Town Hall Lecture Series: A Can’t Miss

Joe Minicozzi has done groundbreaking work in Asheville, N.C.

Joe Minicozzi has done groundbreaking work in Asheville, N.C.

If you haven’t attended the town hall lecture series you are missing out on some extraordinary speakers.

Mayor Glickstein, the City of Delray Beach and the sponsors of the events are to be commended for bringing the best urban thought leaders to Delray to discuss a range of topics. If only we would listen…

I’ve been privileged to moderate two recent events and both were outstanding.

We wrote earlier about placemaker Fred Kent whose powerful message kick started discussions on what to do with the Old School Square Park, a conversation that has started and stopped for at least a decade. A subsequent community discussion on March 21 regarding the exterior uses of the Cornell Museum of Art, what should happen at the park, the OSS parking garage and how it all connects to Atlantic Avenue produced a range of ideas. A follow-up to that meeting is set for Tuesday, April 28, from 6:00 – 7:30 pm in the Ocean Breeze Room at the Delray Center for the Arts, 51 North Swinton Avenue.  Make sure to attend and bring your ideas.

It is really encouraging to see plans for the downtown park take shape. The park was created as a result of the 2005 Parks Bond, which envisioned a lively downtown park. The goal was to replace an ugly surface parking lot with open space and then build a mixed use parking garage that would yield a net gain in parking. The garage later became home to the Arts Garage and the Chamber of Commerce, but the park has remained lackluster, a great site for the CRA Green Market and good event space, but lacking the daily vibrancy that was originally envisioned.

If plans proceed—and I believe they will—the lecture series should be credited for jumpstarting the process.

Now, the city should use the same template from the Kent lecture to re-assess how we look at development in Delray Beach.

The most recent lecture featured Joe Minicozzi, an Asheville, N.C. based urban designer/planner, Chuck Marohn, an engineer and founder of the amazing “Strong Towns” blog and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, the president of the Congress for New Urbanism.

Minicozzi’s talk focused on the financial side of development. Using simple math, Joe is able to compare the value of sprawl like development versus dense, mixed use development, often referred to as smart growth or new urbanism. His work is groundbreaking and clearly shows the stark differences in taxes and economic impact between making efficient use of land versus inefficient, traffic inducing sprawl. No judgment, just numbers.

Marohn, a reformed engineer, takes on the cost side, showing graphically how our pattern of development in America is slowly but surely bankrupting us because tending to sprawl costs a lot more than building walkable, compact and yes somewhat dense communities.

Norquist talked about his experiences as mayor of Milwaukee, where he earned a reputation for deploying new urbanist philosophies.

At the end of the lecture, Norquist asked me what I thought and my initial reaction was that I did not know of any cities that were doing this type of financial analysis when they evaluated development.

Upon further reflection, I think that in many ways we were moving in the opposite direction of what Marohn, Minicozzi and many of the other speakers we have invited to Delray have suggested.

Instead of a form-based code, we are still hung up on numbers. Instead of understanding that suburban parking codes don’t make sense in urban cores, we are still fearful of not having enough surface parking. Instead of understanding that parking isn’t free (courtesy of a fascinating lecture by the world’s foremost parking guru Donald Shoup) we still haven’t made a decision on whether to charge users or not (meanwhile taxpayers are footing the bill).

From Andres Duany and Viktor Dover to the most recent speakers, the common thread is a full-throated embrace of urbanism, smart growth, design, placemaking etc.

If it leads us to have a better conversation about growth and development, the lecture series will be remembered as the catalyst for an even better Delray. But if it’s just an exercise in what we can’t have, it will be remembered as a lost opportunity.

Readers of this blog know that as the co-chair of the downtown master plan, I had deep disagreements with our most recent attempts to “fix” our Land Development Regulations. I was hoping we would have gone to a form based code that emphasized design and desirable uses but feel we ended up with a more prescriptive code that I believe will hinder innovation and infill development. Just my opinion and I certainly empathize with the concerns that people who love Delray have regarding traffic, parking and gentrification.

But I still don’t think we’ve addressed design and use and I’m afraid by capping density, we’ve given up on creating affordability downtown.

Regardless, the lecture series has given us an invaluable opportunity to raise the level of debate in Delray—if we so choose.

Fred Kent got us thinking about placemaking again—and that’s a good thing. We have some lazy assets that can be so much more.

Hopefully, Minicozzi and Marohn can get us thinking about the cost and revenue side of development patterns, a timely conversation as we look at corridors such as Congress Avenue and as budget season kicks off.

The next Town Hall lecture is set for 6 p.m. April 30 at the Crest.

Peter Kageyama, renowned community development consultant and author, will discuss on “What Makes Cities Lovable.” You won’t want to miss Peter. He spoke at Leadership Florida two years ago and they are still talking about it. When he got done speaking, I grabbed a bunch of his books and have been given them away ever since.

Kageyama is the co-founder and producer of the Creative Cities Summit, an interdisciplinary event that brings together citizens and practitioners around the big idea of the city. Internationally sought after as a community development consultant and grassroots engagement strategist, he addresses audiences all over the world about bottom-up community development and the amazing people who are making change happen.  Kageyama has authored two best-selling books, For the Love of Cities:  The Love Affair Between People and Their Places (a great and fast read), and its follow up Love Where You Live:  Creating Emotionally Engaging Places.

Hope to see you there.

Meanwhile check out for more information on the series and for tapes of the talks.