I’ve always had a desire to teach.

I think it correlates with a strong yearning to learn.

My early career was in the newspaper field, where your job boils down to learning about subjects and then sharing (reporting) what you’ve learned with your readers.

Working at a community newspaper is a dream job—if you discount the long hours, low wages and dim prospects for the future. As a young man I did—because the job itself is fascinating.

You get to write. You get to satisfy your curiosity by researching things you’re interested in. You to get meet interesting people and cover fascinating subjects; no two days are the same.

I’ve always liked the excitement of deadlines, it focuses you and you have to produce, which is a cool way to work. When everybody around you is on a similar deadline, there’s an energy in the room that is hard to describe.

I would imagine that teaching has a similar adrenaline rush. If you’re in the flow and connecting with your audience there’s just nothing like it. My daughter is a brand new teacher in Tampa—I plan to talk to her about what she feels when she’s working with students.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that when a friend called and asked if I would speak to his urban planning class at FAU—I jumped at the chance.

Still, it’s nerve wracking to walk into a room full of strangers; most especially young people who are beginning to look even younger to me with every passing year.

Can you connect? Can you relate? Do I have anything to teach them? And what can I learn from all these young minds?

We talked about how cities evolve and transform– one of my favorite subjects.

I love to tell the Delray story, because I think we are a good case study and that past leaders and city staff used sound strategies for over 20 years to achieve success. Success, not perfection.

For example, we went from 35 percent vacancy and little going on downtown in the 80s to a glowing feature story in the Wall Street Journal last week.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-sunny-escape-3-perfect-days-in-delray-beach-florida-1452796534-lMyQjAxMTE2NzExNjIxMzY0Wj

We talked a lot about Boca too.

But the best part is to hear from future planners, urban designers, developers and architects.

What do they see? What do they expect and want from cities? Here’s a few takeaways from an admittedly small sample, but the sentiments seem to match surveys I’ve seen.

Affordability—not just in housing but also reasonable costs for food and entertainment.

Mobility—The young aren’t car centric. Study after study show that millennials are delaying getting driver’s licenses, don’t feel a strong desire to own a car and appreciate and seek out walkable environments. They also believe in services such as Uber and Lyft and understand that driverless cars will change our urban environments.

Environmentally Sensitive and Realistic—They know that Florida is a popular place and that even if “they want their own slice of heaven” i.e. a suburban home on ½ acre they know sprawl is bad for the environment and that we may need to grow vertically rather than sprawl to accommodate a growing populace.

Design Savvy—My small sample of future urban professionals were keen on good architecture and design. They appreciate art and culture, good looking buildings and a mix of uses.

They also talked about wanting their cities to be safe, diverse and chock full of amenities.

A few of the students have been interning in Delray. I hope that many end up staying here after they graduate FAU.

As for me, I kind of wish I was 20-something again, so I can experience it all again. The future is exciting indeed.
walk-denver

MLK Day

We’re strong believers in the power of words.

We’re also firm believers in the power of leadership to facilitate transformational change.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day we offer some of our favorite quotes from one of our favorite leaders.

Enjoy, dream and more important put these thoughts into action:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

The Big Short

We finally got around to seeing The Big Short.
It was not only a great movie: entertaining, funny in spots, creatively directed and wonderfully written, it’s an important movie as well.
When the credits rolled the movie hit you with stats about the damage the housing collapse took on America–$5 trillion in wealth erased, 8 million jobs lost, pensions and 401k plans devastated, families losing homes etc. It was gut wrenching to read and we in Florida lived it. We got hit and hit hard.

As the stats wash over you, Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” blasts out of the speakers. A perfect song for a movie that essentially indicted our financial markets, banks, regulators and government as a giant fraud.
For a comedy, we left the theater feeling pretty lousy. Like the movie “Spotlight”– which chronicled sexual abuse in the church– you felt like screaming and crying. Yes, The Big Short is quite a movie.
Parts of the movie talked about how the housing crisis impacted South Florida with a few characters venturing down south to see first hand some of the craziness we all experienced as a result of wild price increases and rampant speculation.
It’s a must see.
The world economy crashed and the results were devastating. In our community, we witnessed foreclosures and economic pain.
Not much changed though.

The banks were bailed out and many executives took the taxpayer money and gave themselves bonuses. Financial “reforms” enacted by Congress were flawed and then whittled away by lobbyists armed with special interest money. Exactly one banker went to jail. One.

But even if the movie surmises that we learned nothing from the experience, what are some of the lessons? And how can we protect ourselves and our communities from these devastating economic events fueled by fraud and foolishness?

2016 is certainly off to a strange start. Many of the assumptions we have based trillions of dollars of investments on seem to be questionable. Examples: China has an inexhaustible appetite for natural resources, home prices never go down, Saudi Arabia will never let the price of oil crash, Eurozone countries will never default on their debt.

As an optimist, I hate to be doom and gloom.

But my dad taught me a lesson in life and in business. It was a lesson I was very conscious of during my days as a policymaker in Delray Beach. He said every day–even when things were going well–you should wake up just a little bit scared. He warned against complacency and smugness. Even if you were succeeding, never take your eye off the ball.

If we apply that thinking to Delray Beach and Boca Raton, it means that we can feel good about what has been achieved: vibrant commercial centers, rising property values, wonderful and diverse amenities, culture, art, events, strong recreational opportunities, parks, beaches, tourism, good hospitals etc.

But we should never declare victory and take our eyes off the ball.

The housing crash resulted from a myriad of fraudulent beliefs and irrational behavior. But smart communities seek to become as resilient as possible. So you dig in and work hard to improve schools, create jobs, fight crime and blight and develop amenities that create value. You support assets like Old School Square and the Boca Museum, you bring the Festival of the Arts to Mizner Park and you work hard to land corporate headquarters and new investment. It does not mean you sacrifice standards or allow unfettered poor quality development, but it does mean you develop a vision and you have the political will to get things done.

Value creation is your primary responsibility as a policymaker–it helps you endure the inevitable downturns and fraud we experience in a turbulent and unpredictable world.

While we suffered real and enduring pain during the great recession, Boca survived and downtown Delray Beach weathered the storm without major vacancies. In fact, sales data from the Florida Department of Revenue said sales grew and far outpaced neighboring communities during the crisis. The central business district survived because it was well-planned, the vision was sound, the value created was real. When it’s real, you’re the last to suffer and the first to recover.

It’s an election year, go see the movie. It’s a good one.

Paying It Forward: Our Obligation to the future

I came across a magnificent story a few weeks back in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It was a story about a “one man redevelopment machine”, an older gentleman who fell in love with the beat up town of Foxburg in Clarion County, Pennsylvania.
Where others saw blight, Dr. Arthur Steffee saw beauty. So he put his money and his convictions where his heart was, buying up old buildings and opening businesses such as a winery, a pizza shop and other retail stores.
At age 83, chances are Dr. Steffee won’t be around to enjoy a return on his investment. At least in the conventional sense. But in the more important measures–heart, soul, satisfaction and love–he most surely will.
Dr. Steffee embodies the mindset of a steward–the type of leader who understands that his or her role is to leave a place better off than when you find it. It’s a simple concept really. But it requires selflessness, vision, fortitude, patience and a long term view of leadership too often lacking in our society.
“We will never get out of it what we put into it,” he said. “The point is to leave something behind.”
Yes it is. That’s the whole point.
Over the holiday break we went to see the movie “Brooklyn” which chronicles the experience of a young Irish immigrant who leaves her home and her family for a new life in America.
The film is achingly beautiful. You literally find yourself tearing up for most of its two hour running time. Not because the film is especially sad, but because it rings so true and it captures the homesickness, sacrifice and strength of our immigrant relatives who risked it all so that we–future generations –could enjoy the opportunities of America.
I thought of my own grandparents who came from Russia, Poland and Latvia not speaking English or having any marketable skills other than a tremendous work ethic, unfathomable strength and a desire for their children and grandchildren to be here in the land of opportunity.
My wife’s mother came from a tiny village in Italy as a teenager leaving behind all that she knew for a taste of America.
In my family, within one generation, we experienced a fair amount of success. My father, a first generation American went to an Ivy League college and enjoyed a long and successful career as a pharmacist and businessman.
My wife’s mom became a widow at a young age and raised five children all of whom have experienced success in this country.
Stewards and our immigrant parents and grandparents believe our lives should be about creating opportunity–to leave something behind as the good doctor in Foxburg, PA., says.
It’s not all about us, our pet peeves, personal drive times, annoyances and tastes. Sure, we can’t ignore the present but we need to focus our present on creating opportunities for others in the future.
That’s our jobs. If we do so, history will treat us kindly and reward those who will benefit from our vision, sacrifices and hard work.
If we ignore the future, it will surely bite us and our children.
“We will never get out of it what we put into it”, said the doctor. Maybe, but in many ways we will. The point is to leave something behind