The Mapmakers


“In politics you have to know how to read the ground, the real topography. You can’t just go by the work of past mapmakers. You have to see clearly what’s there now.” Peggy Noonan

Peggy Noonan is one of my favorite writers.
While we are on different ends of the political spectrum, I always learn something from reading Peggy Noonan and I do–every week. I never miss a column.
The above quote is just one example of her brilliance. There’s usually one or two lines in every column that just stick with you and make you think.
Noonan’s advice to politicians is smart advice. It’s important for policy makers to hit the streets and talk to a wide range of people. You can’t rely solely on gurus and handlers.
But the people with experience have their place and the smart policy maker would be wise to consult with those who have traveled the road before them as well.
But you have to be open to new ideas and realities. You have to see clearly what’s there now and lead accordingly.
Still, there are some things are foundational. Some things that don’t change. Some parts of the map that must remain unaltered.
On a national level,foundational American values include: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the notion that America strives to be a beacon of freedom for the world.
But cities have foundational values too.
Delray Beach was built on the values of citizen engagement, citizen driven visioning, collaboration, public private partnerships, an embrace of important non-profits, a respect for history and the notion that City Hall was a friend, beacon and supporter of people and organizations that aspire.
The topography may change, but if those values are lost we lose our identity. We lose who we are.
Delray was also blessed with some amazing mapmakers –to borrow a word from Ms. Noonan.
Leaders who read the topography beautifully and navigated through some strong seas to create a city that people love–warts and all.
Some of those mapmakers worked at City Hall, some at the CRA, some at the DDA, some at the Chamber of Commerce and some served as mayor’s and commissioners. Many were volunteers serving on boards and committees. Others built amazing non profits such as the Achievement Center and Old School Square. Some ran landmark businesses and found the time to start organizations or serve existing ones.
They both created and relied on the foundational values mentioned above.
They needed to know that if they attended a visioning retreat that their time would be well spent. They needed to know that their service would be respected even if they didn’t always get their way. And they needed to know that what they were building had a shot at lasting.
Not a guarantee- a shot.
The most precious and valuable commodity is time. Once it’s spent you can’t get it back. You can blow money and make more of it. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. If you waste time it’s gone–forever.
And so volunteers need to know that when they roll up their sleeves to serve that their time is well spent.
I’m keeping a close on the city’s budget discussions.
A city’s budget should reflect its goals and values.
Several key non profits including Old School Square, the Achievement Center for Children and Families and the Delray Beach Historical Society are concerned about losing their funding.
Not every city funds non profits but Delray was different. The mapmakers saw value in preserving history, supporting a non profit that looked after our most vulnerable and at risk families and creating a cultural arts center that serves as a gathering place for the community.
We are a rare city that has its own library. Decades of leadership saw value in having our very own library and the commission I served on thought it was important to move that library to new and larger space in a part of the community that would benefit greatly from having a good library in close proximity.
The list goes on.
Great cities have values. We should know them, respect them, always embrace change but also always respect the map. It’s our true north.


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