Context, Community & Optimism


Last week, we talked about symptoms–controversies that emerge because of fear.
Fear of overdevelopment, fear of traffic, fear of parking problems, fear of change and fear of bad design.
All of these fears are legitimate and there is near universal agreement that all of the problems outlined above should be avoided at all costs. But unfortunately life and community building are never as black-and-white as we might like them to be.
Issues are nuanced and filled with variables that sometimes we can’t see.

Most worthwhile endeavors in life come with trade-offs. If you want something you usually have to give something up to get it: when it comes to cities that decision is typically made by mayors and city commissioners.
When development occurs, there is an impact. It might be traffic, it might be construction noise and it may be the closing of an alley.

It’s up to policy makers to determine whether the upside is worth the impact.
But we rarely take about benefits anymore.

And that’s a shame because focusing almost solely on impacts skews the debate and denies the public a chance to see and understand issues.

For example, there was a short story last week about the CRA in which the focus seemed to be on the budgetary impact the CRA has on the city’s coffers due to the way these agencies are set up using tax increment financing.
But in order to fully understand the issue readers need context and to see the whole picture before they can render an informed opinion.
For example, the CRA already gives substantial financial support to the city and has for years –paying for items that range from police officers and infrastructure  to supporting key non profit partners that would need a larger subsidy from the city if not for the CRA. CRA money does not go down some dark hole, it’s reinvested in the community, largely in neighborhoods that need help.

I think the CRA has been invaluable to Delray Beach and that its success and track record of getting things done has benefitted our city far beyond its district.
Property values citywide are up and rising faster than neighboring cities in large part–in my opinion–because of the work of the CRA.
Congress Avenue and other parts of our city have become viable business and investment opportunities thanks to the work of the CRA, Delray Marketing Cooperative, DDA, police, fire , the city and others.

How do I know this? Because I’m talking to people making investments on Congress and many have said they wouldn’t have looked at the corridor 15 years ago but now feel it represents an extension of the Delray brand, which has value. Businesses want to be here. People want to live here.
In addition, quality of life– often hard to measure– has been improved as well as a result of a more vibrant city.

These are just some nuances that are important to consider when judging the value of an agency,  project, development or initiative. I happen to think the most value can found in the intangibles; not just the tax revenue, building permit fees or raw numbers we often see bandied about. Those are important too, but the most important aspects of any initiative are often the subtle benefits that make all the difference.
Examples: energy, civic pride, attracting difference makers to your community and creating opportunities.
As a result, I’m a firm believer that leaders need to be optimists. They need to be cognizant and worried about impacts but also aware and excited by benefits.
Ideally, they have a growth mindset, and see themselves as problem solvers.

They work hard to mitigate impacts, but never lose sight of benefits.
We need more optimism in our politics and in our communities.
Problem solving enables us to progress. Change can and should be managed, but cannot and should not be stopped.


  1. Once again you are right on. Growth that is managed is good for a community. Towns cannot fear change but embrace it if managed correctly. The defeat of the Ipic theater was a major mistake. The area designated is in shambles with no tax revenues being generated. The developers were conscious of the uniqueness of our town and there project would of been a beautiful addition to Delray.

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