More Adventures…Book Excerpt

Available at Amazon and Barnes &

Available at Amazon and Barnes &

Some of you may know that I published a book last year. “Adventures in Local Politics” is available on Amazon. A portion of the proceeds are donated to local charities.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Instead of merely livable, I think we need to start thinking about how we make our cities more lovable. When we love something, we cherish it; we protect it; we do extraordinary things for it.”—author Peter Kageyama


Great cities find a way to invest and re-invest in the future.

They understand that even when success hits you can never rest. A great city knows that complacency is a killer.

My father and others taught me that in business you have to wake up a little scared each and every day, even when things—especially when things—are going well.

When you achieve some success, there is sure to be a chorus of those who will tell you that you are done—just declare victory and go home. Well… you are never done.

You must constantly innovate, experiment, iterate and scan the horizon for threats and opportunities.

In the public realm, it is important to invest and re-invest. It sends a signal to the private sector that you are serious about progress and growth.

We live in an era where public spending is considered wrong. While wasting taxpayer dollars is indeed wrong, not all public spending should be lumped together. Public investment should be treated as such—an investment that should yield returns.

Some of the returns can be directly measured. Were jobs created? Did the tax base grow? Did crime rates fall?

But sometimes ROI is intangible. Sometimes public investment is made to improve the quality of life in the community, a much tougher concept to measure. Sometimes investments are made with an eye on trying to make people fall in love with their city. Still, we all know that times have changed and spending needs to be prudent—dollars are not infinite.

After decades of abundance, we now live in an era of austerity.

Budgets have shrunk. Wages and benefits are flat or declining. Revenues are down and despite a prolonged funk we still face an awful lot of economic headwinds. In other words, this may be the new normal folks.

And yet, the challenge for cities is to somehow find a way to invest in things that make people love where they live.

Progressive hospitals learned a long time ago that amenities such as gardens; plants; brightly painted walls and murals play a helpful role in their patients’ recovery time and overall health outcomes.

But when it comes to cities, politicians are criticized every time they spend on something “frivolous”—whether it’s public art, a new park, a festival or culture.

Yet research shows that the very things that make cities fun and lovable also make a big difference economically by spurring private investment and increasing the value of homes and commercial properties.

This poses a dilemma because in a time of diminishing resources, politicians cannot be seen as spending unwisely and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that spending on all the things that get residents emotionally involved in their cities has to stop.

It does mean that expenses such as festivals, sporting events, public art installations, cultural venues etc., have to be looked at carefully.

If special events are tired, then they either have to be revamped as to be valuable again or retired. If new events are to be added, they need to meet a very high threshold; therefore the return on investment must be clear and worthwhile. Still, to say cut it all and just fill the potholes is not the wisest strategy for a city.

Money must be still be set aside for the things that make your city different.

A good tactic might be to take a close look at “lazy assets” and see what can be done to activate them and make them valuable and vibrant.

Regardless, of where you stand on the sensitive issue of spending; one thing is certain—money still flows into city coffers.

Maybe not as much as before, but often times enough to run a great city as long as the spending is highly scrutinized, smartly prioritized and tied to a larger strategy—i.e. building toward a common vision.

In Delray Beach, the city’s renaissance started with public investment tied to community goals gathered through a detailed grassroots visioning process.

Once the public money was committed, the private sector stepped in because they knew the city was serious about getting things done.

As a result, while never formally quantified, it is safe to say that the public’s investment was leveraged many-fold by private dollars.

Simply put, businesses opened and residents flocked to the city as a direct result of public investment.

But that investment must be an ongoing commitment. Which is why it is important to not only just keep up on maintenance and filling pot holes but to keep planning and talking to your citizens about the future.

Your conversation with the community about the future should never cease.


Delray Beach came out of its decades-long funk by finding an inclusive way to invest in the community.

In the late 1980s, a cross-section of community leaders gathered for a community-wide visioning process that led to the successful passage of the 1989 Decade of Excellence Bond Issue.

The $21.5 million bond funded a variety of projects in the city’s blighted eastern core and sent a signal that the city was serious about redevelopment. As a reporter covering Delray at the time, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the diversity of the civic team assembled to pass the bond. Black and white, east and west, lifelong residents and newcomers all came together around a common vision of restoration.

Chief among the city’s reclamation projects was Old School Square, an abandoned school surrounded by a rusted chain link fence that sat smack dab in the middle of the city’s downtown.

A visionary leader named Frances Bourque sold the city’s leadership on restoring the old school rather than demolish the 1920s era buildings. She saw charm where others saw blight and that kind of vision and investment can’t help but make waves—in a positive way.

When I reflect back on Frances Bourque’s vision (her genius) really, I realized that in one catalytic project she hit upon a magic formula for cities.

In the 80s, I’m not sure that Delray was certain about what it would take to turn things around. Sure, we had to clean up neighborhoods, fight crime, improve schools and turn some lights on downtown. Every city with those problems knows you have to cover the basics. But even when most or all of those things happened, the city still needed an identity; a reason to fall in love with the place.

One of the most important factors that often get overlooked is the need for a narrative. People love stories; they fall in love with them. And cities that have narratives are often the ones that we remember and that thrive. Austin got a huge narrative boost when South by Southwest and the notion of being the live music capital of the world took root. Santa Cruz’ weirdness—as strange as it sounds—makes it a lovable place. Where there’s success, look for a narrative.

Frances managed to find a civic project that touched on Delray’s past, present and future. Old School Square whose buildings dated almost back to the founding of the city tugged on those who loved Delray’s rich history. It also perfectly matched the city’s appetite in the 80s for renewal and revitalization and it spoke to a bright future, i.e. a place for the town to gather. Absolutely, brilliant; a great narrative.

What emerged was a cultural arts center with a 300 seat theater, a restored gym for community events, and a museum and classroom space for arts classes. The grounds became the city’s gathering place for a diverse brew of festivals, performances and holiday festivities including a 100-foot Christmas tree that draws tens of thousands each season.

Old School Square became the catalyst for the first wave of investment downtown. It would take more than a decade for the downtown to fully flower, but an array of pioneering businesses were lured downtown by the city’s investment in streetscape, paver bricks, decorative lighting etc.

Public investment, coupled with political will and community unity sends a very strong message to entrepreneurs and developers. Consequently, political dysfunction or weakness coupled with community fragmentation sends a very bad message.

Fortunately for Delray Beach, the city was able to string together two solid decades of relative unity on all fronts. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t debate or dissension, only that on the big things—downtown redevelopment, beach re-nourishment, fixing blighted neighborhoods—there was remarkable unity and focus.

When this rare cohesion comes about you can really build traction, unlike communities that start and stop, progress takes off when leadership is aligned. The key is to keep it going because creating a great city takes years.

But progress in turn leads to trust in local government’s ability to deliver. And that is a very powerful intangible. When taxpayers trust their local government they are often willing to fund the things that make people feel in love with a place.



Water Cooler Wednesday: Redevelopment & Economic Development

Equity Enterprises won the RFP to redevelop a portion of CRA owned land on West Atlantic Ave.

Equity Enterprises won the RFP to redevelop a portion of CRA owned land on West Atlantic Ave.

There’s a difference between economic development and redevelopment.

A good friend pointed that out to me recently, saying that she wondered whether Delray was good at one (redevelopment) and still figuring out the other (economic development).

It was an interesting comment; certainly something to think about.

Redevelopment is often defined as:  “an often publicly financed rebuilding of an urban residential or commercial section in decline.”

Delray Beach has become widely known for its skill in redevelopment.  Starting with the “Decade of Excellence” in the 90s and continuing through the 2002 Downtown Master Plan and beyond, Delray has successfully redeveloped its once declining urban core. More work needs to be done and is being done, as evidenced recently with the awarding of an RFP to redevelop key blocks on West Atlantic Avenue –Delray’s gateway.

But while redevelopment often leads to economic development, it is not the same thing.

Economic development generally refers to the sustained, concerted actions of policy makers and communities to promote and improve the standard of living and economic health of a specific area. So while the redevelopment of West Atlantic is ongoing and positive, the job won’t be complete until we create jobs and business opportunities for existing residents and others who come to Delray.

Economic development  also refers to quantitative and qualitative changes in the economy. Such actions can involve multiple areas including development of human capital, critical infrastructure, regional competitiveness, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, health, safety, literacy, and other initiatives. I would add the arts and culture to the mix since I believe a strong arts scene spurs investment and creativity. (See Wynwood, Miami).

But while Delray has had a successful and ongoing redevelopment strategy, its economic development plan is a work in progress and needs resources. We certainly have a capable economic development director in Vin Nolan, but he can probably use some help.  Just my guess.

As a result of Delray’s redevelopment success, we are positioned to reap tremendous rewards in terms of economic development. If we leverage our assets, apply some resources strategically and streamline our approval processes the sky is the limit. We also need to work on our political culture, but that’s a subject for another day.

Delray’s economic development opportunities exist in several areas including:

  • Human capital—it has been said that the best economic development strategy is to invest in people and to provide top flight education. Clearly, Delray has challenges and opportunities in this regard. The city’s “Grade Level Reading” program is an ambitious effort to understand those challenges and to assist schools in raising reading skills across the board. Delray has some outstanding non-profits including the Achievement Center and Milagro Center that are dedicated to working with our most at-risk kids.

    There are some promising green shoots sprouting in Delray including the Plumosa School of the Arts, Village Academy (which exists because of a neighborhood visioning effort), Banyan Creek Elementary, S.D. Spady’s Montessori Magnet and Morikami Park’s early years International Baccalaureate program to name but a few. Atlantic High’s IB program has also been extraordinary.

    There are also some good private, charter and parochial options in town.

    A foundation I co-founded called Dare 2 Be Great is working to identify, mentor and fund local high school students who we feel have the potential to be game changers in our community.

    But clearly, more must be done. Especially, at the middle school level and among students who may not be on a college track. Career academies and vocational training are solid solutions. A plan to add a middle school of the arts is also an excellent idea. Adding entrepreneurial training and a program such as “Girls Who Code” would also be smart economic development plays.

  • Entrepreneurship—Delray has spent 30 years working to create an environment that would attract the creative class. But a lack of office space, not necessarily Class A (although that is needed too) but creative space is preventing companies from locating downtown where they can enjoy walkability, vibrancy and urban amenities. Clearly, entrepreneurship is both the present and the future and Delray is well-positioned for this trend, but if key parcels are lost to rental units and other uses there will be no space for people who want to work downtown and no chance for those fortuitous collisions that lead to opportunities.
  • Sports—With an international tennis tournament, several national junior tennis events, a stadium, a Donald Ross golf course, great weather, a replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster, improved ball fields and the presence of the Elev8 Sports Institute, Delray has a chance to be a sports mecca. But the tennis stadium needs fixing, the ATP event needs bigger names and the city needs a strategy or an entrepreneur who will begin to package the cities amenities for sports related tourism such as fantasy camps and or youth sports tournaments.
  • Lifelong Learning—In today’s complex world, there is a need for lifelong learning opportunities. Delray’s Center for the Arts at Old School Square’s classrooms are ideal for weekend MBA programs, night classes etc. Programs like TEDX and StartUp Delray’s Maker Series and frequent entrepreneurial meet-ups are great economic development tools.
  • Wellness—Pineapple Grove was originally envisioned as a funky arts district adjacent to Atlantic Avenue. With the Arts Garage, Arts Warehouse and Artist’s Alley, the importance of  the arts is apparent, but quietly the Grove has also become a hotbed for health and wellness services ranging from pilates and yoga to gyms and health food stores. Wellfest, an event about to go into its second year, tapped into the trend last year. With more than a dozen sponsors, over 50 exhibitors and speakers, the event has tapped into a rich vein. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a co-founder and own a small piece of the event). Delray seems well positioned to be a destination for wellness events, businesses and activities.
  • Tourism—An old staple for Florida cities, but a good one. And with several new and boutique hotel properties a good economic development strategy as well. Destination Delray has legs and the Delray Marketing Cooperative understands the power of destination marketing.
  • Food—Delray’s initial redevelopment success gave birth to a thriving restaurant and beverage scene. But food can also be a great economic development driver with the creation of commercial kitchens, the nurturing of year-round markets, food events, urban farms, craft breweries and the growth of food related companies.
  • Arts—The aforementioned arts scene drives business and investment and therefore is a viable economic development component. But the Holy Grail will be to create a city where we attract, develop and export artists, which is why classes at the Delray Center for the Arts and the Arts Garage are so critical. Not to mention the potential of the Arts Warehouse, Artist’s Alley, Plumosa School of the Arts and the coveted middle school of the arts. This seems to be under way and appears to be a worthy investment. Still be tapped, cultural tourism, artist live/work zones and making the best use of existing spaces. For example, the Old School Square Downtown Park is ripe for improvement, programming and creative ideas.

    Next week: We take a look at Boca.

    Please let us know your thoughts.