Delray Pie

I’m stealing this opening from a friend.

If he wants credit, I’ll reveal his name next week. If he wants to enter the witness protection program, I’ll try  to help.

But I love the analogy and I thought I’d share. So here goes.

Imagine, if you will, that every time you step forward to help, you get hit in the face with a pie.

That’s what happening to the good folks who have hung in there at Old School Square.

Last week, they went to a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting to discuss the results of a city commission workshop in which it was decided that the DDA should consider working with the non-profit to offer arts classes and to begin to get the Crest Theatre up and running again. I believe it was also decided that an invitation to negotiate will be made available to other organizations. That’s the right and proper thing to do. Let the best ideas win.

Without dredging up the ugliness, they got hit in the face with a pie from a board member who doesn’t have her facts straight.

The details of the latest pie in the face are not important. It’s the same tired, discredited arguments that have been made since Old School Square was terminated “without cause” (how’s that for irony?) in 2021. Still, Old School Square fired back with a letter to the DDA chairman requesting that the facts be read into the public record.

That’s a good and necessary step.

But there’s a deeper issue here and one that we really ought to understand and address.

But let’s digress for a moment.

Books– with lots of chapters and lots of words– have been written about how to build a successful city.

I wrote one of them and I’ve read a lot of them too.

Cities are complicated places; they succeed or fail for a variety of reasons. But if you boil it down, there are two essential ingredients for success. Let’s call them table stakes; the minimal entry requirement for success.

They are?

Drum roll please…

It must be safe to aspire, and it must be safe to volunteer.

That’s it.

The rest is negotiable.

Sure, it helps if you have a pristine beach or a city with what they call “good bones.”

Universities and cultural amenities are cool and good schools are a huge advantage but if volunteering is treacherous, you’re toast. If aspiration is anathema, you’re DOA.

Not only won’t you move forward, but everything that you’ve managed to build is in danger if citizens who aspire feel it’s dangerous, frustrating, or downright impossible to invest or volunteer.

I’m afraid that’s where we’ve been in Delray Beach. We’re digging out, but we have work to do.

It reminds me of that old saying: There’s a reason why we can’t have nice things—just yet anyway.

It’s hard to build community when there are elements who just won’t accept facts.

Of course, we are entitled to our opinions, but you really can’t have your own facts and function properly. The Earth is not flat and nobody at Old School Square took a dime of taxpayer money and stuffed it into their pockets. All public money given the organization was earned after services were rendered. For years, volunteers raised 75-80 percent of the money used to run our cultural arts center and did all the work, now the taxpayer pays 100 percent. That’s a fact.

The volunteers didn’t stick the taxpayers with a bill for the renovation of the Crest Theatre either. That project was funded by a generous donor who had a pie thrown in her face and withdrew her money.

Now the taxpayers must ante up millions for projects that were privately funded through the efforts of Old School Square.

If you’re an arsonist, you shouldn’t be able to burn down a house and then blame others for the destruction you caused.

Old School Square fired back at the latest pie in the face by stating the facts. That was the right thing to do.

But the larger issue is the pie throwing itself;  the larger issue is the sense that if you fall on the wrong side of the political divide, you face peril.

It’s not fun to write that sentence, but building anything of value requires radical candor. Problems don’t magically go away, if left unaddressed, they fester. In our community, we have a bad habit of just trying to plow forward. We skip the healing part, we skip the analysis and we sacrifice the learning and the reconciliation that’s possible if we talk through issues and try and find the lessons in painful moments.

The new composition of the city commission is making strides. We have kind people serving on the city commission. Our city and our world need empathetic leadership at every level.

I am not asking for some kumbaya moment. But I’m thinking we should take advice from Otis Redding and try a little tenderness.

Robust debate is healthy and necessary. If you see something you don’t like, speak out, even if you shake when you do so.

We can disagree. We can even compromise, imagine that?

But we cannot be successful if volunteers don’t feel safe to serve or disagree.

You can say Old School Square made mistakes, but if you are alleging corruption, you better bring the goods.

Margaret Atwood who wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an expert communicator on dystopias and utopias.

She says we have a choice.

“Writing dystopias and utopias is a way of asking the reader the question, “where do you want to live?” she recently said. “And where you end up living is going to depend partly on what you do now.”

Yes indeed. What do we do right now?

We have a choice.

I hope we choose kindness and support those who value building a community where it is safe to dream, volunteer, invest and aspire.

If we don’t, there will be nobody to throw pies at, volunteers and those who aspire will find somewhere else to give their time, talent and treasure. We will lose what took decades to build. We already have when it comes to Old School Square.

 

 

 

A Wish For A New Year


The Avalon Preserve in Stony Brook.

“So this is ChristmasAnd what have you doneAnother year overAnd a new one just begun” – John Lennon from the song “Happy Christmas (War is Over).

Well here we are, the end of another year.
Can you believe we are on the cusp of 2023?
We are almost a quarter of a way through another century and I don’t know about you but time sure feels different these days.
In the 20th century, the decades had personalities. When we think of the 50s we instantly think of the hairstyles, Elvis, Eisenhower and some great American cars.
The 60s were monumental and the 70s had its own distinct flavor too.
But these days, we don’t seem to be talking much about the personalities of decades. We are in the 20s I suppose, but nobody is talking about it and there’s no distinct cultural markers that seem to embrace the moment we are in.
Time just seems to fly by.
As a result, it feels like we are adrift. After all, children of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s identity strongly with the decade of their youth.
I’m a 70s kid, and the music of that era still resonates for me 50 years later. Many of my friends feel the same way.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t listen to new music, we do, but that 70s sound…well…it feels like home.
And so I wonder if that anchor of nostalgia applies to places as well.
Do we prefer the towns of our youth to what they are today?
Maybe. I’m not sure.
Last year I went back to Long Island for a reunion with a group of childhood friends. We grew up in and around Stony Brook in the 70s and early 80s. We’ve been gone a long time although a few of the guys still live in the area.
I loved the Stony Brook of my youth. The “three villages” as the area is known, was and is an idyllic place to grow up. It felt safe, there were beaches galore and downtown Port Jeff was a fun place to hang out.
It wasn’t the most exciting place, but “the city” was a short train ride away and we took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station fairly often to see shows, visit museums, attend games and see the big acts who played the Garden. Sometimes we just went and wandered around, visiting record  stores and experimenting with food in Chinatown.
It was magical but the city itself was a mess. Times Square was not exactly family friendly, the city’s finances were a basket case and the subways were dirty and a tad forbidding.
So maybe what we liked and missed about that time was the fact that we were young, life was ahead of us and every experience was a new one.
But when I went back home last year, I saw my hometown through different eyes. There were tons of changes to the physical landscape, but enough stayed the same that it still felt familiar.
It still felt like home.
And I really liked what I saw. Eastern Long Island is beautiful and the public spaces that I took for granted as a child, stopped me in my tracks. The old grist mill is still there and now part of Avalon, a new preserve  that is just  breathtaking in its ambition.
The village green in Stony Brook retained its charm, which is considerable. It all looked and felt good.
I know you can never go home again, but I could sure see  spending some time in that zip code.
The other important place in my life is Delray Beach, which has been home for almost 35 years now, just about my entire adult life.
I came here in the 80s and it was love at first sight.
Delray was a different place in those days. Not much going on, especially compared to today. But the potential for improvement was always there. The city had good bones; a grid system and a Main Street that led directly to the ocean.
The 90s was when the seeds that were planted in the late 80s began to bloom. I got swept up in the Delray story. This town wanted to improve and something about the city’s aspiration touched me.
At first, I wanted to tell that story (and I did as a reporter) and then I wanted to help write it (as an elected official).
This place became very special to me and to my friends; I met remarkable people who did remarkable work. Love at first sight turned into something more; a life here. I felt immense pride in this special town that strived to be a good place for all to live, work and play.
As we near 2023, I see Delray Beach at a crossroads.
We’ve had success, and we’ve had problems, but do we still aspire?
Of the many questions I have, that’s the most important one in my mind.
Do we want to take things to the next level or will we rest on our laurels or worse continue to look backwards instead of forward?
I have always felt our city had limitless potential; we have so many assets: a beautiful downtown, a pristine beach, historic neighborhoods, the ability to add workforce housing and industry to the Congress Avenue corridor.  And there’s more.
A downtown tennis stadium, excellent cultural facilities, diversity and a geographic location that puts us square in the middle of the action in a dynamic region.
It’s all there for us, if we want it.
As we celebrate the season and look toward a near year, my wish is that we will embrace our potential and move forward with ambition and resolve.
Change is inevitable. The best cities shape that change.
Wishing you the best now and in the new year. Thank you for reading.

Quotes From The Edge

Dare to be different

I’ve always loved quotes.

I used to collect them, but my computer crashed years ago, and I lost them all.

I haven’t had the heart to start over.

But I still enjoy reading quotes and sometimes I save them in my phone—for what I don’t know. Future inspiration I suppose.

I came across a few this past week that got me thinking.

This one is from filmmaker George Lucas.

“The secret is not to give up hope. It’s very hard not to because if you’re really doing something worthwhile, I think you will be pushed to the brink of hopelessness before you come through the other side.”

This is an interesting thought and largely true. I think of the businesses we’ve been involved with and the fits and starts that they all seem to have. It’s never a straight line. It’s almost always a bumpy road full of pivots, near death experiences and a slew of ups and downs.

My first venture was an education newspaper that started in Delray. It was called “Student and Parent”, a boring title but it told the story of what we were focused on. We covered local schools, wrote about teachers and exceptional young people, and reported on the hot issues in education.

Unable to afford a sales staff to sell ads and wanting to keep our monthly paper free of charge, we decided to try and get corporate sponsors who believed in our mission and would back us for a year.

Frank McKinney was kind enough to loan us one of his oceanfront “spec” houses for a launch party. We figured the novelty of seeing the home would entice business leaders to attend. We were right, and ended up attracting enough sponsors to pay our expenses for a year. They didn’t even mind that my mom incinerated the hors d’ouevres in a convection oven she had never seen before.

We expanded to Boca and then Boynton and then went countywide with a name change. We were now “The Education Times”. We dropped off papers at every school that would have us, bundling papers and putting them in teachers’ mailboxes so they could be sent home in back packs. We also delivered papers to city halls, libraries, community centers and places where we felt families with kids might be.

It was a lot of work. And we did it on a shoestring. No investors; a modest credit line. All the (meager) profits were re-invested in the biz.

Along the way, we were pushed to the brink of hopelessness, as Mr. Lucas says, not sure if we would ever see the other side. My low point happened when my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and my partner injured his back and was unable to work. Was it time to throw in the towel? We were growing, but still not out of the woods.

We decided to push forward. And eventually we came out the other side when a media company decided to buy us out and hire us to run our paper and help run their publications.

Today, I’m pitched a steady stream of ideas from young and not so young entrepreneurs, and I always ask them whether they have the resilience to keep going when the going gets rough, because it always does.

It’s hard to measure grit. Most people think they have it, until they’re severely challenged and then they find out if they really do.

Mike Tyson used to say that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. He’s not a role model, but he’s sure right about that.

Sometimes it is prudent to know when to fold them, as the song says. But that’s an art as well because you never want to walk away too early. Life is one brushback pitch after another. You must stay in the batter’s box and wait for your pitch and then deliver.

Wanting to quit is a common feeling, but you must press on even if you have to start something else.

The second quote that grabbed me comes from Kurt Vonnegut.

“Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things. The people on the edge see them first.”

This one intrigues me because I am a “center” kind of guy. I’m in the middle politically, appreciate compromise and like to think I’m reasonable. (This is where my friends and wife may chuckle, but they know deep down that I don’t mean to be difficult. For example, because I’m left-handed, I require sitting on the side of the table where my arm won’t bother people. I think that’s considerate, not difficult).

Still, “the edge” intrigues me. I admire the risk takers, the people who go against the grain, the game changers that the old Apple computer ad celebrated.

I’ve known a few and I work with one—Carl DeSantis– who bet big on vitamins and won and bet big on Celsius the beverage and won again. Let’s just say, he’s a human thrill ride and I mean that in a good way, because through it all he has remained humble, down to earth, kind and generous to everyone he comes across.

My friend Carl has a favorite painting of sunflowers. The painting depicts a sea of sunflowers facing in the same direction but there’s one stray facing the other way.
“That’s me,” he told me.

Yes, it is.

Bless the souls that think differently. They make a dent in the world. They make magic.

The final idea I wanted to share came from an essay I saw in the New York Times. The writer, Lydia Polgreen, just lost her dad at 73. She talks about our need as humans to have an anchor, to know what’s next. But life is uncertain and that makes us vulnerable. We live in rough seas.

Turn on the news and you’ll hear about heinous crimes, the threat of nuclear war, the ravages of a hurricane, the doomsday scenarios surrounding climate change. We have high inflation, divisive politics, institutions we no longer trust and different sets of “facts” depending on where we sit on the political spectrum.

“But to tolerate uncertainty,” Ms. Polgreen writes. “Is to become buoyant, able to bob in the waves, no matter the tide.”

Polgreen continues: “You have to be incredibly vulnerable to admit that you think the world can be better, to believe that what you do could actually make some kind of change. We live in a time dominated by pessimism and cynicism. These poses are a kind of armor against the vulnerability of hope. To be cynical is to close the door to the possibility of disappointment. To be pessimistic is to foreclose the risk of being made a fool by optimism.”

The vulnerability of hope….

Think about that phrase for a moment. I can’t stop thinking about those words.

I believe most of us are naturally attracted to the dreamers and the optimists in our world. I know I am.

My favorite words are love and aspiration.

In a world where we don’t have to travel too far to see, feel and witness the destructive power of hate we must somehow find, teach, and spread love.

And in a world where every idea seems to be met with resistance, cynicism, and snark we must find a way to aspire.

Aspire or expire…that’s what I say.

 

Ya Gotta Believe

I was young in ‘93. We all were.

I stumbled across a memory last week and it stayed with me.

I have this app called Time Hop and each day it reminds you of events and photos from your past.
It’s pretty cool.
Well last week, an old column I had written for the Delray Beach Times resurfaced. It was from 1993 and it was in the immediate aftermath of Delray winning its first All America City Award in Tampa.
I wrote about how the city planned to capitalize on the win with a marketing blitz that would hopefully capture the eyes of investors looking to build in Delray and companies that may want to move to Delray.

What followed were All America city buttons, bumper stickers, license plates, key chains etc.
The effort may have seemed hokey but it was effective and the results produced positive press and civic pride.
Let’s spend a minute on those two things: positive press and civic pride. They are often linked together—and it makes sense. Positive press creates civic pride.
So in 1993, when residents saw their city make the cover of Florida Trend, they felt good about their city. The headline on the magazine: Florida’s Best Run City.
It doesn’t get better than that.
Only it did—for awhile at least.
Delray in the 90s and early 2000s seemed to to be a magical place.  Every year seemed to be better than the last.
There was a confidence about the town, a sense that by working together the community could accomplish anything it set its mind too.
Want to lower the crime rate?
Ok, let’s commit to community policing.
Want to create a vibrant downtown?
Let’s invest in a streetscape (Decade of Excellence) and innovative policy (Downtown Master Plan) and events and  sure enough—with a ton of hard work— we have the “it” downtown in the region and beyond.

There were some amazing civic projects too: Old School Square, the Sandoway House, the Cason Cottage and the Spady Museum.
There were true collaborations with the Achievement Center for Children and Families, the Beach Property Owners Association, the formation of the West Settlers Historic District, the opening of the Youth Enrichment Vocational Center, successful bids for the Davis and Fed Cups, model beach renourishment projects, the founding of the county’s first land trust, the introduction of public art, dozens of citizen engagement initiatives and landmark programs designed to help Delray Beach schools.
Looking back, civic pride and confidence may be the key factor in success.
As Tug McGraw, the great reliever for the Mets once said: “Ya gotta believe.”
And we did.
We believed.
We acted.
We experimented.
We were entrepreneurial and we took calculated risks. We didn’t fear precedents; we wanted to set them.
I recently watched an ESPN documentary that examined last year’s Wimbledon match up between Delray’s Coco Gauff and Venus Williams, who also played a lot of tennis over the years in Delray.
Two things struck me.
One was Coco’s confidence that she could play with Venus. She believed that she belonged.
You don’t win without that belief.
Second, as ESPN’s Chris Fowler interviewed Coco at our downtown tennis center, I recalled the decision made to keep the center downtown and add a stadium court. That took confidence. It was a prescient decision.
And because of it, a young champion was able to walk to the courts and dream. A generation later, she’s talking from the veranda of the pro shop with ESPN about what it was like to beat a legend on centre court at Wimbledon. Very cool.
Anyway, this is a riff on confidence, civic pride, dreams, aspiration and accomplishment.
Wouldn’t it be nice to do/have all of those things again?
As we sit home enduring this awful pandemic, we ought to spend some of our time dreaming about a better future and taking some steps to make those dreams come true.
We are going to need bold new ideas to survive the post coronavirus world, which will surely be different.
The first order of business is to survive. The second is to recover and thrive. The cities that dream and act will be the ones that thrive.
The ones that wallow in despair and enable dysfunction will sink.
Let’s be the former.
Ya gotta believe.

Western Stars

The songs tell the stories of loved lost, failure, hard living and longing. But somehow they are tinged with hope.

Bruce Springsteen released a new album last week and for me that’s always a reason to celebrate.

But this album, his 19th studio album, is something extra special for a few reasons.

First, it’s just really good.

The songs are beautifully crafted, the lyrics are packed with meaning and the album includes oboes, bassoons, French horns and other instruments rarely used on a Springsteen album. He’s evolving and I find that not only interesting but inspirational as well.

The reason this album has extra resonance is that it is being released three months before Bruce’s 70th birthday. That’s an age where most musicians are long past their prime and decades beyond their creative peak.

But there he is, still exploring, still pushing boundaries, still growing. And I find that awe-inspiring.

The best artists are those whose work seem to run parallel to our lives—as if they are somehow writing with us in mind. Of course, that’s not true, but the magic comes because their words and music remain relevant to where we are in life.

I’ve grown up with Bruce and now I’m growing old with him.

As a young rock fan growing up on Long Island in the 70s and 80s, you couldn’t avoid Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band. They were on the radio, the posters were on the windows of the record shops (remember those) and the music was played loud at every party we went too.

I was bitten hard by the Bruce bug in 1978. I was 14 when “Darkness on The Edge of Town” was released and I was smitten by hard driving songs about life, love and work, the open but often lonely road and America itself.

Once I discovered “Darkness” I backfilled my collection with his first three albums—all of them brilliant and meaningful—at least to me— a teenager trying to figure it all out.

But unlike most teenage obsessions, rock music and Springsteen would continue to be meaningful as I went off to college, started my career, had a family, suffered the loss of loved ones, went through a divorce, found new love, changed careers, got involved in civic life and then re-invented myself again.

Now as I grow older, the music continues to resonate, inform, entertain, move me and make me think.

The old songs still strike something deep inside and take on new meaning as I listen to them 40 years down the road as Bruce would say.

And the new music is a gift; a beautiful gift.

I’m excited that my favorite artist is still out there creating as he nears his 70th birthday, long past the sell-by date we are force fed by a youth-oriented society.

In two months, I will turn 55 an age when you start to understand that the sands are running through the hour glass very fast and that more sand is on the bottom of the glass than remains on top. Many of my friends are my age or older and I am starting to see them wrestle with health issues and thoughts of hanging them up.

 I get it and can relate.

But I still aspire.

Last week, I was in a meeting with a younger man–a friend— and the talked strayed briefly from business to life. He looked at me and said “you have about 20 years left to be productive.”

Lord, I hope so.

He meant what he said as a compliment. But as you age you realize that 20 years passes in the blink of an eye.

I can still remember being that young boy listening to that Springsteen record with the volume turned up in my room in Stony Brook, N.Y. playing air guitar and dreaming of “The Promised Land.”

And in a blink, you see your 50s flash by, your kids grow up and your friends grow old.

But Bruce Springsteen is still singing at 70, with no plans to quit and so he gives me hope that we all can keep going for years to come.

 

 

 

The Power of Dreams

You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet–Theodore Hesburgh

Vision.
Ahh there’s that word again.

It’s a polarizing word at times, especially if the vision pushes the envelope. Especially if it’s considered ambitious.

Sometimes the term gets subject to ridicule and referred to as “the vision thing” as if it’s trite, as if vision gets in the way of actually getting things done.

In cities, sometimes there’s an aversion to vision: just make sure my toilet flushes, pick up my trash and fix potholes.
That was an actual email I got from a prominent citizen who shall remain nameless.
Ok, I responded. That’s a deal.
We’ll do all those things but please don’t begrudge those of us who aspire and plan to show up at what we used to call “charrettes” to envision a better future.

In order to have any progress we need to aspire. We need to have ambition. We need to dare to be great.

We need to have a vision and we need to dig in and implement too. Visions left on a shelf gather more than dust, they burn enthusiasm and tell those who bothered to show up that their time was wasted.
That’s a crime. We can take our ideas elsewhere but we can’t get our time back.

Last week, a promising young leader I’ve been observing Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson posted a video of actor Will Smith on Instagram that talked about greatness.
Mr. Jackson runs a Delray non-profit called the EJS Project: https://www.ejsproject.org. Look it up, it’s cool.
In the video Mr. Smith talks about the power of dreaming.

“You have to believe that something different can happen,” Mr. Smith says. My friend Dupree believes something different can happen. That’s why he will succeed and make good things happen for others in Delray and beyond.

Steve Jobs had a similar take: “Apple’s core value is that we believe people with passion can change the world for the better. Those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do.”

Damn right they do.

Now, let’s gets to it.

Public Leadership (Doesn’t Have To Be An Oxymoron)

Former Mayor Nancy Graham.

I’m a big fan of ULI, the Urban Land Institute, a global organization that promotes sustainable land use and good design.
So when I was asked to appear on a panel on public leadership with two mayors I admire—West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and former West Palm Mayor Nancy Graham– I jumped at the opportunity.
My son lives in downtown West Palm Beach and so I visit more often than usual these days. I think the city has  some great things going on including start up incubators, some interesting restaurants and the new and exciting Grandview Public Market which has invigorated the Warehouse District.
Mayor Muoio, Mayor Graham and the citizens of West Palm have a lot to be proud of.

Mayor Graham was a transformational leader who put together the groundbreaking deal for City Place and brought walkability expert Jeff Speck to the city years ago to promote vibrant mixed use and pedestrian friendly development.
We’ve  been friends for years and it was good to see her back in West Palm after years in California. She lives in North Florida these days and remains a very vocal advocate for city’s and her beliefs.
We spoke to a group of young leaders who work in land use, planning, architecture, transportation, development, housing and other important disciplines.

Takeaways included the need to have political courage, the need to engage the public around development issues, the importance of having a vision and sticking with it in the face of opposition and the critical need for mayors to always be learning, evolving and leading.

After all, a bright future is not guaranteed. It  needs to be earned and it requires work, vigilance and determination.
Mayors are uniquely positioned to drive positive change. Local government is perhaps the last bastion of progress and possibilities.
Washington D.C. and state capitals tend to be partisan and therefore prone to gridlock and obstruction.
Cities and counties have unique opportunities to effectuate change and think long term.

But only if they choose to do so. I’ve seen many cities seize opportunities and make miraculous progress.
Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and an array of rust belt cities have managed to come back to life through reinvention, strategic investment and political will.
I enjoy reading stories about Detroit and other cities that are finding ways to reverse decades of decay.  It’s inspiring and gives you faith that problems can be solved.

Locally, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Pompano Beach, West Palm and Fort Lauderdale are interesting examples of cities that have employed vision, investment and public engagement to forge promising futures.
Each city was wise to choose its own strategy and “style”.

Delray’s scale and emphasis on the arts, culture, sports and diversity proved to be a winning formula that has paved the way to attract creative industries.  If we stay the course, market our amenities and add to the vision we can have more progress and solve our ongoing challenges.

Pompano Beach is pursuing an innovation district as an anchor offering. The city has made impressive strides in recent years.

West Palm seems to be embracing its role as the county seat and has aspirations to be an important city and not just a ‘hallway’ to the airport, Palm Beach and county government as the mayor noted.
BRAVÒ!
I love cities that aspire. I respect cities that have ambitions, plan for the future and honor the past.
Forward thinking. Political will. Vision. Engagement. Strategic investment. That’s the formula.
I’m glad to see ULI embracing the next generation of leadership. It was a joy to be in the room with energetic leaders who want to build anew and take our cities to the next level.
We have a bright future as a result of these efforts.

Mayor Muio.

Against the Wind

Facebook is powerful.
And lately it’s reminding me of how fast time passes.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep (and I write most of these posts between 3 am and 4:30 am) I scroll through Facebook viewing the lives of people I know through their news “feeds.”
Most of the time, it’s a happy experience and it makes me feel somewhat connected to the lives of people who have meant something to me on my travels through life.

But sometimes it leaves me feeling a little sad because I realize that I’m barely connected to people who once were so important to my daily existence. And I realize the relentless velocity of life. Days bleed into weeks, weeks bleed into months and suddenly life passes by.
And so I realize that I don’t know my childhood friend’s son who just graduated college and that I have never seen (in real life anyway) my best friend’s grandchildren.
Work, distance, obligations, your own troubles, joys, sorrows–life. As Bob Seger sings: “deadlines and commitments, what to leave in, what to leave out.”

I recently shared with a new friend that I find my 50s to be a poignant decade.
In so many ways, we find ourselves at the top of our game. We have gained knowledge,  insight and perspective through experience, mistakes and time. We’ve paid a lot of dues.

We’ve tripped and fell over and over again but still managed to find a way through our childhood, teen years, the turbulent 20s, our 30s and 40s and now we’re here: smarter in so many ways. But still filled with unanswered questions, still searching, still wondering. There’s so much in the rear view mirror, so much we now understand and so much that is still a mystery.

The poignancy comes with the realization that there’s just not enough time to do all that we want to do. To see all that we want to see.
We hope there’s time and most likely there is, but we also understand how fast it goes, how tenuous our health can be, we know our strength and we grasp our vulnerability.

When I was a kid, my friends and I would play basketball in our driveway for hours. We found time for stickball, threw a football around and played tennis for hours. We would listen to records and talk endlessly and enthusiastically about all that we would do. The places we’d travel. The jobs we’d have. The world’s we’d conquer.

As I see all my friends kids graduate, see the photos of a college reunion I just missed, watch my own kids launch their careers I realize that I still aspire.
That I’m still excited about the future, still get turned on by creative people who spend their days dreaming and doing and helping and achieving. This week alone, I reconnected with a young entrepreneur that I believe in, talked with my team about building a brand, dreamed about creating a creative village, kicked back with close friends at a great local restaurant and had a great discussion with some really smart people about community and connection. It’s invigorating. It feeds your soul.

But I also feel the tug of time, the need to connect with people who have meant the world to me and the need to be present and to plan: trips, goals, experiences..the things that matter most.
Because while time has always been finite, you just don’t realize it until you get older just how fast your life passes by.
And you realize that how you spend your time and who you spend it with is the most important decision of all.

Unpacking the CRA vote

Photo courtesy of Delray Historical Society.

First some disclosures.
My wife ran the Delray CRA for about 13 years.
I think the current executive director and his staff are hard working, dedicated and smart. They are good people who give it all for Delray Beach. I have respect for the volunteers who have served on the CRA board, both past and present.
So if that offends you, upsets your karma or otherwise gives you agita here’s where you should stop reading.
To say I’m not fans of a majority of the current commission would be an understatement. Give me six hours (shorter than most commission meetings and I’ll begin to tell you why, give me a month and we may get through half my list of differences and missed opportunities) but I sense change in Delray.
Eyes are opening. Awareness is forming. People are getting fed up.
Fed up with the hand wringing.

Fed up with the litigation.

Fed up with the criticism.

Fed up with the arrogance.

Fed up with the turnover and the dysfunction.

Fed up with the lack of leadership.
People are calling this commission out. And it’s about time.
Evidence of this came in March with the landslide victories scored by Jim Chard and Shirley Johnson. So when I write about the commission in the paragraphs to come they are not what I’m talking about. I see them as solutions to what ails us and I have hope and faith in them.
It wasn’t lies or “dark money” that carried the day and saw them win by 2-1.

It wasn’t self serving insiders or greedy developers either. It was the voters who spoke loud and clear.

In precinct after precinct. Neighborhood after neighborhood. They chose experience and ideas over negativity and  nastiness and they chose progress and positivity over division. And they will again in March. They’ve had enough.
And that’s  a good thing because if we don’t stand up for the values and strategies that built this town we will surely lose what has been achieved. And we will lose our sense of community too. That ought to scare us more than anything.
We almost lost the CRA this week.

Because handing the board over to this Mayor and commission would ensure that their dysfunction would have metastasized to that agency as well.
But the community organized and spoke out. They talked about the progress the agency has made. The tens of millions invested in neighborhoods, the $58 million spent on city capital improvements that has somehow, inexplicably been missed by people who ought to know better. But it wasn’t missed by the beneficiaries. They came out. They stood up. They spoke out, they led and they set the record straight. They see progress. They know commitment. They are working with their CRA to lift their neighborhoods up–while the majority of the city commission plays politics.
Oh, I know Mayor Glickstein came around. But only after he allowed the floodgates to open. Only after he took his shots. As he always does.
Now it’s our turn.
Our CRA is a great CRA. It should be a point of civic pride. But our “leaders” won’t allow us to celebrate or to feel good. And that’s a shame. That is not leadership.
Our CRA has helped to transform this city.
And that’s a fact lost on several members of the commission who pressed this issue and have been pressing and bullying the CRA for years now.

And it’s lost on many members of the senior staff who are so new to Delray they couldn’t tell you the difference between Linton and Swinton.
They should ask around before they opine publicly. They should talk to the contributors in this community because they might learn something.
My bet is the prevailing message would be: don’t fix what isn’t broken and please fix your own house. Hire good staff, empower them and get out of the way. Work with the community on a vision and have the guts to follow through.
Some of these so called leaders up there on the dais can’t stop talking about the past. They are so busy rewriting history that they have lost control of the present and they have endangered the future.
But guess what?
The truth is a stubborn thing.

And try as they might to disparage past decisions, staffs and elected officials they keep falling short. They make themselves seem small in the process.
Because the truth is, they don’t measure up and we need them too. Because we have challenges and opportunities that are being missed.
They ought to know better.

The mayor did pretty well here as the dreaded developer of his day, Commissioner Katz moved here as a result of the vision and decisions of a past commission that bought land and made it available for workforce housing (was that resident welfare?) and Commissioner Petrolia enjoyed success selling real estate in a hot market. A market made hot–in large part– by a CRA they criticize and past commissions they whine about.
After a week of emotions and misinformation the independent volunteer board of the CRA was saved. Hallelujah.
Truly.
But….
We spent a week fighting not fixing. Defending not uniting. Treading water not progressing.
We lost another week.
We’ve lost many with this mayor and commission–Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Chard excluded. Thank goodness for them.
We spent almost two years negotiating a lease with Old School Square exchanging nasty emails instead of focusing on the arts and culture.
We spent two years creating an events policy that few understand and most feel is unworkable instead of sitting down and improving events not hacking them to pieces or exporting them to other cities.
We spent nearly a year devising a  plan for Congress Avenue that is gathering dust instead of being marketed, implemented and driven.
We are mired in lawsuits, we waste time arguing with our chamber over an effort to sit down with recovery providers (so that we might better understand the issue), we spend money on consultants and out of town lawyers  but somehow we couldn’t find the money to hire a director for the drug task force.
We downzoned our most valuable real estate without an economic analysis, ignored parking studies and engineering studies and a litany of guest speakers on a slew or topics but somehow we have time to attack the best CRA in the state.
But we don’t have time to celebrate the addition of a corporate tenant to Delray which also provides a welcome and needed family entertainment option.
Ipic finally, mercifully closed this week and actually got a building permit. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the permit. They will create jobs. They will pay taxes and they will clean up a derelict property.
But we don’t get to celebrate.  Nope we get to relitigate and relitigate until every ounce of joy is drained out of landing this company.
What a shame.
So, Ok. I realize this is a rant. But let me assure you this represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These are only some of the complaints I hear among people I work with and run into in this City.
I don’t hang with the angry crowd. I spend time with those who have built this city and continue to build this city.
The business owners, entrepreneurs, investors, residents, volunteers, cops, firefighters, city staff, retirees and  young people who aspire and who want to see this place they love thrive.
They want to feel good about where they live. They want to celebrate. They want to dream. They are tired of having to defend every single thing. Especially when major issues remain unaddressed. Homelessness, heroin, staff turnover, rising tides, lack of housing options, lack of workforce housing, schools that struggle and a need to diversify our economy beyond food, beverage and service jobs.
The last two weeks were spent jousting over an ad in Sober World announcing a Recovery Business Council and whether we should continue to have a CRA that kicks ass and runs circles around the city these days.
What will we squander next week on? Maybe we should shut down Friday Night concerts at Old School Square? Too many people seem to smile when the band shell lights up. We can’t have that can we?
We have to do better. We must.
And we will.

Better Boulder Inspires A Better Delray

We used to be the city that went across the country sharing our story and inspiring others.

Some cities came here…from across Florida and the south—Greencove Springs, Cape Coral, Punta Gorda, Miami Lakes, the Smart Growth Partnership of Broward County, the Urban Land Institute, business leaders from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and others—because they saw Delray as a progressive and innovative laboratory on topics ranging from events and festivals to housing, downtown revitalization and smart growth.

And we went out across America to tell our story too—visiting places like Tucson, Greenville, Carmel, New York, Reno, Baltimore, Kansas City and Bellevue, Washington– to share best practices and learn from others as well.

That thought crossed my mind last week when we hosted a group of community leaders from Boulder, Colorado who have created a movement that is sparking others across the nation to say Yes in My Backyard—to jobs, a clean environment, good schools, economic opportunity, smart land use, transportation and housing for all. Indeed Better Boulder (www.betterboulder.com) hosted the first ever YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) conference in North America last year attracting interest from across the country and as far away as Helsinki, Finland.

Better Boulder is a coalition of young and old, business leaders, environmentalists, parents, educators, housing advocates united in a belief that when it comes to policy—there is more that binds us than divides us in our communities.

They believe in education, infill development, building cities for people (not cars), a healthy environment and housing for all. Those shared values have allowed business leaders and “enviros” to find common ground and build relationships that enable Boulder citizens to work together on a range of issues.

John Tayer is president of the Boulder Chamber and he is passionate about the importance of economic interests. He believes in the chamber’s advocacy role but he has found a lot in common with former Boulder Mayor Will Toor, a noted environmentalist who likewise understands the dangers of sprawl, the importance of jobs and the need to create a sustainable city for all.

Molly Tayer—John’s wife—has done a lot of advocacy work on a range of land use, transportation and housing issues and the other member of the coalition Ken Hotard is the VP of the Boulder Board of Realtors, which strongly advocates for housing and quality infill projects.

All have learned about the need to reach out and build coalitions around common objectives and aspirations. Boulder is a community—like ours—that is wrestling with some weighty issues. But they have found a way to unite and a way to value relationships even though sometimes they might not see eye to eye on every issue. It’s an important and inspiring message at a critical time.

We live in an increasingly polarized society—fueled by bathrobe pundits on social media—who seek to label, divide and stir the pot.

Terms like “special interests”, “greedy developers”, “chamber types”, “renters” and “slick lobbyists/consultants” are thrown around to disparage, minimize and divide people. That’s the price we pay to live in a free society and truth be told it’s a bargain. But….

It’s not healthy.

It doesn’t build community.

And it doesn’t solve problems.

Divisiveness also doesn’t enable us to seize opportunities. It does however, dampen spirits, dissuade volunteers and deter investment—and over time that is death to a community’s spirit.

The biggest asset of most cities is the excitement and vision for their hometown that stakeholders are able to share with the world. Civic pride and a sense of mission drives excitement and compels people to get to work building good things.

When you love something, you commit. And when you commit, magic happens.

Other cities have beaches and main streets, but our main street and side streets and historic neighborhoods and cultural amenities are special, important and have created a tremendous amount of value—both real (property values) and intangible (quality of life). Our friends from Boulder were impressed—so are many others and we should take pride in our accomplishments.

But they also know that none of what has worked would have been possible without teamwork and a collaborative culture. Community work—even politics—should be fun, was a big part of their message. Many people don’t feel that it’s fun anymore to volunteer in Delray, or work here or run for office or seek approval for a business venture.

Unlike others, I will never pretend to speak for anyone or everyone. But I’m sharing an observation that I hear in every room I enter these days across a range of activities and endeavors. Those voices of discontent can be dismissed, labeled, disparaged or even bullied. But they shouldn’t be ignored and pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. These same people are also firm in their conviction that more needs to be done–more opportunities, more good jobs, better housing options, more culture, more civility, more preservation and yes more smart development.

A group of us reached out to Better Boulder because of these voices and because we love and cherish Delray Beach. We want to see a Better Delray for our children, for our families and for the causes and organizations we are passionate about. That’s the special interest…that’s the agenda, not hidden but available to all in plain sight.

At dinner with our new friends from Colorado, we shared that whatever success that was achieved was hard fought and far from certain.

It took a village. A great many people working together—black and white, rich and poor, young and old to build what we think is a pretty special place. But there’s more to do—jobs to create, neighborhoods to fix, people to help, problems to solve and opportunities to seize.

We aspire.

We are not complacent.

There is too much at stake.

We believe that the best is yet to come.

But only if we work together and remain focused on building a better future.

We need you to get involved…now more than ever.