Here’s to the Rebels

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Apple “Think Different” advertising campaign.

I had a strange thought when I heard about the death of Prince over the weekend.

Where are the creative geniuses in politics?

Where are the round pegs, the innovators, the geniuses and rebels?

Could be it be that politics doesn’t lend itself to the archetypes that Apple’s ad described? You know, the Einstein’s, Earhart’s, Picasso’s, Edison’s and yes Bowie’s and Prince’s of the world–people whose sheer brilliance and creativity changed the way we see the world.

Sure we’ve had Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Lincoln, Churchill, King and FDR but it sure seems that the arts and entrepreneurship produce more game changers.

At the risk of alienating some friends, the overwhelming sentiment that seems to accompany this presidential election cycle is the strong feeling on both sides of “is this really the best we can do?”

That feeling runs the gamut from president to our legislature and city councils. Where are the visionaries, the healers, the uniters and the innovators?

Maybe our politics no longer lends itself to creativity and innovation. Democrats have to conform to certain beliefs and so do Republicans. Stray from the orthodoxy and you are toast. Try to evolve and you’re a flip flopper. Introduce an idea that bucks the status quo and you’ve lost your base.

We see it on a local level with elected officials afraid to cast votes that may upset the loud voices and yet doesn’t progress rely on taking chances, on saying yes sometimes.

If you study the list of Apple’s “Think Different” icons and the few others we’ve lost this year including Bowie and Prince it becomes clear what sets them apart. Sure they are talented and creative. Yes, some were extraordinarily smart but the common thread is they didn’t succumb to fear.

I can’t say that they were fearless–chances are they felt fear– but all of them decided to be themselves anyway, to pursue their art, vision or passion.

Maybe politics–which has been described as the art of compromise– (but now even compromise is viewed as weakness)–is no longer designed for the game changers in our society.

If that’s the case, we ought to mourn that as well. Or we ought to be hard at work to change that.

We need the rebels, the creatives, the originals to get to work on the most pressing challenges and opportunities of our time. At every level of our society.

Making Room for the Middle

The headline blared “Build, Baby, Build” in Sunday’s New York Times.
The story focused on the growing YIMBY (yes in my backyard) movement in the hyper expensive Bay Area of California.

The lack of work force housing in the San Francisco area is stoking a movement to pressure local governments to allow the construction of more housing. Led by young professionals, groups are forming to confront those who fight new development.
Several cities are now facing competing lawsuits. For example, Lafayette down zoned a parcel that was zoned for high density multi family housing. Now the city faces a lawsuit by a group that wants multi family on the site and another who thinks the new zoning -for single family housing–is also too much.
High profile technology executives are writing checks to fight those who oppose multi family housing fearful that their workforce will have no place to live. The lack of housing has also been blamed for traffic because workers are forced to drive long distances to their workplaces.
Several local elected officials have welcomed the YIMBY movement saying it is important for young professionals to feel they have a future in the region and that cities need to be thinking about ways they can plan to accommodate their needs.
It’s an interesting debate and one that may soon break out in the Sunshine state.
In case you haven’t noticed, housing is expensive around these parts and if you know your economics one way to lower prices is to increase the supply.
While that is a simplification of the issue, it’s hard not to include density in any serious argument about addressing the need to create workforce housing.
In Boca Raton and Delray Beach, the issue of housing affordability has been around for decades. We are not talking about low or very low income housing but rather middle and upper middle class housing–places where teachers, accountants, police officers and others in the workforce can afford to live.
There used to be a joke among public officials in Boca and Delray. When asked where their workforce could find attainable housing, Boca officials would often answer: “Delray”.
That might have been true in the 80s and 90s but these days housing prices have accelerated to rival that of Boca. In fact, many neighborhoods exceed Boca prices.
Delray was considered a leader in workforce housing strategies during the last boom in the early and mid 2000s forming one of the first Community Land Trusts and passing what was then considered a model workforce housing ordinance.
A major part of Delray’s strategy to revitalize its downtown was to increase densities–an effort in part to add residents downtown to support businesses and increase safety but also an attempt to create some measure of affordability. But recent changes to the land development regulations capped density downtown at 30 units to the acre and a promised “bonus” program seems to have been lost.

With land prices downtown sky high, it seems unlikely that a meaningful number of units for young professionals will be created. That’s a big loss, since millennials would tend to be year round residents who would enjoy downtown’s vibrancy and would support local merchants.
Cognizant of the high price of downtown living, the Congress Avenue Task Force emphasized the need for workforce housing and higher densities along the 4.1 mile corridor.
Another opportunity would be at the “four corners” of Atlantic and Military Trail where moribund shopping centers could be redeveloped into mixed use lifestyle centers.
While Boca and Delray don’t yet face the pressures of San Francisco, the best economic development strategies would include plans to make our cities appealing to young professionals. There are several legs to that stool: abundant job opportunities, good schools, low crime rates, amenities such as arts, culture, parks and recreation, good transportation and attainable housing.
Regardless, to ensure a positive future you have to plan for it. The operative word is plan. Perhaps, there would be less antagonism toward new development if it was tied to a long term vision or strategy. If that strategy is to make room for young families or to plan for our kids to come home it may resonate. Still, just about any plan for the future would require making room for those who may wish to live here. “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” is not a strategy for economic sustainability.