We Are Asking Too Much

It’s Monday morning.

Another weekend of carnage in America. Another three police officers murdered. Another three shot in Baton Rouge.

When the news flashed, I thought immediately of Dallas Police Chief David Brown. His words ring truer every day.

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” the police chief said at a briefing last Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem, let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

Chief Brown is correct.

In Delray too, we ask a whole lot of our police. And our firefighters too.

Someone overdoses on heroin let the cops and paramedics save them. No facilities for the homeless guy who scares you, no worries call the cops, they’ll deal with it.

We want our cops to live in our city but we don’t pay them enough to live here and if you mention the need for workforce housing–which almost always requires density– we adopt policies that make sure it will never happen. (I’m holding out hope for Congress Avenue).

And when it comes time to compensate them we cry poverty and moan about their pensions.

Are pension liabilities a concern? You betcha, a big one, so why not roll up our sleeves and help solve the issue because you can’t just wish it away and the men and women who protect and serve us deserve security when they retire. If you have financial acumen think of applying for the pension board, maybe you can help. But don’t begrudge a cop or a firefighter if they have a pension. They earn it.

It’s a tough season to be a police officer in America. It’s a tough season for everyone period.

Last week I had the occasion to speak to several officers. They are aching for their brothers and sisters in Dallas and now in Baton Rouge.

When I was on the City Commission we solved a serious attrition and recruitment issue with a package that included take home cars for officers who lived in Delray or within a few miles of the city. The literature at the time showed that having police cruisers in neighborhoods lowered crime and was popular with residents who felt safer living in a neighborhood populated with officers.

I believed that, still do.

But last week, I heard from a few officers who were concerned about bringing their cars home. They were worried about being targeted. They had read reports from around the country that police cars were being vandalized.

It’s heartbreaking to hear.

Our community has been largely supportive of our Police Department for a long time now.

I’m not referring to politics and labor negotiations –which have been good and bad over the years depending on the players involved– but about the larger community which seems to get how important our police officers are to the welfare of our city.

Every chance I get (this time included) I like to credit our officers for creating a safer city which enabled our turnaround to take place. If a community doesn’t feel safe, you can’t attract investment or families. It’s just that simple.

But these days, there’s an overall feeling of unease in America. We are not immune.

We have so much work to do. So much trust to restore. So much fear and hatred to overcome.

We shouldn’t rest until every boy and every girl is given real opportunity. We shouldn’t rest until and every man and woman goes to bed knowing they can find a job and if not they will still have a roof over their head and food for their families.

Is that asking too much in a country with our resources and ingenuity?

I don’t think so. I don’t believe most Americans feel this way either.

We wrote last week, that while our national politics were a mess, there was hope for progress in our cities.

So we have to get to work. We have to create a community of opportunity for everyone.

We have to be focused on jobs, education, strengthening families, enriching our cultural opportunities and restoring civility. Have you seen a city commission meeting lately?

Too often instead of debate, we engage in coarse, personal attacks. We label people, dismiss them, call them self serving or worse. We can do better. We have done better.

It’s going to take work. It’s going to take vision and investment. It’s going to take dialogue and a commitment to understanding. More people have to be engaged in the important work of community building.

It starts with engagement and dialogue. But it doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end period. We have to keep working. There are problems to solve and we can do it. There are opportunities to create and we know how to do that as well.

We can’t just leave it for the cops to handle. They need our help. Now.

Putting Jane To The Test

Urbanists across the globe are celebrating the life and legacy of Jane Jacobs —the 100th anniversary of her birth.
Jacobs is arguably the most influential figure in the history of urban planning and placemaking—an interesting distinction because she was not formally educated in the discipline.
But what she lacked in academic credentials she more than made up for as a writer and observer and her seminal book—“The Death and Life of Great American Cities” has served as a bible for mayors, planners, architects, designers and anyone who loves cities since it was published in 1961.
Jane Jacobs said that for cities to thrive they need four conditions:
The first is that city districts must serve more than two functions so that they attract people with different purposes at different times of the day and night.
Second, she believed city blocks must be small with dense intersections that give pedestrians many opportunities to interact.
The third condition is that buildings must be diverse in terms of age and form to support a mix of low-rent and high-rent tenants.
Finally, a district must have a sufficient density of people and buildings.
The four concepts are really quite simple, yet so many cities seem to get it wrong. Sadly, density has become a loaded word and many cities have torn down their older and more interesting buildings.
Perhaps, if we changed dense to vibrant, maybe perceptions would change. Or maybe we are forever doomed to a battle between those who value design and sustainability against those who worry about traffic and a shortage of parking.
Still, most can agree that there has been a lack of an evidence-based approach to city planning for decades and it has ruined cities all over the world. What results are codes that in some cities prevent a mix of uses or if they do permit them, innovation is stifled by arbitrary numbers. Are 30 units to the acre—too much or too little for a sustainable downtown? Will 38 foot height limits preserve charm or prevent quality retail or design from occurring due to low ceilings?
Regardless of the politics of land use– and they are fraught– fact based planning is on the way if we choose to indulge.
Data-mining techniques are finally revealing the rules that make cities successful, vibrant places to live. And researchers are putting Jacobs’ work to the test.
Thanks to the work of Marco De Nadai at the University of Trento and a few colleagues, urban data is being gathered to test Jacobs’s conditions and how they relate to the vitality of city life. The new approach heralds a new age of city planning in which planners have an objective way of assessing city life and working out how it can be improved.
De Nadai and colleagues gathered this data for six cities in Italy—Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna, Milan, and Palermo.
Their analysis is straightforward. The team used mobile-phone activity as a measure of urban vitality and land-use records, census data, and Foursquare activity as a measure of urban diversity. Their goal was to see how vitality and diversity are correlated in the cities they studied.
The results make for interesting reading.
De Nadai concludes that land use is correlated with vitality. In cities such as Rome, mixed land use is common. However, Milan is divided into areas by function—industrial, residential, commercial, and so on.
“Consequently, in Milan, vitality is experienced only in the mixed districts,” he said.
The structure of city districts is important, too. European cities tend not to have the super-sized city blocks found in American cities. But the density of intersections varies greatly, and this turns out to be important. “Vibrant urban areas are those with dense streets, which, in fact, slow down cars and make it easier for pedestrians to cross,” the researchers said.
Jacobs also highlighted the importance of having a mixture of old and new buildings to promote vitality. However, De Nadai and company say this is less of an issue in Italian cities, where ancient buildings are common and have been actively preserved for centuries. Consequently, the goal of producing mixed areas is harder to achieve. “In the Italian context, mixing buildings of different eras is not as important as (or, rather, as possible as) it is in the American context,” he said.
Nevertheless, the team found that a crucial factor for vibrancy is the presence of “third places,” locations that are not homes (first places) or places of employment (second places). Third places are bars, restaurants, places of worship, shopping areas, parks, and so on—places where people go to gather and socialize.
The density of people also turns out to be important, too, just as Jacobs predicted. “Our results suggest that Jacobs’s four conditions for maintaining a vital urban life hold for Italian cities,” concludes De Nadai.
They go on to summarize by saying: “Active Italian districts have dense concentrations of office workers, third places at walking distance, small streets, and historical buildings.”
That’s an interesting study that has the potential to have major impact on city planning. The lack of an evidence-based approach to city planning has resulted in numerous urban disasters, not least of which was the decline of city centers in the U.S. in the 1950s, 1960s, and later.
This new era of city science could change that and help create vibrant, vital living spaces for millions of people around the world.
In that regard, Jane Jacobs’ influence will live on.

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.

Place Matters

A long time ago, I had a conversation with a close friend that has stuck with me over the years.
Like many great talks this one began with a question: “is place important to you?”
Could you be happy anywhere or do you have to live in a place that speaks to you in some way?
I’ve been thinking about that lately as I fantasize about a second home somewhere else…Asheville, Portland, Me., New York City (a pipe dream) or Laguna Beach (perhaps an even bigger pipe dream).
I usually have these thoughts a month or so before it begins to get hot and humid in Florida. It’s somehow comforting to imagine to a life where you can escape the humidity for more comfortable climes– at least for a few months.
While this is nowhere near a reality it’s ok for a guy to dream and plot just a little.
When I mention this to friends they say why don’t you just travel and visit different places? But while that’s definitely in the cards, I know in my bones that what I really want is a second home in a place where I care about happens.
Yes, place matters to me. Very much.
So when we travel I often think about what it would be like to live where we visit.
I adore St. Augustine. Would I be happy there?

It’s only four or so hours away, the beaches are beautiful, Jacksonville is close by and the history is amazing.
When we visited Portsmouth, New Hampshire I gobbled up every real estate publication. I thought the downtown was charming, alive and interesting. I loved it.
Asheville’s beauty, craft beer scene and live music is awfully appealing and Maine..well Maine defies description. I just felt happy there. Can’t explain it, but New England is just so comfortable. Like a favorite pair of jeans.
Closer to home I’m passionately in love with downtown Delray. I just love the rhythm, the scale, the energy and the sidewalk cafes. Pineapple Grove is a great street and the nooks and crannies off of Second Avenue are so appealing. Banker’s Row–gorgeous. Third Avenue and Third Street, gritty and cool.
Federal Highway looks and feels great.
In Boca, I enjoy Mizner Park.

Mizner is 25 years old this year and it gets better with age–sure its a “lifestyle center” but it’s a fun place to be. It just is.
Camino Real is a remarkable street and Old Floresta is just beautiful.
Places matter. They feed our soul, impact our mood and can make us think. The best places feel like home, they are warm and inviting. Shelter from the storm, so to speak.
It feels good to be home.

Whenever I’m inside the Crest Theater it just feels good. Memories abound. Same thing when I visit Lake Ida Park and watch the birds. Every great dog I’ve ever had has enjoyed that park so when I visit they are with me. And it feels right.
Yes, place matters. A whole lot.

Building a Front Row Culture

I’m a huge fan of the author/blogger Seth Godin.
Not only does he write amazing books (“Purple Cow”, “Linchpin” etc.) he blogs every single day. And most days, he hits it out of the park. That’s just remarkable.
Last week, he floored me with his blog entitled “Front Row Culture.”
Here it is…
“The group files into the theater, buzzing. People hustle to get to the front row, sitting side by side, no empty seats. The event starts on time, the excitement is palpable.
The other group wanders in. The front row is empty and stays that way. There are two or even three empty seats between each individual. The room is sort of dead.
In both cases, the CEO or the guest speaker is going to address the group for an hour. But the two groups couldn’t be more different.
The first organization sees possibility; the second sees risk and threat. The first group is eager to explore a new future; the second group misses the distant past.
The truth is this: it’s possible to hire for, train for and lead a front-row organization. And if you merely let entropy take over, you’re going to end up with the second, lesser, failing organization instead.
Worth saying this as clearly as possible: The culture, the choice of front row or back row, is a choice. It’s the result of investment and effort.
Where would you rather work?”
I read that blog at least five times. And then I thought, not only is this thinking applicable to businesses but it applies to cities as well.
“Where would you rather work”, can easily be replaced with where would you rather live?
For me, the difference between a “Front Row” culture and lethargy is the difference between aspiration and fear.
I’m attracted to communities that aspire.
I’m attracted to cities that have vision.
I like places that are willing to experiment and open to new ideas.
I think the cities that work are those that emphasize outcomes over process. Sure, you need rules, ethics, bidding and procedures but those procedures ought to facilitate outcomes, not hinder progress or change. We can nitpick or we can progress.
It shouldn’t take 20 attempts to issue an RFP and it shouldn’t take years to approve a project. You ought to be able to get a fence permit fast and you ought to be able to grab an attractive investment and entitle it quickly so you can be ready for the next one.
Front row cultures empower residents, business owners and public servants. Places that aspire enable and encourage people to solve problems and chase dreams.
The focus needs to be on creating opportunities for current and future residents—you always have to be focused on the future.
“What’s next”? is always the key question.
Complacency is a killer. Aspiration and possibility trumps fear and dysfunction and creates quality of life and place.

Zingerman’s Laws Applied to Cities

Have you ever been to Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
If you have to think about it, most likely you haven’t been because Zingerman’s is unforgettable.
The type of business that is so good they have made fans worldwide and inspired people from all walks of life to make the journey to Michigan to experience the magic. They also offer classes and books for entrepreneurs that want to learn how to do it right.
Last week, Zingerman’s released their “12 Natural Laws of Business Success”. We share and add some commentary as it relates to cities.
ZINGERMAN’S 12 NATURAL LAWS OF BUSINESS

LAW #1 : An inspiring, strategically sound vision leads the way to greatness (especially if you write it down!)
Amen. Having a sound vision is the best economic development and community spirit builder you can possibly design. Delray’s vision has been legendary, but sadly absent in recent years. Boca’s vision is different than Delray’s but equally compelling. Every city is different, but every city that wants to be great needs to have a vision, shared and developed by stakeholders. That’s all those who have a stake and don’t forget to give voice to all, especially youth and people who need some help.

LAW #2 : You need to give customers really compelling reasons to buy from you.

In retrospect, this one is practically self-evident! And most successful businesses do this anyway. We think it takes on special super-powers if you have it top of mind. If you mindfully articulate the “compelling reasons to buy” for every product you put out there and then, you intentionally work every day on adding to that list – you’re pretty much sure to be on the path to success!
City Corollary: Homeowners, tourists and business owner have an almost infinite number of choices. In order for them to choose your city you need to give them compelling reasons, commonly known as amenities, activities, quality of life, quality of place and quality services.

LAW #3 : Without good finance, you fail.

Speaking of self-evident, this one is so obvious it almost didn’t make it on the list. It’s here because it’s really not a great idea to assume that the obvious is obvious to everyone. It also made it to the list because we recognize that people are driven by different passions, and assuming that if you’re passionate about what you do then the money will take care of itself is not a great idea. Neither is thinking of money as a necessary evil. You’ve got to pay attention to the money for its own sake.
City Corollary: It’s the public’s money, so spend wisely and efficiently and on the big stuff make sure you have buy-in. The major spending in Delray was done via visioning, serious efforts at input and referenda.

LAW #4 : People do their best work when they’re part of a really great organization.

Remember that job you had (and hopefully still have!) that you totally loved? You jumped out of bed each morning eager to get to work. You brought your best self to work. You loved the work you did and you did what it takes to be darn good at it. You loved what your business did. You were fond of your co-workers and you all made a rocking team. Your boss thought you were the bees knees. Yep. That’s what we’re talking about. If you strive to create that kind of workplace every day, you’ll most likely also have a really successful one.
City Corollary: It’s all about the team and community building. Worth the effort, because you can’t achieve if this ingredient is missing.

LAW #5 : If you want the staff to give great service to customers, the leaders have to give great service to the staff.

Hmm, you might be thinking. Did I read that backwards? You didn’t. But it is kind of backwards from the way most of the world works. Which is also what most people say about Servant Leadership, which is the leadership philosophy that we follow here at Zingerman’s and which this law reflects. The truth is, the service that the staff gives to customers is almost never going to be better than the service that they’re getting from the organization, particularly the leaders of the organization. The leaders set the bar for service – what the leaders model to the staff could set that bar real high or it could define what the lowest acceptable level of service is. Or something in between. You choose.
City Corollary: Elected officials need to rely on their staff to achieve their goals. Accountability is essential, but you cannot micromanage. Support your staff, if you can’t support your staff you have the wrong staff.

LAW #6 : If you want great performance from your staff, you have to give them clear expectations and training tools.

In the book, “First, Break All the Rules,” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, they cite a survey conducted by the Gallup Organization. Gallup asked 1,000,000 workers and 80,000 managers (right?) about the factors that are the most important for keeping the best workers in their jobs for the longest period of time. Guess what the top 2 were : Clear expectations and, the tools to do their work. Hence this law. At Zingerman’s we keep this in the forefront by making sure that we use the Zingerman’s Training Compact and 4 Training Plan Questions for all the internal (and external!) training that we do.
City Corollary: Give clear direction to your staff and also give them the resources to the job. Then get out of the way, trust but verify though.

LAW #7 : Successful businesses do the things that others know they should do …. but generally don’t.

You’ve probably read a business article (or 5!) about L.L. Bean’s remarkably lenient returns policy. They now have decades of data supporting the fact that it’s a great idea for their business. Why hasn’t every single clothing retailer in the country hasn’t adopted the idea? Because it’s hard work. It’s staff training, customer training, tracking systems, extra accounting and a couple of things we’re not thinking of. And yet, it’s a great idea that generates incredible customer loyalty and (to quote the article above) “As a business practice, it’s expensive. As advertising, it’s cheap.” Having and adopting ideas like this, ideas that take us towards greatness, is exactly what differentiates successful businesses from those that are not.
City Corollary: Great cities provide outstanding services, don’t get bogged down in process and concentrate on outcomes that create value for their citizens/customers.

Law #8: To get to greatness you’ve got to keep getting better, all the time!

You’ve heard this one in a million different ways. There is no standing still, you’re either going forward or you’re falling back. Continuous Improvement. Kaizen. And so on. The important thing to note about this law is that it applies to everything. Any business or activity or pursuit for that matter. But also any aspect of a business. Products. Processes. Systems. Measures. People. They’ve all got to keep getting better, all the time!
City Corollary: Complacency is a killer, once you stop aspiring you expire.

LAW #9 : Success means you get better problems.

This one is a bit of a mind bend until you accept it. But as soon as you have, it becomes a belated glimpse of the obvious! If I asked you whether you can imagine a world/time/place that is free of all problems, you’d laugh at me, right? And yet, each of us, at least secretly, believes that when we get to that next stage, meet that next goal, life will become magically problem free. The truth is, you’ll just have different problems, and if the next stage or goal is getting you better problems, call it a win! Example : You obsess about customer service and are nationally recognized for it. Good Problem : You have lines out of the door and are getting customer complaints for the wait time. Less Good Problem : You don’t obsess about customer service, you have no lines and no one complains about the wait.
City Corollary: Love this one. Success means you get better problems—like parking, traffic, etc. Is traffic pleasant? Nope. But it sure beats no traffic on your main street.

LAW #10 : Whatever your strengths are, they will likely lead straight into your weaknesses.

Another way to think of this one is – “Get off the see-saw”. Getting off the see-saw brings better perspective to many, many situations but is particularly effective when you are evaluating your organization/team/business, or even yourself. Thinking of attributes in terms of good/bad or desirable/undesirable misses the complexity of the world in which we operate. A different time, place or situation is all it takes for a strength to be a weakness and vice versa. Example : Being a very participative workplace. Strength : Employee engagement. Weakness : Decision making can take longer.
City Corollary: Get off the dais, don’t keep your own counsel (you are not the smartest person in the room) and don’t surround yourself with people who think alike.

LAW #11 : It generally takes a lot longer to make something great happen than people think.

Speaking of taking longer, greatness takes a long time. And a lot of persistence. Those stories of overnight, magical success that the media loves to feature? Dig a little deeper and there’s always more. More work. More preparation. More time. More investment. More practice. But if you embark on something, with the recognition that greatness will take a while, it will make you more likely to stick with it and get to greatness. And if you find smaller, meaningful victories to celebrate along the way, all the better!
City Corollary: Celebrate your successes, build momentum and stick with the vision, especially when it’s challenged and it is always challenged.

LAW #12 : Great organizations are appreciative, and the people in them have more fun.

We could have the chicken and egg conversation here. Are people having fun and being appreciative because the organization is great? Or is it the other way around? While that will be a fun (See what I did there?) debate to have, the truth is that it doesn’t actually matter. What’s clear is that it’s a nice self -fulfilling cycle. So, why not go after creating a fun, appreciative workplace and see what happens?
City Corollary: Culture eats strategies lunch. If you build community and a team you can move mountains.

Remembering

Eleven years ago today I got a call from the Police Department informing me that there was a fatal shooting outside a school dance in Delray Beach.

Jerrod Miller, 15, was shot and killed while driving his uncle’s car near a breezeway at the Full Service Center, in our southwest neighborhood. A rookie police officer pulled the trigger.

I was mayor at the time and had the spent the evening at Donald Trump’s Mar A Lago (who would have guessed about the Donald?) for a charity fundraiser. I left Palm Beach feeling on top of the world.

That feeling ended when the phone rang in the early morning hours. There is no playbook to reach for when a 15 year-old child is shot and killed by a police officer in America.

The shooting happened exactly 10 years before Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, way before Ferguson, Black Lives Matter and the volatile shooting in Chicago that has engulfed that city’s mayor and cost the police chief his job.

My daughter, now 26, was also 15 when Jerrod was killed. I think that may be why the loss affected me in a very deep and very personal way. I couldn’t imagine losing a child. There are still mornings when I wake up to image’s of Jerrod’s face from a dream.

Never let them tell you that being a small town mayor is an easy job.

I share this because it’s important to remember these types of events because they tend to shape who you are and what you become as a community. The incident—which was a tragedy for all involved—was remembered last year— the 10 year anniversary. But these critical events need to be remembered every year, because it’s important to do so.

History can be a great guide for your present and your future if you take the time to understand it.

The Commissioners I served with valued race relations and we were working on improving our dialogue before the shooting. I think our efforts and the huge strides made before we arrived—especially by our Police Department—helped us cope with a terrible tragedy without widespread violence and recrimination. The leadership of people like Elizabeth Wesley, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Pompey, Vera Farrington, Commissioner David Randolph, Zach Straghn, Evelyn Dobson, Pame Williams, Carolyn and Joe Gholston and many others also made a difference in our community. We had a deep reservoir of work, dialogue and progress to draw on when tragedy struck.

That does not mean that the situation wasn’t deeply painful or easy—I can assure you it wasn’t. But we never came apart as a community because there were relationships and efforts under way for years to address deep seated issues. And because we dug even deeper after Jerrod. We found that we shared a common love for our city and a common passion for improving the lives of all people in the village. So we talked, we met, we cried, we prayed and yes at times we argued–but we never wavered from a foundational commitment to each other and to Delray.

That commitment was not lip service, it was real. Significant dollars were spent in impoverished neighborhoods, programs were supported, strategies to help schools, families and children were not just talked about but were implemented. Community policing built bridges and made people feel safer in their homes and neighborhoods. It was a commitment–a covenant–and it went both ways because citizens were asked to volunteer, step up, lead and take risks and they did and it made a difference. There is never an end to this type of work. Nor should there be. But it’s about more than dollars, even though money and investment is important. It’s about relationships and building community. And it’s about trust and love.

That’s why we made it through, even though there was pain that words cannot describe.

Race has been America’s Achilles heel since our nation’s founding and it has been an issue in Delray for over 100 years.

Recently, there have been mentions of race and the Swinton dividing line on issues ranging from the design of Old School Square Park and where to direct CRA investment to the makeup of city boards and the staff, board and audience of the Arts Garage.

These are issues that need to be surfaced and understood—but the worst thing we can do is apply lipstick and declare victory.

When we started the Race Relations initiative as part of the Downtown Master Planning process it was meant as a long term initiative and this type of work needs to be considered as a long term commitment to fostering better relationships, more understanding and more opportunity.

I think Community Benefits Agreements are good in concept, but the true goal ought to be broad based, long lasting opportunity and prosperity. The only way to achieve that is to improve the capacity of the communities we are trying to lift up. You have to talk about developing human capital and we have a huge amount of it. Otherwise, it becomes about steering money to the politically connected few at the expense of the many.

Efforts like Delray Students First, Village Academy, Milagro Center, Dare 2 Be Great, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, the Achievement Center, Delray Library and yes Old School Square and Arts Garage are all valuable tools for growing capacity and developing human capital.

But there are gaps—we are in an entrepreneurial and technological age and we ought to be investing in programs that teach both—like Girls Who Code, Wyncode, General Assembly etc.

In addition, there are tools and programs to strengthen neighborhoods. We were once very active in Neighborhoods USA and worked with local foundations on leadership training and capacity building. These are valuable tools to help encourage and inspire current and future leaders.

If you don’t do these types of things, you end up with spray paint “solutions” that wash away when it rains—and it will rain.

Optics will not work over the long haul. The term implies that you are merely concerned with how things look. Nope. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. Your work has to be real and it has to be meaningful. And your commitment has to be long lasting.

You have to dig deep.

It has to be about love.

In Praise of Carol Coletta

If you are lucky in life, you have heroes.
If you open your heart and your eyes you begin to see heroes everywhere you look; extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; often in obscurity.
I have a bunch of heroes. And a few have really made it. They are recognized by their peers for excellence. They make a difference. They are game changers. People who make a positive impact in a world desperately in need of positive contributions.
Carol Coletta is one of those people.

She’s my hero because of her agile mind and her passion for cities.
Oh how I love cities and so it’s no surprise how much I admire Carol. She is a kindred spirit. Her curiosity, thought leadership and enthusiasm for what it takes to build great cities has inspired me for over a decade.

For those of us who love cities and study them, Carol Coletta is a well-known voice. She has worked as a consultant, radio host and has led the Mayors Institute for Civic Design, CEOs for Cities and the Knight Foundation’s focus on community and national initiatives. Recently, she joined the prestigious Kresge Foundation where she was named Senior Fellow with the American Cities Practice which will work on urban transformation nationwide.

It sounds like a terrific fit. Here’s what Kresge President Rip Rapson had to say: “Carol is a peerless thinker, actor, and influencer in the urban policy and practice space – her experiences, passion, dynamism, and expertise have contributed in profound ways to improving the trajectory of American cities. She has tirelessly and imaginatively promoted research that tests new ways to make cities more livable and equitable. She has worked with mayors, city managers, council members and civic leaders to test new approaches to urban problem-solving. And she has galvanized philanthropy to work in different forms of partnership with the public, private and academic sectors in pursuit of urban reimagination,”

She’s all that and more.
I discovered Carol’s work many years ago when she hosted “Smart City” on NPR. In Miami, the show was on early Sunday mornings and I used to set my alarm to make sure I never missed an episode.
Each and every week, Carol delivered. She’s an amazing interviewer and always managed to produce compelling radio.
Every week I learned something new. I was a very young and very inexperienced mayor and I hung on every word. I wanted to improve. I wanted to understand. I wanted to do big things and Smart City radio was like attending grad school in cities. I couldn’t get enough.
We did big things in Delray during that era. We worked well together and moved what we called “the big rocks”. And Carol noticed.

For me it was like Bruce Springsteen hearing your song and saying “nice job, kid” keep up the good work.
I appeared on her show. We talked about Delray and about community building and the arts. It was a thrill. A huge thrill.
Appearing on Smart City was like receiving a gold seal of approval. My phone rang. I got emails from other mayors and people that were doing incredible things in their cities. It was beyond cool.
We hired Carol to help us write a cultural plan and she and her stellar team did magnificent work. She recommended that our cultural positioning be “creative, authentic and intimate.”

Isn’t that perfect? Isn’t that Delray?
Since that time Carol went on to lead CEOs for Cities, a terrific national organization before becoming VP of Community and National Initiatives for the wonderful Knight Foundation where she managed $50 million and an ambitious portfolio of innovative programs.
Last week, she got the Kresge gig. We can expect great things.
Kresge is a transformational foundation and Carol is a sure bet to do important and monumental work for America’s cities.
That’s great news.
In a nation suffering from dysfunctional national politics, cities remain places full of possibility, innovation and creativity.
There is no better leader in America to further the mission of cities as engines for progress and betterment than Carol Coletta. That’s why she is my hero and a hero to smart people everywhere who love and believe in their cities.

An excerpt from the book: Leadership

“I would say leadership starts with complaining and dissatisfaction. But that’s half of it. The other half of leadership is complain and then make it better.” -Mark Pincus, CEO Zynga.

There can be no success in a city without good, strong leadership. It really is as simple and as complicated as that.
Good leadership can create value, leverage opportunity, inspire action and achieve results far beyond your wildest imagination. Consequently, bad leadership or no leadership is death to a city, business or organization.
Over the years, I have become a student of leadership. I have read books, taken seminars, read case studies and observed good and bad leaders.
Sometimes people mistake leadership for management; they are very different.
Most small and midsize cities are council-manager forms of government, with “weak” mayors and city councils setting priorities for professional city managers and their staffs to execute.
While this system has flaws, it can work, provided that elected officials exert strong leadership and insist on accountability.
Still, there is a clear distinction between leadership and management.
Leadership makes the hard decisions, sets priorities, identifies opportunities, has the courage to confront challenges and the will to follow through when the going gets rough—and the going always gets rough.
In observing leaders, I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of elected officials. There are those who feel being elected is a job to “have” and there are those who feel it is a job to do.
There is a fundamental difference; the former are content to be introduced at every chicken dinner in town, they are essentially in the role to cut ribbons and do whatever it takes to stay there. They are what I refer to as “transactional” officials, in office to cut deals, reward friends and survive. They tend to shun the difficult issues, defer all the tough calls and spend their terms playing dodge ball.
The leaders who make a difference are “transformational” –they seek office to pursue a vision, are willing to take risks and have a healthy –albeit not self-serving–desire to leave a legacy.
Truth be told, even transformational leaders have to make their fair share of transactions—that’s politics–but you’d be amazed at how many elected officials think the endgame is to be re-elected and nothing else.
I have always told candidates that the hard work begins once you’re elected and the job is a lot more than simply doing whatever you have to do to remain in office.
Still, transformational leaders are rarities and therefore should be appreciated and strongly supported. If you happen to be fortunate to get one on your town council or city commission, efforts should be made to surround that person with the resources he or she needs to do what needs to be done to move your community forward.
In most cases, great leadership can overcome weak or ineffectual management—although the experience is sure to inhibit the amount of progress and create frustration for the elected leader. Consequently, the ideal is to marry great leadership with great management, but unfortunately, too few communities hold their government officials accountable. The worst case scenario is a combination of bad leadership and incompetent management; that is simply impossible to overcome.
Part of the problem with finding and nurturing good leadership is that too few people know what it looks like.
Nobody is opposed to great leadership but few communities take the time to actually discuss what it takes to bring it about. Often we fail to monitor leaders and hold them accountable for performance and for promises. Too often, we “suffer” poor leadership and decide to just “wait them out”.
One of the best books on leadership I’ve seen discusses this problem in-depth. In “Why We Are So Bad at Picking Good Leaders” the authors outline seven character traits that great leaders possess.
The rub, so to speak, is that if leaders are missing any of the seven traits, they are doomed to either come up short or fail.
The traits are: integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, courage and judgment.
That’s as good a list of traits as I’ve seen.
The foundation of all leadership is integrity. We’ve all seen brilliant people loaded with talent and gifts crash and burn because they lack integrity. Similarly, it is hard to lead successfully if you don’t have a burning passion for your city. That flame may burn bright or it may simmer, but it better burn.
When it comes to leading a city, courage also plays a big role.
The beauty of local government is that it is small enough to put your arms around but large enough to be interesting.
In most cities, a simple majority gets it done. In larger governments, ideas have to survive committees, legislative review and executive scrutiny and therefore rarely come through the other end intact.
In local government, if you have an idea and a simple majority on the council agrees, things can change pretty rapidly. In local government, there is room to experiment. For me, that part of city government felt very much like a few of the start-ups I have been involved in.
But the personal nature of local government also means you have to have a fair amount of courage to pursue meaningful progress.
Unlike, state legislatures which vote out of the sight of most of their constituents, in local government you vote down the street from where you live. Consequently, there is no place to hide. That’s a good thing.
Constituents—your neighbors—see you at the grocery store, pumping gas or when you’re out walking your dog. I liked that aspect of local government. As an elected official, it keeps you both honest and grounded.
There’s nothing quite as humbling as running into an irate constituent while you’re wearing ratty gym shorts and walking a Chihuahua named Randy.
Emotional intelligence and empathy go hand in hand. To be an effective leader you need to be able to empathize with the people who are impacted by your decisions. You also have to have the emotional intelligence to be able to read your audience and those who work alongside you. Different people respond to different styles—as a leader it is up to you to discern the most effective way of reaching and connecting with people.
By far, the biggest emotional reward for local leaders is the opportunity to engage with the community.
Every day there are opportunities to connect. It amazes me how few leaders take the time to develop strong ties to the people in their communities. In my experience, I found that being open and accessible paid tremendous dividends personally and politically.
While the personal benefits of making friends and getting to know people are evident, the political ones may not be as obvious—although they should be.
Nothing burns a supporter more than to work hard for a candidate, raise money, open your home for a campaign event, work a poll, wave a sign and canvass a neighborhood only to see your candidate get elected and then shut off communication.
It sounds like that would never happen. But truth be told, I see that very behavior more than I see the opposite. What do you think happens when that same candidate calls you for help during the next election cycle? Click. See you later.
It doesn’t cost much to reach out to supporters via email, a phone call or a quick cup of coffee and yet so many so-called leaders conveniently forget who put them into office.
The best elected officials are servant-leaders and they remember that.
Every.
Single.
Day.
Others get some power and feel that their constituents are there to serve them.
Suddenly, “Joe” insists on being called “Deputy Vice Mayor”—or a state rep refuses to acknowledge your presence unless you call him “leader” because he happened to ascend into the upper ranks of the legislature. It’s appalling—and it happens all the time.
Aside from the intrinsic benefits of being a decent and humble human being, there are real political rewards as well.
Earlier, I referenced how Delray brought on a visionary police chief in 1991. His name was Rick Overman.
Chief Overman was charismatic and brimming with ideas. When he walked into a room, you knew it. He oozed confidence and was exactly what the department needed.
Overman taught me an early lesson that would come in handy time and time again.
“In my job,” he used to say. “It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when; something bad is going to happen. So every day I try to build a reservoir of good will, because someday I know I will have to draw down on that reservoir. When you need it, you want to know it’s there.”
It was a lesson I took to heart and would be leaders would be wise to heed. In a position of authority, where you are called upon to make tough decisions it helps enormously to have strong relationships which enable you to explain votes and strategic directions that may be controversial. In local politics, just as in national politics, issues have winners and losers. Policies impact people, in fact, local government may impact the quality of life of residents more than any other level of government.
So engage, relate, learn, listen, care, and never stop communicating. There’s nothing worse than a politician who only reaches out during election time. Serve your constituents every single day.
One of the more interesting aspects of democracy is the somewhat random nature of how we choose leaders. A common refrain that we often hear is the need to run government more like a business.
On a lot of levels that makes sense, but how many businesses would entrust the CEO position and their entire slate of directors to the randomness of an election in which too often the choice is between lesser evils?
Given that we embrace democracy, perhaps we should work on building a culture in which we actually take the process of selecting candidates seriously.
In some cities, including my own, attempts to do this are sometimes greeted with charges of “grooming.”
While that is not the most endearing term, preparing prospects for leadership positions may be the most important single thing a community can do to ensure sustainable success.
Unfortunately, too many leadership programs fall short and are often nothing more than superficial tours of community programs and facilities. While visiting the courthouse and sewer plant is fine, they are not serious attempts at fostering leadership.
Communities that seek long-term, stable and effective leadership may want to consider a more formal program in which prospective leaders are assessed, evaluated and given in-depth information on what it takes to lead a city or an organization. It’s helpful for aspiring leaders to understand their strengths and weaknesses and to get a true a picture of what is expected of them if they decide to enter the arena.
Businesses large and small wouldn’t dare entrust their future to unproven people, why should cities?
So what would a community leadership development program look like?
I think it could call on past and current leaders to share their stories; the challenges they faced and how they handled issues and opportunities. It may also include the development of case studies which work well in business schools. Some communities scan the horizon and find cities that have solved similar problems. Visiting those cities and meeting the leaders who made a difference is extremely valuable.
Still, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing your leadership.
Aside from formal training, a community ought to consider an aspirant’s track record before handing them the keys to the budget and policy.
Have they served on city boards? Are they involved with local non-profits? Have they participated in community debates or did they just show up out of nowhere? Have they had success in business? If they’ve been involved on boards did they have a good attendance record? Did they do their homework and participate or did they simply get on a board and waste space?
It’s shocking how little scrutiny we give to prospective candidates.
And yet, once elected, we spend time lamenting how bad they are.
The list of traits—integrity, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, vision, courage and judgment—outlined above is a great starting point to evaluate those who seek to lead your community.
Regardless of your community’s physical assets, wealth or beauty, without great leadership you will never achieve lasting success. Communities that are serious about creating opportunity and building something special cannot ignore this very basic law of cities.
P.S. this leadership law also applies to business, non-profit organizations, schools etc.
Great leadership creates opportunities and builds immense value. Bad leadership or lack of leadership is a killer.