When it comes to publicity very few people can match Donald Trump.
But Mr. Trump met his match last week with the immense amount of coverage given to Pope Francis on his maiden voyage to America.
The Donald and the Pope talk about many of the same issues, immigration, income inequality and climate change, but with all due respect to our Palm Beach neighbor, I prefer listening to Pope Francis’ message—and I’m not even Catholic.
While he was visiting the U.S., Pope Francis skipped out on Congress to eat lunch at a homeless shelter, visited a Philadelphia jail and in one of his most stirring public addresses, reminded mass-goers to stop averting their eyes.
“In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath ‘the rapid pace of change,’ so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no ‘right’ to be there, no right to be part of the city,” he said at a mass held Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York. “They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, and the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.”
Pope Francis knows that our shared future depends on building cities where all people have the opportunity to thrive. But how do you do that?
There are ideas galore from across the country on strategies that work. There are best practices relating to housing, crime, neighborhood revitalization, economic development and education.
But I would argue that the first step is always a decision on whether you want to do these things.
Many cities say they want to tackle their problems, but often it’s only words. But the cities that act are the ones to watch and the communities to emulate.
The problems we face today are vast, serious and seemingly endless and intractable. Most Americans would agree that Washington is broken and that their state governments, while usually more functional than Washington (a very low bar indeed) are also vast and distant from most people’s day to day lives.
The answers therefore must come from the cities, smaller communities that can marshal resources and people and actually solve or at least improve problems if they choose to do so.
The operative word though is choose…cities must commit.
I’m a fan of citizen-driven planning. When done well and with the right motives and people in the room, there is no more powerful tool that communities have than to create a blueprint by engaging as many stakeholders as possible.
I’ve seen this strategy change cities, including Delray Beach and I have seen cities fail to advance because they don’t engage their stakeholders.
So who are the stakeholders?
They include residents, property owners, non-profit organizations, educators, social service providers, law enforcement, business owners etc., anybody who has a “stake” in a city’s past, present and future. These are stakeholders, not special interests.
But often cities fail in their visioning and planning if they try and cut corners by either convening for the wrong reasons (to check a box), restricting input, rushing the process or the common mistake of dictating from the top.
Community engagement takes longer and can be messy. But engaging the public has magical advantages including buy-in and better ideas.
But once you commit, you had better deliver.
When I look at my city of Delray Beach and my neighbor Boca Raton, I see two really different but complementary communities with vast resources and amenities. But I also see challenges and opportunities.
There is great wealth and great poverty in our communities. There are safe neighborhoods and dangerous ones. There are kids who thrive and children who struggle with poverty, violence and dysfunctional home lives.
Cities are fascinating places because they have obligations to the past, present and future and they have responsibilities to all people—including the invisible and the struggling, the people mentioned by the Pope.
We can honor the past by preserving our historic neighborhoods and buildings, but also by recognizing the hard work that went into long term visions for our cities. We can serve the present by adapting those visions for today’s needs and by ensuring that current residents, from all walks of life have a place in our planning and in our communities. And we can create a better future by remembering that we are stewards. Therefore, it’s not all about our needs, wishes and conveniences; we also have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren as well.
Back in the day, we called some of these issues “the Big Rocks”. And we were determined to move them, even if ever so slightly forward. In Delray, the big rocks were education, crime, neighborhoods, race relations, building a vibrant and sustainable downtown, supporting culture, preserving the beach and creating jobs beyond food and beverage. In Boca, which had good schools, strong businesses, culture and neighborhoods I saw the big rocks as mobility, creating a downtown core and building on some remarkable foundations; medicine, education and technology.
Washington may or may not be fixable—but our cities are pockets of opportunity for us to work on big challenges and be beacons for others to emulate. You just have to choose to move the big rocks.