Water Cooler Wednesday: Dear Mr. Duany We Like You…But


Andres Duany: Provocative and intriguing

Andres Duany: Provocative and intriguing


You know it’s a great lecture, when one minute you want to hug the speaker and the next minute you want to slug him.

If that sounds a little dramatic, well then we suggest you check out Andres Duany the next time he’s in town.

We caught him earlier this week, when he appeared as the kick off speaker at Mayor Cary Glickstein’s new Town Hall lecture series at the Crest Theatre.

A large crowd of locals and Duany disciples filled the seats to hear Duany opine about cities, urbanism, the perils of planning and the ills of suburbia. It was quite a show.

Duany delivered with a nearly two hour presentation that must have touched on 100 ideas ranging from parking rules (cities should chuck them) and density (stop worrying about it) to height (4-6 stories is not tragic) and aesthetics (we’ll never agree so stop fighting about it).

Duany provokes. Duany cajoles. Duany insults and Duany praises (Delray has done a pretty decent job so far, he says).

The takeaways:

  • We are no longer a village and we’ll never again be one. There are too many people, it’s too busy and it’s too expensive. We should get over it.
  • We are on our way to becoming a town.  But we’ll never be a city.
  • Urban centers should stop trying to be suburban because inner cities will never be able to out suburbanize suburbia, so stop trying. Antiquated parking regulations lead to bad projects and bad, even vulgar urbanism because the urban fabric gets eaten up with parking lots. As for garages, if you build them, locate them a block or two away from projects to force residents or office workers to walk to their cars and therefore discover that they are indeed in an urban environment.
  • The approval process for development is deeply flawed.  Residents can’t win. And neither can developers, because they are forced into an unpredictable and expensive process which forces them to spend money on the wrong things leaving no funds for spending on the right things like better materials and design.
  • Don’t force developers and architects to guess. Mayors and city officials should meet with them to discuss design early  in the process.
  • Traffic is bad, but slow moving cars are good.
  • On street parking is good, because parked cars protect pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Cities need to invest in bike/ped friendliness because Millennials aren’t into cars and healthy cities need to attract that demographic.
  • Small dwelling units can drain your tax base.
  • People don’t like change, because they don’t trust that change will benefit them. Too often, change hurts.
  • Height and density…tired arguments. Don’t worry about height, worry about width and frontages. Buildings shouldn’t be monolithic and their entrances should relate to the street. Note to Atlantic Avenue retailers: ditch the dark glass, nobody can tell if you’re open.

    I can go on and on…like I said Duany is a fire hose of ideas and beliefs.

    So why did I want to hug him? Because he’s smart and provocative and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.

    He’s also right about the development process, it’s a no-win situation often featuring a low-level of discourse, a point that Mayor Glickstein also emphasized in his remarks. We need to raise the level of discussion over the future of our cities (or towns) from the age-old “change is bad, traffic is bad, developers are greedy, not in my backyard” narrative to a discussion of how we want our communities to look and feel. That is not to say you ignore issues such as traffic, but it does mean that we should also consider what is needed to keep our communities competitive, vibrant and healthy. Unless you live in Colonial Williamsburg, change is going to come. It should be managed and desirable. Ideally, the process should respect private property rights and the public realm. Town planning should not be a zero-sum game with winners and losers, but rather an uplifting experience that creates win-win scenarios. In other words, developers should be able to make money and the public should expect quality projects that enhance the community.

    Our Downtown Master Plan was an attempt to do just that.

    And it worked.

    At least in my opinion.

    The plan attracted downtown housing, restaurants and other forms of investment and it also introduced the concept of design guidelines and an expanded downtown to run from I-95 to A1A.

    It also gave us a gateway feature, flexible parking regulations to encourage investment and ideas that encouraged economic development and better circulation (opening the one-way pairs to two-way traffic was one such idea). It led to the redevelopment of Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue and even attempted to improve race relations.  It also championed the narrowing of U.S 1 to slow traffic and make it safer for pedestrians and friendlier for local businesses. Business suffers when people are zooming past your downtown on the way to the mall or big box.

    Most of the plan has been implemented, but the job is not yet complete. There is much more to do.

    And here is where I disagree with Duany.

    Of course, I would never slug anyone but I was more than mildly offended when he (and my dear friend the mayor) suggested our codes were antiquated and deficient.

    I doubt that we would have enjoyed a downtown renaissance if our codes were terrible. In fact, I take a lot of pride in our codes, which encouraged investment and gave us a vibrant Atlantic Avenue.

    Can they be better? Sure.

    Do they need to be constantly looked at and monitored? Absolutely.

    Can they be replaced with something even better? Yes…. perhaps. But many people who worked on those plans and codes will need further convincing before we agree to major surgery. Which is why an attempt to scrap conditional use has been met with resistance from several city advisory boards. They know that conditional use has enabled the city to make some good projects happen while also giving policymakers the flexibility to turn down bad projects.

    There is no need to fix what isn’t broken, just a need to improve what could be better or what is no longer working.

    When we adopted the Downtown Master Plan in 2002, after an exhaustive and thoroughly satisfying and fun public process, we emphasized that plans were living and breathing documents that should be frequently reviewed, scrutinized, critiqued and amended to meet changing conditions, community desires and market conditions. In other words, the conversation should never end, we should always be talking about how we can improve our town.

    That’s what planning should be about, not just regulation or rigidly clinging to rules, but an ongoing discussion and an assessment of where your community is and where you want to see it go.

    Did we do that?

    For awhile yes and then it stopped and that’s why I applaud Mayor Glickstein for kick starting the conversation.

    But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some kick butt policies, codes and ideas that are worth saving from what has been nearly 30 years of planning and charettes in Delray starting with the Atlantic Avenue Task Force in the mid 80s all the way through the various Visioning exercises to the Downtown Master Plan in 2001-02 and the Parks Plan in 2005.

    Again, our success isn’t an accident.

    I do think we are a village, so sorry Andres. I think we are a bustling and vibrant village, but we are a village nonetheless, compact and charming with a strong sense of place and community.

    Duany and Mayor Glickstein are proponents of a form based code, something I looked at when I was mayor a few years back.

    There is a lot to recommend in a form based code and it certainly makes for a more orderly and faster approval process.

    But before we make wholesale changes, I would hope we would engage in a serious and broad community discussion—like we did for the Master Plan.

    Because while the codes need to be looked at (especially parking), there is a lot of good stuff in there.

    Duany earned a hug when he acknowledged some of the good work done since the 80s in Delray —at the tail end of his presentation. I loved his ideas on broadening public participation and his suggestions on how to do that. (More on those ideas in a future column).

    Regardless, kudos to Mayor Glickstein for an ambitious effort to raise the level of discourse on these important issues.

    It was a memorable evening and one educational too…and it sure beats watching “The Voice.”


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