It’s All Connected

Recipe for conflict. Every. Single. Time.

Recipe for conflict. Every. Single. Time.

Consider the following…

-When the CRA was founded in 1985, the total property value of the district was $245 million, today it is more than $1.6 billion and growing.

-In recent years, the CRA has received more than $6 million from the county annually in tax increment funding contributions; over the last three decades the total from the county is over $60 million. That’s funding that almost surely would have been spent outside the city if it didn’t go to our CRA.

–Over the years, our CRA has reinvested over $100 million in local TIF revenues in our city. The money has been spent on infrastructure, capital improvements, parking facilities, affordable housing, beautification efforts, economic development initiatives, land acquisition (turning unproductive property into uses that often produce jobs) and arts and culture that drive more jobs, tax revenues and quality of life. Signature projects include: the beautification of Northwest and Southwest 5th Avenue, Atlantic Grove, the Fairfield Inn, The Hyatt, Old School Square, the Delray Beach Public Library, Spady Museum, South County Courthouse (land acquisition), Worthing Place, the Downtown Master Plan, improvements to U.S. 1 and the new Uptown Delray project which includes plans for a long sought neighborhood grocery.

–From the Green Market and Municipal Tennis Stadium to historic preservation efforts and the Community Land Trust, the CRA has been an integral part of Delray’s fabric.

The list of achievements, public private partnerships, site development assistance, façade improvements and business grants goes on and on.

In other words, it takes a village to build a village.

And this village would not be nearly the same without its CRA. It has been far and away our best economic development tool and has only gotten more effective along the way.

CRA monies have always complemented the city’s budget, including paying for police officers to make our city’s downtown clean and safe and funding for planning and engineering initiatives that built a pretty cool city.

For most of the past 20 years, the CRA has been focused on the West Atlantic corridor and neighborhoods north and south of the avenue and east of 95.

More than $60 million has been spent on sidewalks, water pressure improvements, beautification, housing, lighting, parks, plazas and economic development initiatives.

This wasn’t a heroic contribution; it was the right thing to do. But it should be acknowledged as well.

Public spending should be directed where the needs are but this was not always the case in Delray Beach.

As late as the 1980s, large parts of the central business district suffered from blighted conditions and disinvestment. Pineapple Grove was an idea, but it was pretty decrepit when it was hatched. And that’s a compliment.

When I was elected to the City Commission in 2000, there were still a few unpaved streets in our southwest neighborhoods. Many blocks did not have good water pressure, sidewalks or lighting.

But there was a whole lot of vision and a lot of dedicated people working together on what became known as the Southwest Plan. When the citizen driven plan was completed and adopted by the city, spending by the city and the CRA was earmarked to bring the plan to life. And while much was done—see the above millions invested—it was clear that even more needed to be done to improve neighborhoods and to break the cycle of poverty that gripped many families in our city.

Beacon Programs—providing wrap around social, educational and health services—were created, a Boys and Girls Club opened with the invaluable help of Mayor Tom Lynch and former CRA member Marc DeBaptiste, the Village Academy opened and was expanded to cover pre-K through 12th grade and a Community Land Trust was established to add much needed housing in  underserved neighborhoods.

It’s a remarkable story of a community, a city and a CRA working together.

In community building, one of the first lessons you learn is that you are never “done.”

There is always more to do: more progress to be made, more challenges to overcome and more opportunities to seize.

That seems to be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised as you make progress how many people want cities to declare victory and stop investing. That’s a mistake, complacency is a killer.

Usually, the argument is that spending needs to be directed elsewhere—and many times it does. But community building is not a zero-sum game.

You can and should invest in multiple neighborhoods. It’s not a choice between East Atlantic and West Atlantic or between the downtown and Congress Avenue as some elected officials wrongly claim. Sure, you need priorities, but that doesn’t mean that you neglect one part of your town in favor of another—especially when your city is interconnected and certain neighborhoods provide the fuel and the funding to ensure that needier neighborhoods can receive what they need.

A friend has pointed out to me that it is impossible to improve blighted residential neighborhoods without the cash generated by successful commercial development.

Residential neighborhoods—especially ones that have problems—do not generate the tax dollars to do the job. But successful downtowns do. And because East Atlantic has performed so well, TIF dollars generated as a result can be and have been (for a long time now) used to fund improvements to West Atlantic and adjoining neighborhoods.

The key to doing more is to keep your pump healthy—to maintain your focus on all parts of your downtown and to create new economic drivers such as Congress Avenue, US 1 and the four corners of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail.

The other key is to support, collaborate with and sharpen your economic development agencies.

Schools, quality health care, a strong business community, the arts, recreation and open space are also critical components—along with safe streets and a city government that provides services efficiently.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. Remember, you are never done and if you think you are, complacency or smugness will bite you.




Shaping The Future


“Few things are less predictable or more dangerous than young men and women without hope, and there are thousands of these in so many of our cities.”– Governing Publisher Mark Funkhouser.

The images from Baltimore’s unrest are still very fresh in my mind.

The news cycle moves on-it always does—but crushing poverty persists. And so we will have another Baltimore. You can count on it.

I wonder if we will ever seriously make an effort to get at the root causes of hopelessness, drug abuse and crime in America. I wonder if we will ever have leadership capable of galvanizing our country again.

We seem so Balkanized and the polarization seems to be getting more acute, more sharp-edged.

The world is changing rapidly, some say exponentially and much faster than some of our institutions are capable of dealing with.

There seems to be two views of this kind of change.

The people at the forefront of technology are big believers that tech will save the world, by creating new industries and new opportunities. They see huge advances in health care, education, manufacturing and agriculture that will usher in a golden era of prosperity.

Then there are those who aren’t as bullish.

From the self-checkout aisle of the grocery store to the sports section of the newspaper, robots and computer software are increasingly taking the place of humans in the workforce. Silicon Valley executive Martin Ford says that robots, once thought of as a threat to only manufacturing jobs, are poised to replace humans as teachers, journalists, lawyers and others in the service sector.


“There’s already a hardware store [in California] that has a customer service robot that, for example, is capable of leading customers to the proper place on the shelves in order to find an item,” Ford tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies.

In his new book, “Rise of the Robots”, Ford considers the social and economic disruption that is likely to result when educated workers can no longer find employment.

“As we look forward from this point, we need to keep in mind that this technology is going to continue to accelerate,” Ford told NPR. “So I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to become the primary driver of inequality in the future, and things are likely to get even more extreme than they are now.”

While Ford paints a sobering picture, futurist Peter Diamandis of Singularity University, believes in a future filled with “abundance.”

“Abundance—the Future is Better Than You Think”—is a  book by Dr. Peter Diamandis (Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation) and Steven Kotler (bestselling author and science journalist). The book serves as an antidote to today’s dark pessimism.

The authors rely on exhaustive research and extensive interviews with top scientists, innovators, and captains of industry to explore how four emerging forces—exponential technologies, the Do It Yourself innovator, the Technophilanthropist, and the Rising Billion (poor people becoming connected to the Internet and mobile technology) —are conspiring to solve our biggest problems.

The truth about what will happen is probably somewhere in the middle. We will benefit immensely—and have-from the advances we have seen in technology. But there will be winners and losers—as we are experiencing.

The key will be positioning our communities, states and nations to take advantage of exponential change and mitigate the downsides. We have to create a middle class again and we can’t ignore the poor.

While robots and computers are beginning to move from rote activities to those requiring dexterity, you have to believe that human capacity, empathy, emotional intelligence, creativity, love and nuance will still count for something in the future.

So yes, STEM education (science, technology and math) will be vital, but art will still be important too; maybe even more so in the age of robotics.

We are seeing trends in food—all natural, organic, locally grown. Products—craft beer (have you been to Saltwater Brewery, Copperpoint, Due South, Funky Buddha?), functional drinks (Boca-based Celsius, not Diet Coke, former Delray resident Jeff Rubinstein’s new beverage WTRMLN water), the rise of Etsy and the many entrepreneurs roaming Boca-Delray seeking and filling niches.

Years ago, when we did community visions and plans, we spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted to see happen. A lot of money was spent on infrastructure, parking garages, beautification, lighting, gateway features and things like improving water pressure, adding sidewalks and roads.

Today’s visioning needs to include capacity building and the importance of nurturing human capital.

I recently spent some time in a car driving through Delray’s southwest neighborhoods with my co-chair on the Downtown Master Plan: Chuck Ridley.

We saw a whole lot of things to work on: substandard housing and blight. But that wasn’t the purpose of the tour. We went to see the neighborhood’s assets: the Village Academy, Catherine Strong Park, Community Land Trust homes which looked great, the cleared site of Carver Square where the CRA removed sinking homes and more.

The job is far from done and the potential is visible for all those willing to see. But if you want to see unrest, violence and despair stop trying to build hope and let the future shape your community.

We see where the world is headed, the future can be abundant or it can be dystopian.

I’d like to think we have a say.