Social Media Should Not Replace In Person Communication

Like many things, social media has its pluses and minuses.
I suspect I’m like many when I say I enjoy Facebook for the convenience of being able to stay in touch with a wide variety of friends and family that I wouldn’t have been able to without the ease of social media.
From past work colleagues and classmates to neighbors and far flung family, Facebook enables me to catch glimpses of their lives and to share snippets of mine (mostly dog pics). It makes me feel at least nominally connected to people I care about but in all honesty would never have time to call, take to lunch or visit. It also enabled me to discover a fantastic song called “Debris” by the Faces, thanks to music guru Steve Martel (thanks Steve).
But there’s also a dark side to social media—where trolls, cyber bullies, rumors and outright lies thrive.
On balance, I’ll take the bad because I think the upside and potential of social media far outweighs the negative.
The good, bad and ugly of social media is being debated loudly these days in the wake of the strangest and most divisive election most of us have ever seen. I assiduously avoid national politics on my Facebook page but many of my friends on both sides of the gaping divide had a field day this cycle.
I watched in real time long standing relationships blow up over posts and comments and it saddened me.
I suspect a few Thanksgiving celebrations may have different rosters as a result of social media posts.
And it’s not just national elections that get us overheated. Local politics is also rife with anger and recrimination.
I keep an eye on this page in Boca that can get lively. I’ll shield the names to protect the innocent, but this was an exchange last week regarding a luxury hotel coming to town.
It follows a typical pattern.
Someone expresses happiness that a project is coming.
Someone else quickly replies that the project stinks, will ruin the city and create traffic jams.
The person, who was happy a second ago, replies that his neighbor should move if they don’t like what’s happening. Usually it’s not a polite: “why don’t you consider a locale where you might find bliss”, nope it’s typically a variation of “shut up and move if you don’t like it.”
And now we are off to the races: fighting words like: whining, greed and moron are exchanged and we descend from there until it finally burns out only to be rekindled when someone else joins in and expresses an opinion about how things “used to be” or the need for one thing or another. It’s exhausting and I’m not sure what it all adds up to.
Did we learn something?
Did we solve anything?
I think there’s some value in expression, but this kind of stuff hardly qualifies as dialogue.
I just finished an interesting book: “I’m right and you’re an Idiot” which explains why people get dug in and offers some insights into how to bridge divides and achieve some measure of civility and compromise.
One giant takeaway is that “facts” hardly matter—oh sure some people will change their mind if presented with evidence, but many won’t regardless of how much you throw at them. People do respond to stories and emotion, but typically once they adopt a narrative and a world view it’s hard to budge them. Social media only amplifies that human trait.
I think social media is an amazing tool for a public official or anyone in a leadership position. I think if you are in office you should be using social media to connect to constituents and to explain your positions and also solicit input. But it is NOT a substitute for face to face human interaction and real life interaction.
A lot is lost online—we’ve all been burned by email, text messages and social media posts—because we can’t see body language or ask for clarification like we can when we are face to face.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I’ve seen families fight and friends “defriend” and “block” each other.
Social media platforms have had an odd response to this difficult and complex environment.
Twitter has suspended accounts and has been blasted for doing so. The service says it is ridding the platform of hate speech; those who have been booted are crying censorship.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has argued that “false news” (like the Pope endorsing Trump which was shared, liked and cited thousands of times) didn’t have an impact—in the next breath he’s selling advertising on his site because of its ability to influence decisions. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. And yes, Facebook ads work. I can personally attest because I have sold a few books with Facebook ads and we have sold a bunch of hot sauce and beverages by promoting our brands on the site. Like it or not, Facebook is our water cooler these days. It matters.
I would just caution that we don’t limit all of our interactions to social media—there’s still room for meet ups, coffee with friends, group discussions etc. With augmented and virtual reality coming fast, we better leave room for face to face old-fashioned conversation.
We may not ever agree on whether a Mandarin Hotel is the right thing—but it’s not as easy to call someone a moron when he or she is sitting right in front of you.

Coda: A few words about anger.
Social media has the ability to spread a lot of happiness and laughter—and it can also make you angry.
Regardless, there’s no doubt that social media can affect your mood and may affect your behavior in the real world. We need to chill.
The real world can apparently also make you crazy.
Last week as I was leaving my neighborhood I noticed a cyclist lingering near the gate. I inched up so the gate could open. I don’t think he was paying attention and I may have startled him. But I can assure you my intention wasn’t to get up and run someone over. I just wanted to open the gate for both of us and go to work.
It seemed to annoy him. He pulled up to the side of the car, I put the window down. I was treated to a few expletives—and stupidly gave him a few back. He gave me his address and so I gave him mine—not sure why this was necessary but I suspect it wasn’t so he could come over and discuss whether a Mandarin Hotel was good or bad for Boca. If he does come over, I will apologize for startling him, and politely remind him my intention was to open the gate not maim him.
When I relayed the story to a friend, he told me was screamed at by a cyclist and a driver for not crossing the street fast enough for either’s taste.
“Did the extra half second it took for me to get out of the way ruin their day?” my friend asked.
Probably not. But that’s just a guess.
Relax…breathe…exhale…(I so need to take this advice).

7 Essential Traits of Leaders

With an historic presidential election behind us, the topic of leadership in America and in our communities has become a front burner discussion. Here’s a few thoughts on what we think are essential attributes for leaders at any level of government, business, non-profits and academia.

7 Essential Attributes: All Seven Are Necessary for Success
“People would rather follow a leader who is always real versus a leader who is always right. Don’t try to be a perfect leader, just work on being an authentic one.” –Brad Lomenick

Integrity

Integrity is like the foundation of a house. It’s not the first thing you notice, yet without it, the house won’t stand and all the fancy amenities won’t matter.

So what is integrity? It is saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It’s keeping promises, its resisting temptation to be corrupted and it means telling the truth. But it also means a lot more than just telling the truth. It means not being silent when you see something wrong. It means being able to hold yourself and others accountable and it means always acting ethically.

Quote: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” –Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is experiencing or feeling. It means an ability to tune into others, to listen and to understand. Leaders need to be able to connect to people. They need to be able to probe beneath the surface, to sense conflict before it erupts and nip it in the bud and they need to be able to sense the mood in a room and adjust their communication accordingly.
Quote: “Leadership boils down to strong relationships. Before I can be an effective leader I have to know the players, they have to get to know me and we have to trust and know each other.” – Coach K. of Duke.

Emotional Intelligence
Leaders need to understand their blind spots and weaknesses as much as their strengths. They need to evolve and adapt to new challenges. They need to work well with diverse personalities.

Quote: “Until you know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed.” –Warren Bennis.

Vision

Every good leader has vision. Leaders imagine a better future. Visionaries understand that leading is a job to do not a job to have. They are transformational leaders, with a clear vision of a brighter tomorrow. They are able to think long term and focus beyond the daily grind.
Visionary leaders inspire. They are optimistic and they never lose focus.

Quote: “Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.” – George Lucas.

Judgment

Good judgment is essential for effective leadership. Good judgment means good decision making. In leadership positions, you will often have to make dozens of decisions on a regular basis. Sometimes you will be given time and information; sometimes you will have to make quick decisions with little information. As a leader, you can’t afford to be indecisive. You have to answer the call.

Three tips for developing good judgment and making good decisions.
1.Zero in on what’s important
2.See the whole chessboard
3.Take decisive action.

Quote: “Mistakes are not the ‘spice’ of life. Mistakes are life. Mistakes are not to be tolerated. They are to be encouraged.” –Tom Peters
Courage

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. If you want to lead, conflict is inevitable. Leadership means being on the front lines of conflict. It means having the courage to take a stand and know that you will make some people angry. You will make friends and you will lose friends. In leadership positions: you will be tested every day.

Quote: “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” -— Eddie Rickenbacker World War I hero

Passion

Passion is the drive to achieve, to make a difference, to put a dent in the universe. Without passion, without drive, you cannot be an effective leader. You have to wake up every day driven to learn, achieve, master and move toward your goals and vision. Passion drives progress.

Quote: “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” -— Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch

Strategy+Team=Success

I’m a big fan of Fred Wilson.
He’s a highly regarded NYC based venture capitalist who writes a fascinating blog on investing and technology.
This time of year, he’s spending his time in board meetings planning for the upcoming year.
When you are involved in a successful enterprise, board meetings are exciting. It’s fun to talk about growth and expanding market share. But when you are in struggling enterprise, board meetings can be very challenging and often stressful.
Wilson believes the keys to success are having a strategy and building a winning team. Here’s what he has to say:
“You have to get the strategy right and you have to have a team that can execute it without your day to day involvement. The CEOs that I work with that are struggling are usually running into issues with their team and/or their strategy. And the CEOs that I work with that are doing great generally have gotten the strategy set and have built a strong executive team underneath them.
This sounds so simple. But it is not.
Most of the companies I work with didn’t really start out with a strategy. They started out with an idea that turned into a great product that found a fit with a market. And they jumped on that and used it to build a company. Most of them wake up at some point and realize that a single product in a single market is not a strategy and they need to come up with a plan to get a lot bigger and build a sustainable and defensible business. I like to think that this is one place where a good investor group can help. If we are doing our job, we push our portfolio companies to work on their long term strategy and refine it to the point where it makes sense and is executable. But an investor group cannot give a company a strategy. It has to come from the founder/CEO and a small group of senior leaders. The smaller the group that is working on strategy, the better. Strategy is not something that can be done by committee.
The second thing, building an executive team that can execute the plan without day to day involvement of the CEO, is even harder. Most of the companies I work with go through a lot of hiring mistakes on the way to building this team. Some hire too junior. Some hire too senior. Some hire bad cultural fits. Some hire people that are nothing but cultural fit. And an investor or investor group can help with this but I believe that founders/CEOs need to learn how to do this themselves and make these mistakes. The best thing an investor group can do is to help a founder/CEO to understand when they have the wrong person in the job. Or help them understand that more quickly.
These are both areas where experience is huge. The CEOs I work with who have done the job multiple times get these two things right much more quickly. But even they can take a year or two to get these right. First time CEOs often take three or four years to get these things right. But sticking with founders who are first time CEOs through this process is usually worth it because they have a connection to the initial vision and mission that a hired CEO has a hard time replicating. There is not a good rule of thumb on this issue (who should run the company). Facts and circumstances on the ground will generally determine how that should go.

My final point on this is that once you have the strategy and team locked down, you should step back and let the machine do its thing. I like to say that CEOs should do only three things; recruit and retain the team, build and evolve the long term strategy and communicate it effectively and broadly in the organization and externally, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. When those are the only things you are doing, you are doing the job right. Very few CEOs get to focus on only these three things all of the time. Things break and you have to fix them. But when the machine is working and you can step back and watch it hum, it is a thing of beauty.”
Amen.
This blog likes to focus on cities and there is a real parallel between what Wilson is talking about and building a successful community. And there are some differences.
First, strategy can be substituted for a community vision and while for business Wilson recommends a small group be involved in crafting strategy, in a city it helps if you have as many stakeholders involved as possible. It’s the job of elected leadership to prioritize, hone and drive the vision and it’s the job of city staff to implement in a timely and efficient manner.
But cities get in trouble when there is no strategy, vision or plan. And they get in trouble when egotistical leaders decide to keep their own counsel and cut themselves off from input or debate.
They also get in trouble when they decide to micromanage and delve into the day to day operations of the city. If you find that you are doing this, you need to stop. If you find that you need to do this because your staff can’t or won’t execute, you need to get new staff. But elected officials need to stay in their policymaking box (which is plenty big) and allow staff to do their jobs. Ideally, you should try to create a culture of experimentation and innovation not fear.
If staff can feel confident enough to think outside the box and solve problems legally, ethically and efficiently you will succeed. If they feel bullied, micromanaged and or afraid to make a mistake you have created a culture that will fail to solve problems or seize opportunities. Your best talent will flee, you will not be able to attract top tier talent and you will turn lemonade into a lemon.
I happen to believe in outcomes over process. That does not mean that process is not important or that you shouldn’t have a process. But it does mean that outcomes are more important— as long as you act legally, ethically and morally.
It shouldn’t take three weeks to type a basic building permit. It shouldn’t take a year to approve a mixed use development. It shouldn’t require an act of Congress or a deity to get a parking agreement and or a developer agreement. If it does, you got a problem.
Strategy and team; you need them both. One doesn’t work without the other. And if you are deficient with either or both, you have major problems and you cannot succeed.

Keepers of the Flame

Jan Gehl is an award winning Danish architect who has worked on high profile projects all over the world.
Recently, he visited the Harvard Design School to discuss the role of politics and leadership in driving improvement in cities.
In his experience, he believes “the personal factor is very strong in bringing about transformative urban changes”.
Gehl’s new book New City Spaces talks about nine cities that have really turned things around, and in nearly all of the cases, it started with some centrally placed person or torchbearer who had a vision. It might have been the mayor of Curitiba, the longstanding director of urban design in Melbourne, or the mayor in Strasbourg. In Copenhagen, the city architect, city engineer, and mayor worked together, and in Portland it was more or less the Greens winning the election in 1968 that brought significant change, according to Gehl.
“It (transformative changes) could come from the bottom or above, but very seldom did it grow out of the day-to-day administration of the cities. It was often a force from the outside, or a new officer or a new politician.”
Interesting and I have no doubt that Gehl is correct in his diagnosis of the cities he has studied.
But I would argue that another model—outside the hero mayor or architect narrative—is citizen driven planning or visioning. Delray used this transformational model effectively from the late 80s until the mid 2000s for plans relating to the downtown, neighborhoods, culture, education and parks.
It works.
In many cases, change is driven by a threat or by conditions that are so poor, they drive people to organize and push for reform. In Delray’s case, the threat was a plan by the Florida Department of Transportation to widen Atlantic Avenue to facilitate hurricane evacuation. While this may not be the best week to argue against that notion, it was widely believed that if FDOT was successful we would have lost our downtown forever. Instead of being a narrow, pedestrian friendly street promoting slow traffic, the avenue would have been a highway—good for evacuation bad for urbanism.
I’m hoping the new effort relating to the city’s update of its Comprehensive Plan is more like an old school visioning exercise than a top down exercise designed to check a box for the sake of optics because community visioning is critically important and so is the Comp Plan.
Gehl is correct when he notes that transformation rarely grows out of day- to -day administration.
Same goes for business.
When you’re leading or running a city or a business, you really have two considerations: the day to day and the future. You have to consider both or you are doomed to failure or disruption.
So yes when a citizen calls to complain about a tree branch you need to respond. But, you also should be thinking about your tree canopy and whether you have planned your open spaces well enough. Leadership requires taking care of the present and planning for the future.
In a council-manager form of government, in which the mayor’s position is supposed to be strictly policymaking and part-time (the part-time part is a fallacy, trust me), you can’t wait for a hero with a vision to come to rescue. It’s up to the citizens to take responsibility, but leadership is critical. The best leaders seek input, constantly engage, try their best to raise the level of conversation and once adopted become the chief evangelists and defenders of the vision.
And believe me; the vision will need defending because change is never easy nor universally accepted especially if your vision is ambitious and not boring or incremental.
Every city aspires to be a great place to live, work and play—but the devil as they say is in the details. Vibrancy requires activity and public spaces may need to be activated.
Change while often resisted is also inevitable. So you can count on your vision being challenged on a regular basis. The best leaders are guardians of the flame. If they resist the urge to cave when the critics emerge and trust in the people’s vision your vision will gain traction and soar. But if they capitulate—the vision will die and along with it any chance of meaningful change. Oh and you’ll lose the trust of citizens who helped to forge the vision and counted on you—the elected leader—to ensure it moves forward.
That’s a high price to pay.

9/11 Local Perspective

Sept. 11, 2001 was the shock.
Sept, 12, 2001 was the start of the realization that our lives, our country and our world would be forever different. Over the coming weeks, 15 years ago, we would discover just how different our world would be.
Anthrax came to Boca Raton when a man died opening a letter.
We discovered that at least seven and possibly nine of the 19 terrorists were living in Delray Beach. Another three were living in Boynton.
They were at our library. They lived in the Hamlet, went to a local gym, were seen poolside at Laver’s and filled a prescription for cipro at Huber’s Drugs. One of our officers, Tom Quinlan, responded to a call about a dog bite and later learned that the bite victim was ringleader Mohammed Atta.
I worked in a building a few yards from the AMI headquarters in Boca at the time of the anthrax scare which came a week after the attacks. Bob Stevens, who worked for the National Enquirer, was the first victim of anthrax when he opened a letter containing deadly spores.
It was a surreal scene. Nobody wanted open their mail.
At the time, our Fire Chief Kerry Koen had encouraged city commissioners to ride on fire trucks and hand out treats to children on Halloween. The year before the event was a smashing success. Children throughout Delray Beach were excited to see the big red engines.
But in 2001, the event was a little different and as soon as it got dark, the department started getting calls from people who thought the sugar that spilled from lanterns holding candy was anthrax and the same engines that elicited cheers and laughter were now called to investigate whether there was a deadly toxin in our city.
But Delray Beach was a strong community back then. You don’t really know that until you’re tested.

A few months prior, the city had won a second all America city award becoming the first city in Florida to do so.
At that time, the civic fabric was strong and there was unity. And Delray had a knack for turning challenges into opportunities. The City had confidence. There was just a feeling that whatever was thrown our way, collectively we would figure it out.

Dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 was a huge challenge. But we had a great mayor at the time, David Schmidt. He was an attorney, soft spoken, polite and professional. But he was also resolute, very smart and exhibited strength in a way that was calming. I sat next to him on the dais and I liked him. But watching him closely– seeing how he handled different situations –turned me into an admirer. David handled adversity with dignity and strength. We were blessed to have him as our mayor during that trying time.
As a community we gathered at Old School Square and at the Community Center to pray and to mourn and to just be together with our neighbors. We sent some personnel to ground zero including Russ Accardi a high ranking member of our fire department.
It was in these difficult moments that we found strength in each other. And that is community. It’s heart. It’s love. It’s caring and I think –because we are Americans –it’s also about taking action–doing something to make things better.
And so Skip Brown, a police officer, and himself a wounded Vietnam veteran, formed the nation’s first Homefront Security volunteer program.
At the time, we had well over 1,000 active volunteers at our police department. Many more at our Fire Department too. From this pool of dedicated citizens, largely retirees, Skip formed a special unit and tasked them with patrolling our public assets: water plant, sewer plant, city hall, library, parks, Old School Square Etc.
They wore sharp uniforms that included a beret. They looked amazing. Many –maybe most –were veterans, many were World War II veterans–well into their 70s but very much representative of the “greatest generation.”
They really were different.

Selfless. Tough but kind. Service oriented. Resilient. Wired to give back, to serve and protect, as our Police and firefighters are.
We took great comfort in seeing these men and women around town. They were trained to report suspicious items and their presence lifted our spirits when we needed them lifted.
I lost a childhood friend on Sept. 11. His name was Michael Boyle and he was a firefighter, like his dad. He was off that day campaigning with his best friend for a city council candidate. But when they heard the call, they heeded it and rushed to the scene to be with their brothers and sisters. Mike was never seen again. He was 37 years old.
Last year, my wife and I went to the new 9/11 museum. Since opening in 2014, 7 million have visited. More than 28 million people have visited the memorial in downtown Manhattan. We found Michael’s name along a reflecting pond. One of 343 firefighters lost that day.
This weekend as we marked the 15th anniversary of the attack, I read a bunch of articles and saw a great documentary on Flight 93 on PBS. In two of the stories I read, one about Marisa Di Nardo, the other about Welles Crowther, a 24 year old who lost his life going back up the stairs to bring others back to safety there were parts of the story that noted that both had premonitions, Marisa about her death and Welles that he would be part of “something big.” And I wondered if my childhood friend Michael experienced something similar. I’m not sure we will ever know. Or if it really matters, or maybe it matters a lot. Maybe we are supposed to listen to that inner voice or feelings.
There’s a sculpture inside our main fire station on West Atlantic that honors the 343 firefighters lost that day. It was dedicated in the wake of the tragic day. Last week, on Facebook, my friend Skip now retired in Alabama, posted pictures of his Homefront volunteers. Some are gone now. But I remember them and so do others. They comforted a community that needed to be comforted. President Bush, Governor Bush, Mayor Guiliani and others acknowledged their work with visits and words of praise. Media from all over the world covered their service. And that’s all great stuff. But the larger message is one of community. One of love, service, commitment and courage; about rising to the occasion when the rain comes.
We find ways to cope, both individually and as a community when tragedy strikes. We find solace in family, friends, religion, country and community. And that’s what I’m reflecting on this 15th anniversary.

Vision, Courage + Urgency=Success

Vision.
Courage.
A sense of urgency.
If you want to succeed as a city or a business, you need all three.
Two out of three, just won’t cut it. All three traits are non-negotiable.
Unless of course, you don’t really want to succeed; if you want to pay lip service you can skip one or more of the aforementioned and you’ll fool a few people but you won’t get anything done.
Vision is a big word, but it can be as simple as an idea or as complicated as a breakthrough innovation. I think it also requires a particular mindset: you have to be aspirational and you have to know where you want to take things.
Examples of vision, courage and urgency abound.
Dollar Shave Club sold this month to Unilever for $1 billion.
Fueled by a clever viral video, Dollar Shave Club took a simple idea—make it easy to buy cheap razors and solved a painful problem. Razors are expensive and they are often kept under lock and key in the pharmacy. Blades are inconvenient to buy and ridiculously priced. But Dollar Shave Club made it easy, they had the courage to go up against industry giants and they had a sense of urgency to make it happen.
A small (but growing fast) hot sauce company I’m involved with also has a simple idea. We think the market leader is old, tired, vinegary, watery and doesn’t taste good. So we created Tabanero, using premium ingredients and a complex recipe that we believe tastes great. We are a long way from a billion dollar exit, but we just gained placement at Publix, Sprouts, Lucky’s and all the big food distributors. We are on our way. We have a vision, we are fearless and we are peddling as fast as we can.
Same with another company we are heavily involved with; Celsius which seeks to disrupt the beverage industry which is filled with iconic giants such as Coke and Pepsi. But Celsius is a healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks and seeks to capture a market that doesn’t want aspartame, sugar, corn syrup, artificial flavors or preservatives. The Celsius team has courage, belief and a tremendous desire to seize the day. Working with people who exhibit these traits is an energizing experience; pun intended.
That mindset translates to cities as well.
Delray’s vision was simple: revitalize a town that had good “bones” and make it a desirable to place to live, work and play.
Now mind you, ‘live, work and play’ is not a revolutionary idea. Thousands of communities have adopted that mantra—but if you look closely only a few had the courage and the sense of urgency to make it happen.
Why?
Who knows?
But you can bank on resistance to progress, long lines of protesters, lawsuits and election challenges if you try and make change.
Delray had the courage to do it anyway. And leadership also had a sense of urgency and a desire to take advantage of good economic cycles. Some may call it making hay while the sun shines.
Boca had a vision too. Consider Mizner Park for example. They were challenged, but they persevered and got it done.
Pittsburgh saw its steel mills close but had a vision to reinvent their economy around medicine, education and robotics. Their sense of urgency in doing so was important because without a wholesale reinvention, the Burgh would have sunk into the ooze.
Last week, I got a call, (I won’t say from who) other than he was a property owner who is concerned that Delray has lost its vision and sense of urgency. The guy is not a household name per se in Delray, but he’s owned some strategic pieces over the years. His identity is really not important.
It’s not the first call of this nature that I have received. Mostly, the calls are laments that complacency has set in, political divisiveness too and that the economic cycle may be closer to the end than the beginning and that we didn’t make hay, in fact we chased the hay away.
Yeah, I know development is controversial. And for good reason a lot of times. Some of it, maybe even most of it, can be generic, lacking in imagination, poorly designed and more of the same old, same old.
But that can be fixed. Architects, developers and designers can be and should be challenged to do better.
It’s possible to make places people friendly and to design spaces that complement or improve their surroundings.
Some cities have created design studios to help ensure that projects are the very best they can be.
When famed new urbanist architect Andres Duany came to Delray for a town hall lecture, one of the first things he said was that cities should never make developers and architects guess—they should engage with projects early in the process and shape them so that they enhance the built environment.
Legendary former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley felt that mayors were the primary architects for their cities and had a responsibility to make sure that each project was as good as they could possibly be. Now, truth be told, there are limits. After all, most mayors, including Riley, are not architects or designers, but if they take the time they can learn enough to help make projects look and feel good.
FAU’s Abacoa campus used to have what they called a Florida Public Officials Design Institute, which sadly became a victim of budget cuts. It was a great program; it helped me a lot on the original vision for the Congress Avenue corridor and ideas for the four corners of Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue.
Nationally, there is a Mayor’s Institute for Civic Design which has a stellar reputation.
But there are limits too, I admit. There are property rights and if a developer, with his or her own risk capital wants to build a certain building they have a right to do so—as long as they follow the rules.
Still, most developers I have met are open to being challenged and open to design ideas, if as Duany notes, you engage them early– before they spend big bucks on plans they will be reluctant to toss in the trash.
Mix is important too. I agree with the lament about endless condos, even though I am a firm believer in the need for– and wisdom of –downtown housing if we are to have safe and sustainable urban cores.
But charmless boxes are just that—city codes should encourage good design, varied styles and features that please the public.
But talking about design is a very different conversation than the ones we typically have, which is usually about chasing development away or pretending that we can prevent change. We shouldn’t do the former and we can’t do the latter, even if we wanted to.
We should be talking about design and the very real challenge of how to allow cities to evolve without losing their essence, uniqueness and charm. We should also be talking about mix—how can we encourage cool uses and what’s missing in our community—i.e. workforce housing, co-working, boutique theaters, studio space etc?
That would require vision.
In order to achieve the vision, you need courage.
And in order to drive change, you need a sense of urgency.
If nobody’s waking up every day with a burning passion to make a difference, it tends not to happen. And those communities, businesses and organizations that do have a burning desire will clean your clock before you even know what happened to you.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Friendship has been on my mind lately.
Maybe it was a visit from a childhood friend or watching my stepson light up when he came home from college and reconnected with his best buddy—but the older I get the more I find myself treasuring the friends I have made over the years. I am so grateful for friends; the people you can count on year after year for fun, laughs, good conversation, advice and just plain hanging out. The best ones are there for you when you are up and when you’re down. They are real, sincere and sometimes painfully honest.
They give you the benefit of the doubt when you mess up—as we all do from time to time –and they are happy when you succeed; sad when you suffer a setback. As I approach yet another birthday I have been reflecting on the magical times in my life and they all revolve around family and friends. That’s not a profound discovery, but I also realize that I have had several very special eras of friendships and a few professional experiences that can only be described as magic (sorry, there’s no other word). And in talking to people I have come to understand that not everybody gets to have that in their life, either personally or professionally. So I feel a whole lot of gratitude for the magic and that’s what I will always look for in my work and relationships.
I’ve been blessed with several friends that I have had since early childhood. I have a core of guys who I have known since I was 6, 7 and 8 years old and I am very aware of how special and how rare that is.
We’ve kept it going through junior high cliques and high school crushes, college, first real jobs, marriages, kids and now middle age. We are spread throughout the country—California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, New Jersey and our native New York. We don’t see each other much, but we are in touch. And when we do get together for reunions or milestones we pick up where we left off.
Truth be told, the talk of glory days gone by is rare. We typically talk about our present day lives and our plans for the future, which shockingly now includes talk of retirement and yes mortality (in another 50 years or so).
To be able to share those conversations with guys who knew your 4th grade teacher, met your grandparents, went to your bar mitzvah and know who you took to the prom is nothing short of remarkable. Past embarrassments become the source of warm memories, like the time you pretended your car broke down just so you could linger at the local fast food joint and talk to the cute girl from your social studies class or the time when a friend painted a rock with the phrase “the search is over” (a cheesy 80s song by Survivor) only to have the object of this sure thing say she never wanted to see him again when she drove by and saw it.
We have gone through cancer—(parents and one of us), experienced marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, business ups and downs, births and deaths— together. We have also experienced a whole lot on our own. We have close friends that the others don’t know, experiences that we didn’t share and a whole life separate from each other. But we know that if something ever happened to any of us, we could reach out and find whatever help we needed within our circle. No questions asked. These are the brothers I never had.
I live in Delray Beach because of my friend Scott, who is one of the guys I’ve known for over 40 years. So blame him if you must. After we graduated high school, Scott went off to SUNY Oswego and I spent a year at Stony Brook University before joining him in a place that was so cold, snowy and windy that we didn’t thaw out until four years after graduation. So the prospects of warm weather made it an easy decision for me to seek a newspaper job in either Florida or California, where another guy from our circle was going to chiropractic school. The Florida offer came first and off I went to join Scott who was already here sitting by the pool.
Florida in the late 80s was an interesting place. I thought it was summer camp. Every morning we went for bagels with Scott’s dad Mickey and after work we played tennis, went to the pool and explored the area.
I was assigned to cover Delray and it was like discovering journalistic heaven: political bickering, horrific crime, City Hall intrigue and interesting people everywhere you turned. This place put the fun in dysfunction. But despite the myriad of serious problems there was a vision in place and a whole lot of aspiration and talent aligned to turn the city around. And I got to write about it and eventually participate.
The newspaper office was in Boca on East Rogers Circle and the newsroom was filled with off the charts characters and a lot of gifted writers, editors and photographers. It was a golden age of community newspapers and we were growing by leaps and bounds—the Monday-Thursday Papers was a great place for me to learn from older and much more experienced journalists who spent a lot of time showing me the ropes and teaching me how to spot news and dig deep for the telling detail that made a story resonate.
It was a magical time and again friendship drove a lot of the creativity, fun and success of the venture. We enjoyed each other, hung out together at Dirty Moe’s, went to lunch at Spinnakers, Tom Sawyer’s, Boston’s, Ken and Hazel’s and George’s Diner. We pushed each other to succeed and laughed along the way. I couldn’t wait to go to work in those days.
Over time, the era came to an end. People move on, to other jobs, me included. The industry changed, technology changed, the characters that made newsrooms so amazing faded away. And I miss them. I think the world misses them.
I next experienced magic– driven by friendship and relationships– during my 7 years as an elected official in Delray Beach. In hindsight, it was a special era. The great initiatives and visions that I covered as a reporter were largely completed by 2000 and so the group I served with and the staff I worked alongside were given the gift of a blank slate.
When that happens, you have two options. Build on what came before and put your own stamp on things or go in another direction. We chose to build on. And we did.
We engaged people in a Downtown Master Plan, we did a plan for parks, we did a cultural plan, we focused on neighborhoods, we delved into race relations, worked to engage citizens, addressed recruitment and attrition issues in police and fire, adopted a southwest neighborhood plan, revamped our historic preservation policies and invested in assets like Old School Square and the library which moved to West Atlantic which became a major focus. We moved the high school and focused on schools. But we did more than just plan and dream. We got things done. And we did it as a team.
We celebrated our successes and we came together during the hard times too—hurricanes, the death of Jerrod Miller and the myriad controversies that occur in a place that people are passionate about.
Along the way, you make friends—and a few enemies– but you realize in hindsight that it is all about relationships and the ability to touch people; to make their lives better if you can.
I served with commissioners, citizens and city staff who talked about the need to listen, work together and take responsibility for trying to make a positive difference on whatever challenges we faced. They believed in building a great city and we were willing to try new approaches in order to make things happen. We were bold and ambitious and took some risks. Some stuff worked, some things fell short. But we learned together and it was a whole lot of fun.
I served with a Commissioner named Alberta McCarthy and she talked about community unity and we adopted the slogan. As we see divisions in our nation get wider by the day during a particularly brutal election season; as we witness bickering at city commission meetings and negativity on social media, I think about that phrase. Maybe some think it’s trite and corny. But it isn’t. It’s a big thought, an ideal, something to strive for. It may or may not be achievable. But it’s everything, isn’t it? It’s about coming together to build a better future for as many people possible; hopefully everybody.
We never achieved it totally, but I think we came close enough to see what it looked like.
Magic occurs when caring people commit to each other; whether it’s a childhood friendship that never ends; a successful business or a city that wants to make something happen.
You can have all the raw material—money, strategy, resources galore but you need the people part. That’s a must.
It’s all about the relationships…there is no short cut around people and you can’t achieve great things in isolation. You need friends. It’s just that simple.

No Way to Run a Railroad

I learned a new word this weekend: kakistocracy.
It’s a Greek word and I saw it in Peggy Noonan’s weekly Wall Street Journal column which covered this very strange election season we are stuck (trapped?) in.
The word means government by the worst persons, the least qualified and or the most unprincipled.
Noonan concluded that we are on our way there. I would take it one step further. I think we are there.
Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t standouts in office at every level of government or bright stars on the horizon but let’s face it Congress stinks and many state and local elected officials are lacking.
Inevitably elected officials are judged on results but style counts too.

Maya Angelou may have said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Yes indeed.
It’s hard to get results with a bad style and if your all hat and no cowboy (style but no results) you’ll also fall short.
But one thing is certain, public service is a job to do, not to have. And too few people are willing to take votes that they know to be right because they fear losing their next election. The best elected officials have to be willing to lose if it means doing the right thing. You have to be willing to put it on the line.

The job of an elected official is not an easy one. I’ve only got direct experience on the local level, but I’ve observed state and federal officials and I can comfortably say the jobs are complex.
On the local level, you have to understand municipal finance and taxation, you need to be cognizant of public safety, urban planning, architecture, mobility, labor unions, economic development, ethics, education, social issues, health issues, race relations, the importance of culture and the nuances of your local economy to name but a few. Hopefully, you’ll also value the importance of citizen engagement, the need to attract talent, encourage economic growth and how to position your city in the regional, state and yes national and even international conversation.
On the state and national levels, the list goes on.
So if you are going to do the job, you have to be willing to work hard, do your homework and show up because there are endless demands on your time.
But perhaps the most important skill is leadership.

Why? Because your success of failure will ultimately depend on your ability to lead, your emotional intelligence, your ability to communicate and connect and how you handle the stuff that’s inevitably going to be thrown at you that you don’t expect.
Success depends on your soft skills, how you navigate the nuances and most perhaps importantly how you are able to communicate and connect with the communities or constituencies you serve.
And the operative word here is serve. You are elected to serve the people, not to indulge your personal preferences or to have others serve you. Sounds simple, but take some time to study how issues are handled and you’ll often find a deficit of leadership. And if issues remain unresolved a lot of times it’s because elected officials are unwilling or unable to compromise, unwilling to listen or cling to their personal preferences at the expense of the community.
We wouldn’t be talking about kakistocracy if we were attracting stellar leaders to politics.
When was the last time you couldn’t choose in a political race because there were too many good choices?
Wouldn’t it be nice if elections were like visiting your favorite restaurant where there were so many good options you couldn’t go wrong?
Can’t hurt to dream…

But at some point in time, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll fix what prevents our most capable leaders from running for office. Until then, we will have to content ourselves with too often having to choose between the lesser of two evils. And our Democracy, our communities and our country is too important for that to continue.

Leadership Instills Belief

I read a fascinating story in Sunday’s New York Times.
It was the story of a man in a poor Brazilian favela who converted an old decrepit building into a badminton training center that is producing champions.
His son will compete in the Olympics only a few years after picking up a racquet and dozens of other children are training and winning in the midst of poverty, crime and despair.
It was an uplifting story of what my old commission colleague Jon Levinson used to call “a monomaniac on a mission.”
Never ever underestimate what a passionate person can achieve if they believe in their cause and won’t stop until they change the world, or their little corner of it.
And that’s why a dad in Brazil worked for years, scavenged dumps and pushed until he created a place where children could come and learn that they could achieve. It wasn’t about badminton per se, the sport was just a vehicle. The real end game is to instill belief.
That’s what leadership does. It instills belief, uplifts others and speaks relentlessly about possibilities, solutions and a better future. Leadership is empathy. An ability to see and feel what others may need in order to thrive, even if they might not see it (yet) themselves

It’s doubtful that impoverished children in Brazil were sitting around dreaming of playing badminton. But they were certainly in need of someone who cared about them and believed in their futures.
Fortunately, in Boca and Delray, we have been blessed with people who have stepped up and made a difference. Some have worked with children, some have devoted themselves to the arts and culture, others have devoted their lives to bettering a neighborhood or treating addiction.
They are leaders in the purest sense.
I’d love to share a few examples with you.
Tony Allerton and a few other good people founded the Crossroads Club 35 years ago to help those who are in recovery from an array of addictions.

For some it’s drugs. For others it may be food, gambling, alcohol or sex. Tony, a Korean War veteran and all around good guy, has been the heart and soul of the place from the beginning. And he and others at Crossroads do an amazing job. They serve over 900 people a day, an astonishing figure and a blessing to those in need of community, love, understanding and truth.
Tony is something else. Inspiring, positive, warm and caring.

These are the types of people I think Pope Francis referred to during World Youth Day yesterday when he urged people not to succumb to complaining and negativity but instead find ways to care for and help others.

The Pope called negativity a “virus infecting and blocking everything” and said young people must not forget about God in a world of unlimited information.
My friends at CROS Ministries are also amazing. In our community, you may know their work at The Caring Kitchen which for many years has provided food to the hungry in our community. They are remarkable community servants. They serve over 100,000 meals a year, each and every year. Just remarkable.
Fortunately, there are many more examples of the power of visionary leaders to make a difference.
For a while now, there has been a desire to create an entrepreneurial “hot zone” in Delray Beach.
There’s also been a long time desire to jumpstart Congress Avenue and to rejuvenate US 1 and south of the avenue, the Sofa district.
All of this and more is not only possible, it’s probable if the right combination of people, passion and leadership make a choice that it will happen.
If you can create badminton champions in a favela (and teach them movement based on Brazilian dance steps) anything is indeed possible.

BIDS Can Work

Fifth Avenue in Naples is an elegant main street.
It features some great restaurants, a boutique hotel and a nice array of retail stores.
At night, the street is vibrant, filled with boomers who seem to enjoy a lively but decidedly upscale vibe.
It doesn’t feel like a late night place, but that’s OK. For me late is 10 p.m. these days.
We had a chance to spend a day and night in Naples recently when we attended a Florida Redevelopment Association meeting focused on Business Improvement Districts (BID); particularly Naples successful model which includes a partnership between downtown property owners, city government, the chamber and CRA.
My wife Diane is president of the FRA this year and I spent a few years on the board many years back so it felt good to reconnect with an association that has done a great job advocating for CRA’s, DDA’s and BID’s over the years.
The focus of the day was the history, present and future of Naples’ much loved main street, 5th Avenue South, which like many Florida main streets has reinvented itself over the years through good times and bad.
In December 2010, in an effort to jumpstart the avenue, a group of civic, business and city leaders got together and formed a Business Improvement District that levies a tax on property owners that is then reinvested into beautification, events and marketing.
The Naples BID is a good model for other aspiring streets and may serve as inspiration for places such as Palmetto Park Road in Boca and Congress Avenue in Delray.
The goal of the Naples effort was to re-establish 5th Avenue South as “the place to go” in Naples.
An active board of directors, a small but entrepreneurial staff along with a strong core of merchants and downtown evangelists has restored 5th Avenue’s luster and importance in the wake of competition from nearby lifestyle centers and shopping districts.
We heard from Mayor Bill Barnett, BID President Michael Wynn (whose family has owned property on the avenue since the 40s), BID Director Lise Sundria and Naples CRA Director Roger Reinke on how they work together on branding and marketing efforts.
Mayor “Bill” as he is affectionately known has been an elected official for 24 years with some time off between terms. His historic perspective and involvement has proven invaluable as he recalled efforts in the 80s to transform the look and feel of what had become a tired downtown.
“It took people with vision,” he said. “And the changes were not without controversy,” he said. “Downtown is the heart of Naples and the heart was broken.”
Two early catalysts were the conversion of a suburban style Nationsbank building into the Inn on 5th, an attractive hotel that has become an important economic engine for the district and the hiring of new urbanist town planner Andres Duany whose team came to Naples with a slew of ideas.
It took political will and some time to add the design elements needed to rejuvenate 5th Avenue and BID President Wynn said Mayor Bill has been a champion of that vision.
“The mayor’s warmth is an asset,” Wynn said. “It makes a difference to have a mayor who believes and who is engaged along with us. We’re fortunate.”
The Duany plan drew upon Naples historic strengths as a hub for tourists, fishing and commerce.
Leaders also wanted to remind people that 5th Avenue led directly to a beautiful beach, a fact that was somehow lost as Naples lost tourists to other popular west coast beach communities.
The Wynn family has more than 70 years of history in Naples and as president, Mike Wynn has a unique perspective of how the city has boomed and busted through the decades. The city got its first traffic light in 1949 and thrived through the 50s before being hit by Hurricane Dennis, a category 5 storm that devastated downtown Naples.
Along with many other cities—Delray included—5th Avenue was hard hit by suburban flight and the rise of the mall in the 70s and 80s, with vacancy rates hitting as high as 40 percent. Former Delray CRA Director Chris Brown, who was at the Naples meeting, can relate.
“When I came to Delray in 1991, I closed my office door at 5 p.m. and nothing was moving on Atlantic Avenue,” he said. “There was roughly 1 million square feet of commercial space and 500,000 of it was vacant. I thought…’what did I get myself into’ here.”
The situation was similar in Naples and the retail that was left marginal at best. There was even an adult bookstore on the avenue, hard to imagine given today’s upscale vibe. Office vacancy downtown was also 50 percent, Wynn said.
“Like many cities, we came together,” said Wynn. “We realized we needed to act and act fast. We also realized that for the avenue to have life, we actually needed to have people coming downtown.”
Not a revolutionary concept, but hard to pull off because it requires a tremendous amount of promotion and hard work.
The BID was formed in part to compete with competition from other shopping districts. Key strategies include beautification, relentless marketing and promotion and 12 street festivals. The BID, a non-profit, also organizes block captains, provides business counseling and also offers local businesses an array of marketing services. Money for the BID is raised via assessment and the BID also does some fundraisers that ultimately raises over $400,000 annually.
Wynn said the BID takes to heart the wisdom of the great placemaker Willliam H. Whyte who said: “what attracts people most, is other people.”
Wynn said the BID hopes to compete by embracing the arts, retail, office, tourism, events and a vibrant food scene.
Rod Castan, VP of the BID and a property owner from the Courtelis Companies, said 5th Avenue won’t rest on its laurels because of competition and an ever changing commercial landscape. On his wish list: more chain stores which he says drive retail traffic that also supports mom and pops, a small boutique theater and a need for more housing near the downtown, which appears to be under way.
“When the avenue suffers, the whole city suffers,” says Wynn who also serves as president of his family’s chain of Ace Hardware stores.
How true.