A Driver Less Future?

I had dinner a few weeks ago with a friend who was a veteran planner in Broward County.
In retirement, my friend has become involved with the Smart Growth Partnership, a wonderful non-profit that promotes urbanism. They’ve been to Delray and I’ve spoken at a few of their events. I wish we could clone the people involved, because they get it.
As dinner progressed, we talked about traffic, technology and the exponential pace of change.
“We’re trying to get local governments educated about some trends and changes we’re anticipating,” he said. “So they can plan properly.”
Planning? What a concept.
Instead of being reactionary, the concept of allows you to shape the future and if you’re lucky proactively position your city to take advantage of change.
Change?
What a concept.
It’s inevitable, like death and taxes, but resisted nonetheless. Kind of like death and taxes, come to think of it.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the only human being who embraces chance is a baby in a wet diaper.
There’s truth in that comment, but I’ll point to another Mayor who embraced change—his name is Tom Lynch and he served Delray from 1990-96. He’s now mayor of the Village of Golf.
Tom is a “Darwinist.” He believes that those who embrace change and adapt will survive and thrive.
I agree.
Now back to the dinner conversation. One of the things the Smart Growth Partnership is beginning to consider are profound changes in our car oriented culture.
A few months back, I told you about a conference I attended in Miami in which a futurist from Singularity University predicted with certainty that his young son would never have a driver’s license. He wouldn’t need it, because we were heading toward a society that would embrace driverless cars. Google, Tesla and supposedly Apple are hard at work on perfecting this technology which already exists. Several Israeli start-ups including a really cool company called Mobileye are far down the track designing safe systems.
Mobileye believes regulators will embrace a marketing pitch that emphasizes safety over convenience and productivity.
I think they’re right. Regulators don’t care that you want to text while in a car, but they do care that a self-driving car may be safer.
Self-driving cars?
You must be kidding right?
Nope.
The Boston Consulting Group said self-driving cars would be a reality in a decade and a common site within two decades. Already, the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration is reviewing safety rules to see if they conflict with autonomous driving technologies.
This is happening folks. Really, it is.
And there are planners and technologists out there who believe we ought to be thinking about what this all means.
Salim Ismail of Singularity U. believes self-driving cars will translate into the biggest real estate opportunity of our lifetime because a lot of the land we devote to car infrastructure can be returned to nature or a more productive use than parking or wide lanes which promote speed.
We won’t need as many lanes if cars self-drive and if we summon a service like Uber to bring us to and fro, we won’t need to devote acres and acres to parking lots either.
The implications are staggering.
Smart cities– and Delray and Boca are smart cities –should at the very least begin to think about what a less car-oriented future might look like.
Millennials, especially urban millennials, really do drive less.
Proof of this trend comes from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey on commuting by auto.
The survey shows that millennials, if they live in cities or urbanized suburbs, do indeed drive less. Wary of car payments, insurance and maintenance costs, many use ride sharing services, bike to work, want to live in walkable environments and or car share or ride transit—if it’s available.
The world as we know it is changing. And there are opportunities galore if we plan for the future.

Municipal Math: It’s All About People

If I’ve learned one thing in my career, it’s that you can have the best systems, the best platform, a great idea, plenty of money and every other advantage but you’ll fail if you don’t attract and keep the right people.

It’s a simple concept, really.

But very difficult to achieve.

Yet, whether you are running a business, a city, a school or a non-profit you will not be able to achieve lasting success unless you create a culture that attracts, nurtures, rewards, ignites and inspires people. Good people.

And if you work hard enough and create just such an environment, you have to realize that your creation is fragile and will not survive complacency or lack of accountability. If you fail to constantly iterate, engage and assess, the gains you made will erode.

Achieving success is just one part of the journey; the key is to sustain success. That’s the prize and it is hard to attain. But worth the effort.

For many years, the cities of Boca Raton and Delray Beach worked with a consultant named Lyle Sumek. Lyle was a former assistant city manager in San Diego and he worked with cities across the country on goal setting and implementation. Lyle had a concept he called “municipal math”; which essentially said it could take 20 plus years to build something of value, but only a year or two to squander what was built if you make the wrong decisions or hire/elect the wrong people. The sad part of municipal math is that once you mess up, it could take 10 years or more to get something back and there were guarantees you would.

Muni math was a sobering concept and it stuck with me. Leadership matters. People matter.

I’m a firm believer that leadership is the key ingredient to success in any endeavor, but I also believe that we do a poor job of training and developing leaders.

We don’t teach leadership in schools, we don’t study why leaders succeed or stumble, but yet we long for great leaders.

I can think of no other scenario in life in which we yearn for something but don’t take steps to make it happen.

If we want better medical outcomes, we invest in science. If we want better educators, we invest in teacher training. In business, we invest in products and technology. But yet we don’t make a similar investment in identifying, training and developing leaders.

As a result, we watch helplessly as Congress fails miserably to serve our country. We shake our heads when presidents, governors, mayors and other elected officials fail our communities.

In business, we see investments go down the drain; victims of egotistical CEO’s or watch in disgust as a manufacturer looks the other way and produces cars that endanger their customers all because of a culture that enabled people to look the other way.

All are symptoms of poor or inadequate leadership.

I believe that we need to start studying and investing in leadership education and that we need to make such courses available far and wide, in all industries and endeavors.

We live in a great nation. Imagine how much better it would be, how many problems would be solved, how many people would be positively impacted if we were able to develop leaders as accomplished as our best coders, financial minds and scientists. Just imagine.