Vision is imperative

Vision is imperative

Over the past few weeks, I have been meeting with a friend who is hard at work on a book about mayors.

The book is focused on mayoral leadership and the author’s premise is that successful mayors articulate or champion a vision, involve the public, put a team in place to implement the vision and exercise political will to ensure that the vision is accomplished when the inevitable opposition to change arises.

It’s all good stuff. But what intrigues me is the author’s premise that cities need to create a new vision every 25 years or they will run into trouble.

I agree with that. And doing the math, I’d say that Delray is due a new or renewed vision.

The best visions are community building exercises in which all major stakeholders are engaged and asked to participate.

Delray’s revitalization began in the late 80s, when a group of committed citizens working alongside city staff developed Visions 2000.

Visions 2000 served as a blueprint for the next decade of policymaking and informed spending for the next ten years. It also enabled the passing of the landmark $21.5 million Decade of Excellence Bond, in which citizens voted to go into debt in order to improve the community.

Why? Because they not only believed in the vision, they helped to craft it. They also had faith in local government to deliver.

The Decade of Excellence helped to usher in a lot of private investment; business owners, homeowners, restauranteurs and developers began to risk capital because they believed in Delray and were excited by the vision. I can think of no more valuable economic development tool than to have an exciting vision.

But you can’t stop at a vision, you have to implement and Delray did so–remarkably well.

When the Decade of Excellence wrapped up and the projects were completed, a new vision for the downtown was formed –again with an inclusive process. While Visions 2000 brought a representative sample of citizens together, the Downtown Master Plan invited everybody willing to show up to the table.

In all, over 500 people participated in the charrette, plus several hundred who visited temporary design studios set up on Swinton Avenue.

Immediately upon completion, a steering committee in charge of the plan, morphed into an implementation committee which prioritized projects and worked with staff and related agencies to get projects designed, funded and under way. The process worked and unlike other cities that let plans sit on a shelf, Delray delivered.

But like everything else in a fast-changing world, visions need to change to meet current needs and aspirations.

As a result of past good work, Delray has a ton of options and possibilities that it didn’t have when the journey started 30 years ago.

We dreamt of creating a place attractive to the creative class and now they are here.

We dreamt of creating a vibrant food and beverage scene and it happened. Now the challenge is to move beyond food and beverage.

We dreamt of creating a walkable community with downtown residential options and mixed use projects and saw it happen.

We dreamt of becoming a cultural beacon for the region and it happened with the redevelopment of Delray Center for the Arts,  The Arts Garage and now Artist’s Alley and other efforts.

Parts of the vision are incomplete and or didn’t quite happen, but a great deal of it did. And it should be a source of enormous civic pride.

But complacency is a killer and cities should never rest on their laurels. Downtown is never done, we used to say. Success is never permanent and hopefully failure is never fatal.

Cities are not a zero sum game, you can concentrate on downtown and the neighborhoods. You can promote West Atlantic Avenue and Congress Avenue.

And you should.