The Power of Saying Yes

Peter Kageyama preaches the virtues of loving your city.

The talk could have been titled: “Just Say Yes.”

“Or for goodness sakes….relax and experiment.”

We’re talking about author/speaker Peter Kageyama’s keynote at last week’s “Community Conversation” at Old School Square convened by the Delray Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Kageyama is the author of “For the Love of Cities” among other books and pieces that encourage people to fall in love with their city and experiment. The St. Pete resident is a dynamic speaker who shows real world examples of how cities from Auckland to Anchorage and Grand Rapids to Greenville, S.C. have benefitted from “co-creatives”—people who move forward with ideas and projects that help you fall in love or stay in love with their cities.

Most of the projects are small—some are bold and some are simple and they can range in cost from $20 to a whole lot more—but the end result is often surprise and delight.

Kageyama believes cities should be fun places that encourage experiments and pop-up experiences—even if you have to break a few rules along the way.

Examples ranged from a lip dub version of “American Pie” in Grand Rapids that garnered 5 million views on YouTube to a $1,200 project in Greenville, S.C. that placed statues of brass mice in fun places downtown. It may sound silly—and it is—but the message is that’s Ok, cities should be fun.

But these projects also create value—Grand Rapids’ version of the Don McLean classic was in response to a report that the city was dying (Get it: “the day the music died”) and stirred hundreds of citizens to show the world that their city was alive and had pride. The statues of cute little mice in Greenville is an endless source of fun for visitors and locals alike and even led to a children’s book.

From murals and dog parks to public art and drum circles—cities that have personality win our hearts, minds and wallets.

And when you fall in love—you tend to commit, volunteer, invest, interact and put down roots. It’s community building and in a polarized world full of all sorts of sad and calamitous stuff these little “endearments” make a huge difference.

The cities that are fun will win and the cities that are boring will lose.

This debate has been simmering in Delray for a few years so Mr. Kageyama’s presentation was both timely and relevant. While Delray was named “America’s Most Fun City” there’s been a lot of hand wringing over festivals, parades, parks, 100-foot trees, tennis tournaments etc.

We hear about “full cost recovery” and the burdens that some of this stuff place on city budgets, staffing etc.

But we never really talk about the value of these types of activities or the cost of being boring.

Kageyama started his presentation with a pyramid giving a hierarchies of elements cities strive to deliver.

At the base is functionality and safety: cities need to function (permits, toilets flushing, roads in good shape etc.) and they need to be safe. The next level is the ability of a city to be comfortable: are there places to sit, is their shade, is our downtown walkable, can we ride a bike without being killed etc.)?

The next rung is conviviality—are we nice to each other? Is our public discourse toxic or civil?

The top of the pyramid is fun. Do we enjoy living here? Do we enjoy each other as neighbors? Does our city create opportunities for us to connect?

A local panel consisting of our Downtown Development Authority Director, Old School Square President, West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition Director, Chamber President and the head our Marketing Cooperative talked about the need to work collaboratively—which is the true definition of an All America City.

There was a palpable sense in the room—and I see and hear this in my travels around town—that Delray is tired of dysfunction, infighting, divisiveness and a lack of progress on key initiatives ranging from ideas to help South Federal Highway to enacting the hard work of the Congress Avenue Task Force. (Disclosure: I chaired the task force, it’s no fun to see the hard work of dozens of volunteers gather dust on a shelf).

But it’s not just the big ideas and vision that is lagging—it’s the small stuff too. The sense that city staff has been stifled, that talent is frustrated and that we are at risk of losing the creative spirit and sense of community that distinguished Delray.

Interim Chamber President Vin Nolan—an economic development professional—said it best when he said in cities “you are never done” and if you think you are then.. you really are done.

Rob Steele of Old School Square senses a desire to take Delray to a new level of creativity and inclusiveness. He’s right.

You can have progress, job creation, opportunities and fun without breaking the bank or losing your uniqueness and charm. Nobody said it was easy. But enlightened leadership welcomes ideas—isn’t afraid to experiment and looks for ways to engage citizens. Kageyama mentioned the Delray Affair—our city’s signature event, both historic and important.

Why not have a series of events that encourages us to have an affair with our city?

Why don’t we invite people to fall in love with Delray?

We can fix leaky pipes, collect parking fines and fill potholes—that’s the functional part and it’s important. But we can have fun too.

I think we’re ready.

Check that, I know we are.


Magic Awaits When You Connect & Commit

When you connect you progress–it’s just that simple.

It’s the little things that make you fall in love.
Saturday we headed downtown for the CRA’s annual Easter Bonnet Pet Parade which never fails to deliver.
It’s a small event: simple, fun, charming and benefits a great cause–Dezzy’s Second Chance Rescue.
Norman Rockwell would have loved it.
It’s these types of gatherings that build community and make you fall for a place. And it’s these types of opportunities that we must seize, savor and support.
Peter Kageyama wrote a book about the intangibles called “For the Love of Cities.” I’ve seen Peter speak a few times and he never fails to deliver.
He talks about the importance of creating events, experiences and places that foster affection for your city.
In my book, “Adventures in Local Politics” I write that love is an important component of community building and leadership.
When people fall in love they commit. And when they commit they invest–their time, money, talent, creativity and passion.
And the rest takes care of itself.
Once people commit to a community, problems can be solved, challenges can be met and tragedies become easier to deal with.
Consequently, the good news is sweeter because there is a community of people to celebrate with.
These are not difficult or complex concepts but building community isn’t easy.
In case you haven’t noticed (and I bet you have) our society is divided these days. And Delray is not immune from those fault lines.
All the more reason why it’s important to come together when we can.
Recently, we’ve had a few opportunities. The Delray Affair, The Pet Parade, Impact 100, the upcoming Police Banquet sponsored by Delray Citizens for Delray Police and more.
There are many ways to connect. But only if we look. And I hope you do. Because it makes all the difference.
You’re needed and you’ll benefit by getting involved too.
Not a bad deal.
The best leaders connect. The best citizens too.
Here’s a free event that I hope you’ll think about coming to see.
On April 25 at 4 pm Old School Square’s Crest Theatre will host the awarding of a Bronze Star to retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown.
Skip spent 20 years as an officer in Delray and a great deal of that time was spent building community. He managed the Police Department’s volunteer program and specialized in reaching hard to reach segments of our city.
He was all about making a connection.
If you want a dose come to the Crest a week from Tuesday. The event is free–bring the kids. It’s a teachable moment and a chance to honor valor and bravery.
Meanwhile, find ways to get connected. It makes all the difference.



Can You Fall For Your City? Yes You Can

Peter Kageyama will be in Delray April 30.

Peter Kageyama will be in Delray April 30.


Have you ever been to a restaurant that was once a hot spot and now seems tired and old?

The kind of place where you look around think, “Wow, what happened? This used to be amazing. Now it’s dead.”

If restaurants don’t keep up with the times their customer base either ages or moves on, a sad fact of life.

I wonder if cities work the same way. I suspect that they do.

I read a lot about cities in a variety of publications, books and blogs and a common theme seems to be emerging: the notion of what some call a “switched on” city.

Peter Kageyama, who will be speaking 6 p.m. April 30 at the Crest Theatre, talks about this concept in his books and speeches. He focuses on the little things that cities can do that make people fall in love with them.

The concept of loving your community may sound sappy to some, but it’s critically important.

If you love something, you commit to it. And if you commit, you tend to care, invest and protect whatever it is you are passionate about.

Viewed through that lens, it would appear that getting people to fall in love should be the ultimate goal of a city.

Love is another word for engagement and can be measured by voting percentages, volunteer hours, and willingness to show up at community events, whether people speak out on issues and how they talk about their city.

I remember being a young reporter in Delray in the mid to 80s, a volatile time in the city’s history.

There was division on the City Commission, instability at City Hall, concern about crime and the Police Department and huge concerns about vacancy and the lack of traffic downtown.

But despite these significant headwinds there was optimism everywhere you looked. Why? Because people loved their town, cared for it and were willing to do whatever it took to solve problems and make things better.

The political divisions were largely personality driven. There wasn’t a whole lot of arguing over policy or direction in those days.

Wisely, the city’s leaders embarked on a process called “Visions 2000” which provided future city commissioners and mayors with a blueprint for what kind of city stakeholders wanted to see take shape. The Decade of Excellence Bond, CRA, DDA and city investments helped pay for the vision and good leadership and staff ensured progress.

Visions tend to unify. Without a vision, cities, businesses, organizations tend to drift. Drift always creates a vacuum and in that vacuum there is trouble in the form of personal agendas, score settling and other happy stuff. If a community is absorbed in implementing a vision, there’s little room for trivial matters and not a lot of tolerance for pettiness. Majoring in the minor, doesn’t work.

Visions create excitement. And excitement creates momentum. Momentum leads to traction and results.

It also builds confidence among citizens that ideas can come to life and that their precious time is not being wasted in some “check the box” process designed to placate residents and provide politicians good “optics.”

And when change occurs, love and commitment builds. Now you’ve really got something. You’ll have good people run for office, your elections will be about ideas and keeping things going not mindless generic campaigns (I am against crime! John Q. Candidate is a fill-in-the-blank bad guy) you get the picture. Your schools and police department will have volunteers and your non-profits will be supported.

But here’s the rub…you are never done. Even if you reach this nirvana and I think in many ways Delray and Boca Raton have tasted this level of success, you can’t let up. Complacency is a killer.

Like a restaurant, you better add some gluten free items, a delicious vegetarian menu and some local craft beers. You may have to change the decorations too and add some music as well.

For Boca and Delray, I believe a key will be how to create a community that appeals to millennials.

By the end of 2015, millennials are expected to officially outnumber the baby boomers. Marketers estimate that millennials control more than $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending in our consumer market, and this number is sure to grow. It’s their turn and it’s their time.

Do your museums and cultural venues appeal to millennials? Do your neighborhoods and parks provide what they like? Retailers and restaurants will make the shift, or not, at their own peril.

But cities need to be thinking about this generational shift as well.

Not that the boomers are done. Speaking as a boomer (1964 was the last year so I qualify) we will not go quietly into the night. But the world is changing. You can see it on Atlantic Avenue, Mizner Park, Palmetto Park Road and at The Fresh Market on Linton. Look around; there are a lot of young people.

So what do millennials like? According to researchers there are four key millennial pillars: Authenticity, Uniqueness, Meaningfulness and Innovation.

Not a bad list. Boomers and other generations might look those pillars too. Perhaps, cities can embrace that list as well.

Who wouldn’t fall in love with a city that is authentic, unique, meaningful and innovative?


Raising The Bar on Quality of Place

Millennium Park in Chicago is an example of how placemaking can elevate a city.

Millennium Park in Chicago is an example of how placemaking can elevate a city.

“Cities are full of overlapping memories; overlapping stories. The city is not just bricks and mortar. It’s about love; of the people for their place. It’s not possible for the master plan to answer all the questions, but we can create a robust framework that allows life to take place. Invitations to walk. To sit. To stay. A better way to cross the street. A better way to live your life.” ~David Sim, Gehl Architects

With Boca and Delray experiencing angst about development it seems that we have reached a crossroads.

We have some choices to make.

We can reach for the Xanax, give up, or begin a communitywide conversation on how this all works or doesn’t work.

In Boca, there is a major debate about tall buildings in the downtown. In Delray Beach, the debate rages over height, density, traffic and whether or not there should incentives for certain uses.

Nothing is going to change until March 10 when both cities hold municipal elections. But as soon as the dust clears, the conversation should begin. In fact, the conversation about the future growth of development of our community should never end.

So even though Delray has just adopted new LDR’s which contain some good things (preserving the scale of Atlantic Avenue, introducing green building principles etc.) and some bad things (hard density caps and a raft of technical issues raised by planners, architects and engineers and no incentives for desired uses) it doesn’t mean that this issue is settled or that the dialogue should end.

Plans and rules are not sacrosanct, the best plans live and breathe and change with the desires of the community and or the evolving realities of the marketplace. As such, switched on leaders should be keeping the conversation going, educating, elevating, measuring and engaging all the way.

The beauty of cities is that you are never done and the best led communities understand that complacency is a killer.

That’s why it’s great news that the legendary Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces ( will be hosting a discussion on placemaking Wednesday, Feb. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Arts Garage in downtown Delray Beach.

Kent, who happens to live part time in Delray, is arguably the world’s foremost expert on placemaking or the art of creating wonderful public spaces. He’s also an authority on public markets and is a regular at Delray’s Green Market, a terrific program run by Delray’s CRA.

Mayor Cary Glickstein wants to focus on making the most of Delray’s public assets, a laudable goal and something that cities worldwide are doing. Whether it’s known as “urban acupuncture”, tactical urbanism, placemaking or leveraging so-called “lazy assets”, cities large and small are taking a fresh look at what they own and trying to imagine how these places can look and feel better.

Last week, the Knight Foundation published a report called “Livable Cities” which called for communities to invest in building places for people not cars; a simple concept to understand but one that has eluded many cities for years as we promote car oriented sprawl through our zoning policies.

Human Powered Delray, a grassroots organization, gets that and is doing terrific work to raise awareness about the importance of these issues.

When we talk about building places for people, we are really about design.

Urban Land Institute Scholar Ed McMahon gives a wonderful TED Talk on the importance of design for cities.

“The image of a community is fundamentally important to its economic well -being,” says McMahon. “Decisions such as where to invest, where to work, where to retire, and where to vacation are all made based on what a community looks like.”

In today’s economy, the quality of place matters the most. “In a world where capital is footloose, if you can’t differentiate [your town] from any other, you have no competitive advantage,” he says.


Urbanist Peter Kageyama  has the same message. His wonderful book “For the Love of Cities” talks about the importance of creating places and experiences that make people fall in love with their cities.

When you fall in love, you commit, you invest and you spread the word which attracts more commitment, investment and positive buzz.  The “extras” are how cities differentiate themselves from the pack and it is how places become invaluable.

A good place to start is to look at what you already own; your town squares, right of ways, parks, beaches, cultural institutions, libraries etc.

Placemaking doesn’t have to be expensive or grand, but it does have to put people first and it has to be different and authentic.

Boca and Delray have unique assets and incredible potential. The potential is literally boundless.

Mizner Park is a nationally recognized lifestyle center anchored by a stage that hosts cultural events. Boca also has incredible parks and Palmetto Park Road in east Boca has tremendous upside.

Delray, of course, has great bones; a grid system, human scale, vibrancy and a main street that empties into an ocean. It also has some “lazy” assets that can be so much more including a tennis stadium, a downtown park and municipal parking lots that can be used to create more parking and a mix of uses.

Here’s hoping that when the dust settles on the municipal elections, we stop the pandering and get back to a serious discussion on design and how our cities can work better for people.