The Joy of Reading

Kay Hymowitz has some interesting thoughts on gentrification.

I’ve gone on a book binge and it feels great.
I’ve been a voracious reader since the fourth grade. That’s when my favorite teacher, Mr. Romanelli,  sparked a desire to learn that still burns 44 years later.
Great teachers will do that. And Mr. Romanelli was the very best.

From C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain to Hemingway, London and Steinbeck–I have been inspired, transformed and transported by great writers.
At Ward Melville high School on Long Island (it’s on not in, just ask Jerry Seinfeld)  I was blessed to have an English Teacher named Mr. O’Connor. His first name was Joey and his students lovingly referred to him as “Joey O.”

He looked like Les Nessman from “WKRP in Cincinnati”,  a popular TV show of that era but unlike Nessman,  Mr. O’Connor oozed cool.
He schooled cocky kids in one on one basketball, fascinated us in class and diffused the wise guys in the back row with memorable quotes:
“Ignorance is its own refutation.”
“You sir are a pebble in the collective shoe of humanity.”
He was great and I loved his class.

We read–happily –whatever he told us to because that was one class you wanted to participate in .
It was too much fun not too.
I lost track of Mr. O’Connor. But I found Mr. Romanelli on Facebook a little while back and I’m thrilled to be back in touch with the educator who flipped the switch for me.
And to realize that we share a love of the Yankees, the Giants, Vermont and politics somehow feels extra special.

All of which is a long winded way of saying I’m so proud of my daughter for going into teaching and I have read some great books lately. I’d like to share a few titles. And because we are a hyperlocal blog there are some tie-ins to Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

The New Brooklyn by Kay Hymowitz– Although I was born in Queens and consider Eastern Long Island home I have an affinity for Brooklyn. My grandparents, aunt and first cousin lived there and we made frequent visits as a kid. So I have an affection for Brooklyn and it’s fascinating history and diversity. This book is a great stroll through the many neighborhoods that make up the borough that has influenced urban dwellers all over the world. Hymowitz is a great writer and if you love cities this is a can’t miss primer on gentrification, race relations, housing, placemaking etc.

  •   Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon– Langdon explores a half dozen walkable neighborhoods in places as diverse as Philadelphia and small town Vermont. What makes these places special and vibrant is a lesson for other cities such as Delray and Boca. Langdon is an engaging writer with a keen sense of what makes places special.
  •  The Amazing City by James C. Hunt–Mr. Hunt is a former president of the National League of Cities. I had a chance to see him speak recently to the Palm Beach County League of Cities and he delivered wisdom that only a veteran and successful local elected official could possess. Three Delray commissioners and the Boca Mayor were in attendance and if they applied his lessons on how to create an amazing city we will all benefit. I’m going to write more about Hunt’s lessons in an upcoming blog.
  • The Content Trap by Bharat Anand–  Amazing business lessons. So good I may read twice.
  •  Perennial Seller by Ryan Harrison– Lessons on how to create work that endures. And shouldn’t that be the goal?
  •  Hooked by Nir Eyal– Sobering thoughts on how technology hooks/addicts us. Essential to understand in today’s hyper connected society.
  •  Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris– Ferris is a wildly successful blogger/author/podcaster. This is a huge book of his best interviews with fascinating people from all walks of life.  His most recent interview of Ray Dalio is amazing. Dalio runs the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, and recently wrote “Principles”, which is on my night stand waiting to be read. Lots of lessons to mine, scores of amazing interviews with high achievers and interesting innovators.
    Or as Joey O might have said: “if ignorance is its own refutation knowledge is your passport to success.”

Paying It Forward: Our Responsibility To The Future

Exponential results occur when you pay it forward.

Exponential results occur when you pay it forward.

I came across a magnificent story a few weeks back in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It was a story about a “one man redevelopment machine”, an older gentleman who fell in love with the beat up town of Foxburg in Clarion County, Pennsylvania.
Where others saw blight, Dr. Arthur Steffee saw beauty. So he put his money and his convictions where his heart was, buying up old buildings and opening businesses such as a winery, a pizza shop and other retail stores.
At age 83, chances are Dr. Steffee won’t be around to enjoy a return on his investment. At least in the conventional sense. But in the more important measures–heart, soul, satisfaction and love–he most surely will.
Dr. Steffee embodies the mindset of a steward–the type of leader who understands that his or her role is to leave a place better off than when you find it. It’s a simple concept really. But it requires selflessness, vision, fortitude, patience and a long term view of leadership too often lacking in our society.
“We will never get out of it what we put into it,” he said. “The point is to leave something behind.”
Yes it is. That’s the whole point.
Over the holiday break we went to see the movie “Brooklyn” which chronicles the experience of a young Irish immigrant who leaves her home and her family for a new life in America.
The film is achingly beautiful. You literally find yourself tearing up for most of its two hour running time. Not because the film is especially sad, but because it rings so true and it captures the homesickness, sacrifice and strength of our immigrant relatives who risked it all so that we–future generations –could enjoy the opportunities of America.
I thought of my own grandparents who came from Russia, Poland and Latvia not speaking English or having any marketable skills other than a tremendous work ethic, unfathomable strength and a desire for their children and grandchildren to be here in the land of opportunity.
My wife’s mother came from a tiny village in Italy as a teenager leaving behind all that she knew for a taste of America.
In my family, within one generation, we experienced a fair amount of success. My father, a first generation American went to an Ivy League college and enjoyed a long and successful career as a pharmacist and businessman.
My wife’s mom became a widow at a young age and raised five children all of whom have experienced success in this country.
Stewards and our immigrant parents and grandparents believe our lives should be about about creating opportunity–to leave something behind as the good doctor in Foxburg, PA., says.
It’s not all about us, our pet peeves, personal drive times, annoyances and tastes. Sure, we can’t ignore the present but we need to focus our present on creating opportunities for others in the future.
That’s our jobs. If we do so, history will treat us kindly and reward those who will benefit from our vision, sacrifices and hard work.
If we ignore the future, it will surely bite us and our children.
“We will never get out of it what we put into it”, said the doctor. Maybe, but in many ways we will. The point is to leave something behind.