger…the love…the pain…and the hurt….all of which was directed at what I symbolized at the time—the mayor of our city and all that title implies….

And I realized it really wasn’t me who was being yelled by some…and in many ways it wasn’t me who was being hugged by others…I was a receptacle for the slew of emotions we were all experiencing.

My friends, I will say it’s a strange job when in the course of a day, you are told that you are evil —and told you are loved…

We made a choice to survive during that tough time.

We made a choice not to destroy what we had built here..that choice was possible in Delray because we had made the investment in community that places like Ferguson didn’t…that was our genius…

….Some of us grew closer…a few of us grew apart…but none of us emerged from the experience unchanged….we learned to face the anger and the pain and the heartache with compassion.

Great leaders, great mayors work to make their communities more caring, inclusive and collaborative. They seek to unify, not divide. They seek to create a reservoir of good will…which makes it possible to weather any storm….

Lessons from the genius of Entrepreneurs….

This is where we can find a slew of geniuses….Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Seth Godin, Richard Branson and the list of entrepreneurial genius goes on and on…the common thread—fire…they all have a fire to see their visions come to life. They have an ability to dream and to execute…they know how to build teams, they know how to scale, how to market, how to make us long for things we never knew we wanted….

They blaze a path..they are mavericks….originals….they are geniuses….

So the longer I am in business….the more projects and entrepreneurial endeavors I am exposed to or involved with– from Hot Sauce and Beverages to restaurants and real estate— the more I realize how much I don’t know. But that’s OK.

Because we can learn from the entrepreneur…we can see the common threads: their ability to take risks, their vision, their belief in their ideas, their passion to bring those ideas into the world. And if we dig deep, we realize that there are virtually no overnight successes…there are always obstacles, always challenges, always setbacks…but the ones who win are always the ones who persevere.

Celsius our beverage…just announced a record setting quarter—an overnight success a decade in the making…there are no shortcuts…it is not a straight path…hang on is the best advice I can give you or fail fast, learn and do something else. Each of us has the ability to be resilient…grit is what succeeds, even more than genius….

In my Community work.

I was fortunate to be exposed to three geniuses in my community life…two mentored me and one married me…

My two mentors were our former Police Chief Rick Overman who I write about extensively in the book. He was the best manager/leader I’ve ever observed up close…his genius –and it was genius –was his incredible ability to inspire and empower his staff to do amazing things from bringing down drug rings and fixing neighborhoods to building a reservoir of good will in communities that were hard to reach.

When he came to Delray, the Police Department was the biggest issue in town….within a year it was arguably our biggest strength and the work of that department paved the way for remarkable success and investment. There is no Delray as we know it…without Rick Overman. He was genius…a visionary chess player always six moves ahead of where things were going…His success formula: empower others in your organization and you’ll soar.

Mayor Tom Lynch was another civic genius…he put the city on a track that enabled success and enabled guys like me to move the ball forward. Tom was an astute businessman, steeped in policy and very sure of his instincts and philosophy. I saw genius in him….he believed when others didn’t —and it made all the difference. He was the one who sat me down and encouraged me to be involved…geniuses inspire…and that conversation has fueled the last 20 years of my life. His success formula: Government can and should be entrepreneurial, take some risks…make it happen.

And finally, there’s my wife, Diane….who led our planning department and our Community Redevelopment Agency to new heights….she was a managerial genius….able to motivate staff, manage a board, navigate politics and race relations….she’s very smart—terrible taste in men– but very smart.

….I would label her a genius because she was able to see the forest through the trees and able to focus on the big picture and the details too…..Not too many people can do that…

She also is able to tolerate me…not too many people can do that either —which requires a very special level of genius. Her success formula: Never take your eye off the big picture, adopt a vision and get it done.

I want to conclude our morning of genius with a real quick diversion to music….which means the world to me.

And the two musical geniuses—among the many that I have found and enjoyed over the years—that I want to share with you are Springsteen and The Beatles….

Genius is timeless and both of these artists have created a musical canon that has stood the test of time….

Genius is also visionary…both of these artists have a vision and a message they needed to share with the world and their message was so resonant…that it is appreciated worldwide regardless of culture, age, geography, race or religion….

For Springsteen the vision was to take us on a musical journey and to focus on life, work, love, our towns, our country, our dreams, our frustrations, our triumphs and our aspirations.

His work has inspired me in my civic life, my family life and my entrepreneurial adventures….

His music is about breaking free of shackles and expectations of holding on to our dreams even when…especially when— they are challenged….

Not all of his characters make it….but all our fighters and in my darkest moments….facing cash flow issues in business, trying to keep a city from imploding after a racially charged shooting …I have found salvation, solace and hope in Springsteen’s words and music. We were both born to run….

That is genius…

As for the Beatles….their genius can be summed up in 5 words…All You Need Is Love.

And That’s a Perfect sentiment on which to end….thank you.

Rituals & Happy Hours

City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue is one of many good spots to start a lunch group.

I’m noticing a new trend.
At least I think it’s a trend.
I can’t speak for my female friends (and unlike Harry Met Sally, I do think men and women can be friends) but the guys I know are forming tribes around breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour.
Aside from the caloric risks, I think this is a healthy activity.
There’s a group of guys who meet for Friday breakfast, a Thursday lunch group, a Friday happy hour bunch and a semi-regular group that heads for the Sail Inn whenever their “captain” sends out an email enlisting his fellow ‘sailors’.
It’s a great tradition.
Not only do you get camaraderie and fellowship, but you get to experience the insults, humor and gentle reminders leading up to the event.
These rituals that I know about happen at Ellie’s Diner, The House of Pancakes, Donnie’s, J Alexander’s, Caffe Luna Rosa, Christina’s, Tom Sawyer, Farmer’s Table, City Oyster,  the Cuban Café, Tap 42, Rocco’s Taco’s, Latitudes and the aforementioned Sail Inn.

It’s a nice array of Delray and Boca restaurants–so these activities benefit local businesses while also building friendship and community.

My schedule doesn’t allow me to  attend every group activity every week but it’s comforting to know you can tap into these regularly scheduled get togethers and get plugged in.
I’ve seen how a few of these rituals develop and it’s quite simple really.
It often happens when someone calls a few friends to gather for a a meal or a drink. The key is to add a new element. Someone new or a different combination of people than the usual lunch bunch. If the outing goes well it becomes a “thing.”
On Friday, I went to a lunch at City Oyster with Tom Block, a former JP Morgan executive who retired to Juno Beach a few years back after a long and fascinating career in Washington. He’s a childhood friend of Jon Levinson, a former City Commissioner and I’ve tagged along at several of their get togethers over the years to talk national politics. Tommy knows everyone and for a political buff like me it’s just fascinating to get the inside scoop about Congress.
For this outing in Delray, Tommy arranged to bring his winter neighbor John DeStefano, a long time mayor of New Haven, CT and a former president of the National League of Cities who now teaches political science at Yale.
At the last minute, I got an email from former Delray Mayor Tom Lynch asking if I had lunch plans so I called Tom and asked him to join us. What followed was 90 minutes of great conversation about cities, local politics and the difference between Florida and Connecticut and Delray and New Haven (roughly the same size geographically but with twice the population).
It was great.

And I hope it becomes a semi-regular thing.

Why? Because I want to learn more and these guys have done a whole lot in politics, business, education and the non-profit world.
They also happen to be nice, smart, opinionated and funny.
Mayor DeStefano seemed to enjoy Delray.
And a day later he emailed us all–thanking everyone for a nice lunch, good conversation and asking if we could do it again someday soon.
And so a tradition begins.
I highly recommend you join or start a group–it’s the spice of life as they say.

7 Traits of Extraordinary Leaders

Leader

“If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it – young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous – is changed by it.”

 John C. Maxwell

 

We long for leadership in our society.

We look for it everywhere; in business, in politics, in education, health care and in the non-profit world.

We thirst for it, search for it and complain about it when we don’t see or experience it.

But it remains elusive and at times it seems like a mirage, sometimes you come close and it disappears into the vapor.

But when it shows up, progress happens. And the progress can be lasting and exponential, that’s how powerful leadership can be.

I’ve noticed that in well led communities and businesses, people seem happier even when bad things happen as they often do.

It’s somehow easier to deal with life’s travails and inevitable setbacks when you have faith and confidence in leadership.

I’ve spent my entire adult life studying leadership—I seek wisdom in biographies of leaders I admire, analyze people that I think are effective and often times begin my day searching for quotes that inspire.

I know it can be a little hokey, but I’m a believer.

The best leadership inspires progress, frames reality and is authentic. It’s also consistent; it shows up when it’s needed– not just for photo ops.

The best leaders I know are servant leaders; less concerned with “optics” (what a despicable word) and focused on seeking the truth and positive outcomes, even if speaking the truth or following your conscience may sting—at least initially.

I have been fortunate to seek and find leadership in some pretty interesting places over the years.

I found it at home watching my grandparents and parents live honorable lives; doing right by people over and over again.

My grandfather and father were quiet leaders—they never held “positions” of power but smart people sought them out for advice and were never turned away or disappointed.

I watched my mother and my sister in law battle cancer with dignity and lead their loved ones through a dark journey with courage and grace.

As a young reporter, I worked for a volatile but very lovable editor named Tom Sawyer (his real name) and a gentle editor named Debbie Stern. They were different types of leaders: Tom was the crusty but ‘heart of gold’ kind of editor straight out of central casting.

He took me to lunch at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca on my first day of work and told me they named the place after him. I almost believed him. He would chase us out of the newsroom back in the day telling us that no news ever happened in the office; we had to go out and beat the streets.

And we did.

Happily.

When we wrote a bad story, we heard about it. But if we wrote a good story, we also heard about it and we beamed from ear to ear because we knew Tom was tough but fair and that he believed in us and wanted us to be better. I knew in my bones that he was rooting for me and I wanted to earn his praise.

Debbie was a nurturer. She led with humor, smarts and insights. She also believed in her reporters and we worked hard to get her attention too. She doesn’t know it, but she influenced me deeply.

We’re having lunch today (we meet quarterly, she’s very organized) because even after all these years, she’s a touchstone for me. She was a leader.

I’ve also seen and experienced leadership in my business and entrepreneurial endeavors—the best leaders I’ve seen in business are generous, willing to take risks, share credit, accept honest mistakes, learn and move on whether they win or lose. They don’t dwell, they learn.

In education, I watched Dr. Kathy Weigel lead at Atlantic High School through controversy and all sorts of challenges.  And the recently retired Bill Fay led with humor, warmth and passion for kids and teachers.

At Old School Square, Joe Gillie led Delray Beach to two All America City Awards while working closely with another extraordinary leader Frances Bourque to build a cultural arts center that jumpstarted a downtown and saved a city from blight, crime and disinvestment.

In my new book, “Adventures in Local Politics” (shameless plug) I found myself writing a lot about former Police Chief Rick Overman and former Fire Chief Kerry Koen, who had different leadership styles but much in common: a devotion to their troops and the community, an ability to see the big picture and how their department’s fit in to the larger vision and a willingness to speak truth to power when those in power needed a dose of reality.

I also wrote a lot about Mayors Tom Lynch and David Schmidt, two distinctly different leaders, who also had more in common once you got beyond obvious style differences. Mayor Lynch was a big thinker and a transformational type of leader whose calm demeanor, toughness when needed and business acumen really moved the needle at a time when we needed it. Mayor Schmidt was a quiet leader, confident enough in his own skin to let others shine but also extremely tough when pushed and able to do what he believed was right even if it would have been more expedient to punt on issues ranging from moving Atlantic High School to voting for Worthing Place.

I can go on. (And let’s because it’s fun).

Nancy Hurd was an extraordinary leader at the Achievement Center for decades and mentored a wonderful young leader in Stephanie Seibel so that the center’s mission could continue unabated when Nancy retired. Ken Ellingsworth, Bill Wood and now Karen Granger have been solid leaders at our 90 year old chamber of commerce; each leading with warmth and genuine love for the community.

And there are more but the point is simple. Leadership matters. You can’t succeed without it—in business or in cities.

I think we need to spend more time talking about what good leadership looks like and feels like. I think we need to discuss what we expect from those who seek leadership positions in our communities.

Here’s a list of seven traits that I look for in leaders: integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, courage and judgment.

I’ve seen people who have all seven and I’ve seen those who are 0-7.

A recent study that looked at the successes and failures of 11 American Presidents showed that emotional intelligence (EI) was the key quality for success.

Presidents high in EI (Lincoln, FDR) chose their battles wisely, behave assertively when necessary and display the courage needed to confront sticky situations with confidence.

They are able to recognize and understand their own moods, emotions and drives as well as their effect on others. They have the ability to align people, bringing them together to work toward a common goal.

They are able to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the skills it takes to treat people according to their emotional reactions.

Leaders with high EI energize people and eliminate disagreements and conflicts through excellent communication.

A high bar?

Perhaps, but it’s possible. In fact, we can’t thrive or progress without it. Of that, I am certain.

 

 

US 1: A Long and Winding History

Lancaster Boulevard before...

Lancaster Boulevard before…

And after....

And after….

Contrary to urban myths, the idea of narrowing Federal Highway was first broached in 1991 and not as part of any shady deal with dreaded developers.

In those days, development interest in Delray was scant; to say the least.

It was about a year after the important 1990 election that brought Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin and Dave Randolph into office and the team was starting to come together.

A new city manager was hired, a new police chief, a new chamber president and a new CRA Director too.

The story I heard (direct from the sources themselves) was that Chamber President Bill Wood was taking a walking tour with CRA Director Chris Brown when they approached Atlantic and US 1. I’m not sure if it was 5th or 6th Avenue.

Both noticed cars whizzing by the city’s still barren main street and both men realized that having a high speed highway bisect your downtown was probably not good for business or for pedestrians.

US 1 served as a natural barrier, with many pedestrians turning around at the intersections unwilling to cross a high speed, wide road. You could sit at the corner back then and watch the behavior with your own eyes.

And so the idea of narrowing was born. But it took until 1996 for the project to become part of the city’s engineering and planning process and another five years until the debate reached a full boil during the Downtown Master Plan process when Treasure Coast, our CRA and city planners recommended the narrowing of Federal Highway.

As co-chair of the process and a city commissioner at the time I wasn’t convinced. The idea seemed counter-intuitive to me. We were talking about adding downtown housing and we were being educated on the many benefits of density as a strategy to ensure that local mom and pops could survive year round in what was then a very seasonal economy. (P.S. it’s better today, but still seasonal).

“How can we add more units and lose a traffic lane”? we wondered.

It was an obvious question and the planners, engineers and urban designers we were working with provided us with answers.

  • People aren’t moving downtown to drive. They would move here to have a walkable lifestyle.
  • Residential development doesn’t generate as many trips as commercial development.
  • There was a demonstrated history of high speeds, accidents and even fatalities on the road. (Buildings, including a wine shop next to the Colony Hotel , were hit by cars)
  • It makes no sense to have a highway running through your central business district, speeding people away from your shops and restaurants.

Still, while the commission at the time was not completely convinced, we were also open-minded and willing to listen and experiment, despite some nasty emails saying we were caving to the dreaded developers trying to sell urban lifestyles on Federal Highway. One of those developers is now our mayor. We caught quite a bit of grief when we approved Mallory Square on the site of Steve Moore Chevrolet.

How could we allow a dense development (it isn’t dense) and who would want to live on Federal Highway? Well it turns out quite a few people and they were willing to shell out big bucks too. And residential development did generate far  less trips than a busy dealership, which had a lot of workers and customers taking test drives 7 days a week.

But people remained concerned about the loss of a lane on US 1,  so we launched an experiment in 2005 and installed ugly white poles to simulate the narrowing of the road and we studied traffic during all seasons of the year to determine whether this made sense or not.

The results were compelling: speeds had been lowered, accidents were down, pedestrians felt safer crossing the street and studies showed we had plenty of capacity to narrow and grow.

So the decision was made to move ahead and once the money was gathered from the federal government, the project proceeded. It took until 2009 for the final design to be approved. Whew…that’s 18 years of talking, experimenting and planning and it’s still under construction.

And it has been a mess. But….now that the dust is clearing I think it will be one of the best things ever done for the downtown and for Delray. It will benefit pedestrians, cyclists, golf carters, businesses and even motorists because it will be safer and much more attractive.

Now I understand that people will disagree vehemently and I respect that.  But….let’s wait and see what happens because I have a prediction to make.

Actually, I stole this from Fred Kent, the founder of the Project for Public Spaces, who recently lectured at the Arts Garage. Kent is a placemaking guru, known worldwide. He happens to have a winter home here in Delray. He likes some things and he despises others. He’s not afraid to voice his opinion and he breaks a lot of eggs in the process. That’s OK because he also makes you think, which we can all benefit from doing.

Kent believes—as I do—that the beautification, narrowing and safety efforts on US 1 will open up lots of cool opportunities because we will convert Federal from a highway into a street. And highways—which are meant to move cars rapidly—are never as charming as streets, which are meant to be safe, warm and charming if done right.

So…I’m bullish on US 1 and the “nooks and crannies” of Delray. I think it will become a nice neighborhood and a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Atlantic Avenue.

I hope we get some eclectic uses, some independents and something different.  I think it will begin to draw people off the main street as they explore other parts of an expanded downtown.

Other places are catching on to the benefits of designing places for people not cars.

South Dixie in West Palm Beach is being re-imagined with the help of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.

Lancaster Boulevard, in car centric Lancaster California, has been transformed into a beautiful street made for people– not cars.

The city of Lancaster, CA, has taken a decrepit nine-block stretch of downtown and transformed it into a vibrant, walkable destination, making it a superb example of a community reinventing itself.

“There’s a stereotype that small towns don’t have the wherewithal to carry a project like this off,” says Elizabeth Moule, principal of Moule and Polyzoides, the architecture and planning firm involved in the revitalization. “But they did carry it off. The city had a strong idea of a successful vision, and they single-mindedly made it happen.”

We did too. We just needed a little convincing.