It’s Tough to be a “Yacht Collector.”

By Timothy Hullihan

According to Yachting magazine, one of the world’s premiere “yacht collectors” has a home in North Palm Beach, Florida.  In fact, he owns personally, and through corporations, many water front homes in North Palm Beach, but he never lives in most of them.  They are just places to berth his collection, house the crews, and keep his vessels ready for an occasional voyage.  The challenge of being a yacht collector is you need a place to store and service a lot of large ships, and in North Palm Beach, he has found a willing partner.

The humble, family and community oriented residents of this small village of less than 12,000 people are not willing partners, but the elected officials entrusted to represent them are. In fact, the residents of one neighborhood that is slowly losing 60-years of humility to the yacht collector’s real estate acquisitions asked the North Palm Beach Village Council to stop the yacht collector’s destructive practices by simply enforcing an existing law that says it is illegal to berth a vessel you own behind a house you do not occupy (whether you own it or not).  One of the residents that spoke at a recent council meeting is 77 years old, and has lived in her waterfront home for nearly 50-years.  She used a walker to approach the dais that night to describe the fear she now lives with daily because she is surrounded by vacant homes the yacht collector owns, or is in the process of acquiring.

At the June 22, 2017 council meeting the village council made it clear that they are prepared to do the opposite of what the residents of this neighborhood requested – simply enforce an existing law. The council agreed in a workshop format to vote at a future meeting to change the wording of the law in favor of the yacht collector.  Instead of finding relief for the residents they represent, they seemed to agree that changing the word “occupant” in the present law to “owner/tenant” is the right thing to do.  Only Councilmember Bickel (a lifelong resident of North Palm Beach) spoke against these changes to the law.  So, very soon, Mr. Yacht Collector will no longer be violating the law, and he and others that share his selfish view of life will be free to continue acquiring waterfront homes in North Palm Beach, leave them vacant, house their crews in them, and/or berth a ship there that is larger than the house itself, in some cases.

One family that lives in this neighborhood describes the North Palm Beach they moved into 15-years ago with 4 small children as “a dream come true.” They found a place they didn’t think existed anymore.  Residents brought homemade desserts to their door to welcome them when they arrived, and they have grown so close to their neighbors, and the community in general, that they no longer think of the places they are from as home.  Both the father and mother spoke publicly to the village council about their concerns for losing the neighborhood they have grown to love, but are now considering leaving because of unwelcome changes, and fear of an uncertain future.

It is not clear whether the council was aware of the yacht collector’s practices before residents brought it to their attention, but it is abundantly clear how the council feels about representing the residents that put them on the dais. It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I am presently living in a village whose elected officials are inclined to hear a resident’s cry for help, and then make their situation worse, instead of better.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect living in North Palm Beach, and President of the  Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation

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North Palm Beach’s U.S. One Corridor Needs a Facelift

By: Timothy Hullihan

North Palm Beach, Florida, is a special place, but it is hard to articulate exactly why. This is because the things that make North Palm Beach special are deeper, and more intrinsic than the things we typically associate with extraordinary places.

North Palm Beach is not shiny and new. In fact, in many ways it is ordinary and little old-fashioned. Its 5,000 homes were mostly built in the 1950s and 1960s, and its commercial areas date back that far as well. Yet, it is a desirable place to live, with many of its residents being proud 2nd or 3rd generation residents.

Stated another way, North Palm Beach is stuck in the 1970s. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is, in my opinion, a big part of the reason it is so great. Because the 1970s were the beginning of a 30 or 40 year period that brought a lot of poor urban planning to cities and towns across America, and many of those places are still trying to recover from those poor decisions, North Palm Beach has very few scares from that destructive time.

North Palm Beach is locked into its municipal footprint by adjacent jurisdictions and other barriers to sprawling growth, so it has grown internally and refreshed itself regularly. Rather than sprawling away from its historic town center, and leaving it to crumble, it has continually restored, or rebuilt its public buildings and parks, and maintained a fairly bicycle and pedestrian friendly way of life.

There are a few scars from the 1970s and 80s that need to be repaired, however, and wisely, village leaders recognize the importance of keeping North Palm Beach simple, quaint, and stuck in a more enlightened time period.

The most glaring scare in the village is the U.S. One Corridor. It was widened to 6-lanes in the late 1970s when the completion of I-95 was in doubt and transportation planners needed a back-up plan for a high-volume north-south corridor. It is also lined with a series of office buildings that mirror the office park concept of that period that, across the country, are failing and forgotten places today.

The good news is, I-95 was completed a long time ago, and the burden of having a high volume corridor through the village never happened. It presently has a design volume that is 3-times its actual usage, so there is an opportunity to redesign this street to make it more consistent with the bicycle and pedestrian friendly way of life that exists in most other parts of the village. As it is now, it is a classic 1970s highway that was designed with only the efficient moving of cars in mind. The narrow and unprotected bike lanes are dangerous and unused afterthoughts. Its narrow sidewalks are precariously close to fast moving vehicles and unpleasant to use. Its wide lanes encourage higher traveling speeds than the posted 35 MPH limit, thus increasing the danger for pedestrians and cyclists.

More good news: FDOT offered to pay for the redesign of US-1 in 2003, and they will be coming back to us in 2018 with the same pot of money. We passed on the offer in 2003, but with a recently completed master plan, we have every reason to be up-to-date on why prioritizing walking and biking equally with automobile travel is essential to our future. For example, the retail expert, Bob Gibbs, who was one the highly acclaimed design consultants for our master plan told us that 85% of all new retail in America is the “walkable” town center variety, and our master plan shows us where and how to create a walkable town center on US-1.

Understandably, not everyone agrees that US-1 should be redesigned, however. There is even a resident taking a petition door-to-door in an effort to stop any momentum towards redesign before it starts. The petition is based on the notion that “we are a car culture,” and it is foolish to spend millions of dollars on softening the brutal presence of a 6-lane roadway that is unsightly, over designed, underutilized, and a barrier to safe walking and biking between the two halves of the village it so blatantly demarks.

What is needed is an informed dialogue. The petitioner is a wise and educated man. He has a Doctorate of Education and is a retired school teacher, but my efforts to discuss the issue with him have been turned down. He is passionate about what he believes to be true, and I respect that.
If he would allow me to speak with him, here are some of the things I hope he would learn.

1. When a community must drive a car to participate in its economy, it is a wasteful economy. A recent comparison prepared by Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner in Dallas, analyzed two similar cities, Copenhagen and Houston, to make this point. Copenhagen, a famously bicycle-friendly place spends only 4% of it metro GDP on transportation (public and private), while Houston spends 14%. This is because Houston residents make 95% of all trips by car, while the residents of Copenhagen make only 54% of their trips in an automobile. These differences translate into nearly 3.5-billion dollars wasted annually to create and maintain the infrastructure needed to help Houston residents access the local economy by car. Houston is a typical American city committed to a car-culture, but once someone learns the high-cost and wastefulness of maintaining a car-culture, they are more open to alternatives.

2. Because we have been designing and building roads with only cars in mind since the 1970s, we have a lot of dangerous roads in America. Roads that equally prioritize pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic are not nearly as dangerous as their counterparts in a “car-culture.” The number 1 killer of children in American is automobile related accidents, and 1970s-style road designs are a leading contributor to this alarmingly high and preventable number of child deaths. Once people learn this, they are more open to alternatives.

3. We are finally curing ourselves of our car addiction, and the “car culture” that existed in the last half of the 20th Century is becoming less prominent. Vehicle miles driven (VMD) flat-lined at the beginning of this century and stayed there. This decline in car use will expand further as Millenials become a larger segment of our economy, autonomous cars make car ownership less necessary, and retail trends toward walkable town centers make cars less necessary. Some estimates have personal car usage dropping by as much as 54% over the next several decades. If US-1 is presently over designed by 3-times, it will be 4 or 5 times over designed in the near future. Making U.S. One slower, narrower, safer, and much more attractive begins to seem like a reasonable alternative once we understand that we are already a culture that is shifting away from car dependency.

4. As mentioned above, narrowing US-1 is actually the idea of FDOT, not NPB. The key point is that FDOT pays for projects like this with repair money already allocated. We are schedule for a costly grinding and resurfacing of US-1 in 2018, but FDOT would rather spend that money more wisely. Once we realize that the redesign of U.S. One will be mostly paid for with FDOT maintenance funds, we realize that we are not wasting money after all.

5. If air pollution is something that worries you, exchanging car trips for bike trips should be something you value. According to the EPA, 31% of all carbon emissions in the US come from transportation. If you remove mass transportation from that number, the cars we drive put 27% of carbon emissions into the air we breathe. So if we can create a US-1 corridor that is pedestrian and bike friendly, and replace some car trips with non-polluting trips, we would become a cleaner village too.

I respect the petitioner’s passion for what he believes to be true. Door-to-door petitioning is a great American tradition. However, there is a lot that we all need to learn about the US-1 Corridor, and I hope we can get together as a community and discuss it so we can make, collectively, the best decisions for our village’s future.

Timothy Hullihan is and architect and a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Thunderbird

By: Timothy Hullihan

It is hard for non-native Americans to feel at home in Nature.  Our history holds only a handful of exceptions that possess Thoreau-esque sensibilities, or Beston-esque desire.  A oneness with all things makes it equally hard for indigenous people to understand a divergence from the natural world.  The urge to own, conquer, control, and manage nature is at the heart of “civilized” society.  Yet, the wisdom to live flexibly and peacefully within the rhythms and patterns of Nature is at the heart of indigenous cultures, and their sustainable lifestyles that preceded European settlers by many thousands of years.

When two men from these opposing worlds become close friends over many years of shared place and time, their private discussions evolve into a comfortable forum for embracing their differences.  I recently learned a tiny piece of one such relationship from many years ago.

The place was the Brighton Indian Reservation in Hendry County, Florida.  The time was the late-1950s when, according to Florida Hall of Fame artist, James Hutchinson, the small native American population living there still lived as they had for millennia, rarely saw non-native people, and spoke only their native language.  Mr. Hutchinson, and his wife, Joan, accepted an opportunity jointly offered by the Owen K. Murphy and Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to live on the Brighton Seminole Reservation, and paint the Seminole and Miccosukee people over a period of 5-years.  The 50 works produced during the late-50s and early-60s are in the Florida History Museum in Tallahassee.

The Hutchisons befriended many of the tribal elders and, in particular a medicine man named Naha Tiger.  I learned this from Mr. Hutchinson at the opening of a show of his stunning Florida landscape paintings at MacArthur Beach State Park on January 12th.  A small number of the works on display are signed with a Thunderbird symbol next to his name, so I asked him about what I assumed to be something special.  I was not disappointed with the story that followed.

His answer was short, and probably intended to gauge my sincerity or depth of interest. “It was given to me, and I use it sometimes.”  I pressed on.

With an ironic smile and twinkle in his eye, the rest of the story came forth.  “A Miccosukee medicine man named Naha Tiger and I were discussing the finer points of art one afternoon.”  Art for art’s sake was a foreign concept to Naha and his people.  They made beautiful things of utility, but beauty was everywhere in their natural home and it was inherent, obligatory, and symbolic of their connected spiritual existence.  Recreating beauty for non-utilitarian purposes, and then removing it from its place was not understood.  When Naha learned that Mr. Hutchinson did this for money (another foreign concept), he needed to know more.

“How does it make you feel when you sell a painting you have made from this place?” Naha asked. “I feel good.”  James replied, and a long period of silence followed as Naha tried to understand this.  Then, Naha began to draw with a stick in the dirt.  He drew the Thunderbird symbol, and explained that they are mythical figures.  They are very powerful, for they have the power to control things, to make things happen, to create. “This is you.”  Naha said to James, gesturing his way in a manner that bestowed it upon him. “You have the power to create.”

I am grateful to Mr. Hutchinson for sharing this story with me.  I feel as if I am now part of a unique moment in time.  Unique circumstances brought 2 unique people, from unique pasts together in a unique setting.  Mr. Hutchison carries with him the great privilege of a deep connection with an ancient culture that no longer exists as it did for thousands of years.  He carries forward a small symbolic remnant of a conversation with a friend, and a remnant of a peaceful and sustainable way of life that holds many lessons for “civilized” society.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer from North Palm Beach, Florida. He is also a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Road Widening Justifications Insult My Intelligence

By: Timothy Hullihan

I am insulted when I read a DOT engineer’s projections for unfathomable gridlock in the future – typically something like, “There’s frequent gridlock at the intersection now, and it will only get worse in the future.” It’s insulting because projections like this imply that we are too stupid to learn from, and change our behavior to avoid bad situations. The only possible way that a congested road or intersection continues to get more and more congested until it is a virtual parking lot 24/7 is if everyone one of us continues to blindly do the same thing at the same time, day in and day out – surprised everyday by the gridlock that was there the day before, and the day before that. Reality, of course, is quite different, and if this kind of statement doesn’t insult you, it should make you angry because it is the basis for the wasteful expenditure of millions of tax dollars every year.

The objective analyses favored by the road building industry consider people and their vehicles in very simplified ways. We are merely population data to input into an algorithm or computer model and, viola, gridlock. Forecasts for gridlock allow DOT staffers to make studies and reports, engineers to design roads, and contractors to build them. What’s not to like, right? Everybody wins. Our roads get “fixed,” and millions of tax dollars pass through, and stimulate the economy.

The problem is, our roads might need “fixing”, but expanding them is not a fix that makes economic sense. There is a mountain of subjective and objective analyses that says we are not stupid, and we actually have a high-ability to adapt. Not surprisingly, we are smart enough to avoid gridlock by staying closer to home, carpooling, shifting our driving times, using alternate routes, and (this one makes the road building industry cringe) using alternate and more efficient forms of transportation.

The subjective research has shown that widening roads has a very short-term benefit – the same level of congestion returns very quickly because we are also smart enough to choose the newly widened version of the road we used to avoid. This is called induced demand. Interesting revelations about the depth of our adaptability in the other direction are also supported by case studies. Believe it or not, narrowing roads, and tearing down freeways is actually a thing, and in spite of the gloom and doom predictions of gridlock, it never happens. As I described in a previous post, the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, for example, was demolished and replaced with a surface street in the early 1990s. In so doing, its level of service was reduced from 110,000 vehicles per day to 45,000. Nightmarish gridlock, right? It never happened, and nobody is certain where all the cars went. However, it is clear that the neighborhoods that used to be divided by the elevated highway were beautifully reborn in its absence.

The best objective analysis of the economics of road building that I am aware of was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2009. The paper is entitled The Fundamental Laws of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities (linked here) and was prepared by two University of Toronto economists, Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner. You know it is good study when the Cato Institute (think Koch Brothers) writes a fake news story to muddy the paper’s clear conclusions. Anyway, the abstract of the study has this sentence, “We conclude that an increased provision of roads… is unlikely to relieve congestion.” Pretty clear!

The methods they used are, of course, economic in nature. Since roads play a huge role in the movement of commodities (products and people) from Point A to Point B, the speed at which they can move on roadways is an important economic variable. They used data from 228 U.S. cities to prepare economic models that show the value of increasing road capacity. They concluded that the value is extremely low since roads, regardless of designed capacity, quickly reach the same level of congestion they had prior to expansion. Thus, the speed of delivery for products being moved via congested roads, and the travel-times of the tax-payers who are paying for the road improvements is virtually the same whether an existing road is expanded or not. There are, of course, more cars and trucks moving slowly on wider, yet equally congested roadways, but, since “time is money” the economic benefit of road projects is next to zero. Duranton and Turner say in the paper’s conclusion, “…this research eliminates [road] capacity expansions… as policies to combat traffic congestion.” Again, pretty clear.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us with some wonderful corollaries of congestion. 1) Staying closer to home is a very positive adaptation we make to avoid congestion. It translates into reinvestment in the homes and neighborhoods where people are presently living, and a reduction in the potential for disinvestment, decline, and abandonment of existing communities. 2) We are encouraged to look for alternative, more efficient, less costly, and more environmentally friendly ways to move people, not vehicles. After all, the “T” in DOT stands for transportation, not low occupancy vehicles, and the policies of DOTs should not be lopsidedly focused on cars and trucks. If we shift our collective focus away from moving vehicles, and toward the movement of people, better and cheaper solutions are possible.

The picture below shows that gridlock happens not because there are a lot of people on the gridlocked road, but because there are a lot of vehicles. It shows an extremely congested roadway system. Thus, the first panel is all vehicles. The second panel places a grey

screen over panel 1 so turquoise dots can be added in panel 3 to highlight just the people in the vehicles.  In comparing panel 1 to panel 4, it is important to remember that there are more people than cars, but with the cars removed congestion is reduced dramatically.

Transportation policies in a smarter future will rely more heavily on systems that encourage us to travel in higher densities, rather than the inefficient and costly present policies of continually expanding roadways without meaningfully reducing congestion. Walking and biking, for example, are very dense transportation methods, and are very low polluting.  Also, most forms of mass transit increase people-moving density and reduce pollution.

So yes, I am insulted by the typical premise for road expansion because it implies that people are stupid and inflexible. But, I am also angered by this premise because it says we must wastefully spend the public’s money to save us from our collective stupidity.  It’s as if we would all eventually perish in gridlock without a wise and powerful government saving us from ourselves.

I am convinced that this country is still full of wise and moral people. Surely we can give the number crunching a rest, and begin to form intelligent solutions to transportation systems that do not overlook human potential.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer from North Palm Beach, Florida. He is also a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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If Not Sprawling House Plans, Why Sprawling Cities?

By: Timothy Hullihan

If we designed our homes the way we design cities and suburbs – around the convenient use of automobiles – our homes would not be as comfortable and intimate as we know them to be. Our homes are sanctuary-like places in which we draw closest to those we love and hold dear.  Our car-centric cities are places we drive to, through, and away from, but are unlikely to experience deep sanctuary-like “placemaking” there.  It wasn’t always this way, and can’t be in the future if we are to grow healthy communities, and conserve the land we need for sustainability.

Let’s dissect this hypothetical home designed with an internal transportation system, golf carts, for example. The rooms could be more spread out with sleeping pods, cooking pods, dining pods, bathing pods, and entertainment pods zoned remotely from each other to enhance logic and order, increase privacy, and eliminate conflicts.  Glass enclosed corridors, wide enough for 2-way golf cart traffic, would link the pods efficiently.  Each bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room would be large enough to include a couple of parking stalls for golf carts.  Walking from room to room would no longer be necessary.

As novel as this sprawling house plan may seem, for all its conveniences and partitioned privacy, it would not be very homey. It would also be very wasteful of land, something that we have to be increasingly vigilant in guarding against because there is surprisingly little left.

The homes we are all familiar with derive hominess from the overlapping and close juxtaposition of uses, and in fact, many have open plans that blur the lines between kitchen, dining, and entertainment spaces creating wonderfully causal and comfortable places to dwell. A similarly organic development pattern for communities once created convivial urban neighborhoods and towns that used land very efficiently.  But today, densely organized, pedestrian oriented systems of delightfully overlapping uses are forbidden in most zoning codes.  It wasn’t always this way, and can’t be in the future.

In fact, zoning wasn’t really a thing until about 70-years ago. Before zoning, cities grew organically and incrementally.  Narrow streets with a broad mix of uses made urban living extensions of our private sanctuaries, and, consequently, there were fewer distinctions between private and public space.  Neighborhoods were, therefore, more open, people were more friendly and cooperative, and the densely organized system of overlapping uses that created comfort inside our homes also created a character and charm to our small towns and urban neighborhoods alike, and everything we needed was a short walkable distance away.

The car and the roads to accommodate them slowly changed this. A 10-minute drive versus a 10-minute walk became a practical choice in the 1950s, and many chose to spread out their lives over many, many miles of open road.  Gas was cheap, cars were cool, and the novelties of a suburban home or office were intoxicating.  We never stopped to consider the high cost to the environment and humanity sprawling lifestyles would have.  That needs to change.

If the typical 2,500 square foot suburban home were reimagined as the sprawling hypothetical example, it would require approximately 7,500 square feet of enclosed space to provide the same 2,500 square feet of living space. Parking at every room, and two-way pathways between the pods would approximately triple the required footprint.  Even more wasteful, the sprawling layout would spread out inefficiently over its plot of land increasing its inefficient consumption of land even further.  

The car has had a similar impact on urban planning over the last 70-years, and this is one of the greatest environmental oversights of a car-centric world.  We have been gobbling up land to accommodate growth at 3 to 4 times the rate that organic pedestrian-oriented growth patterns require.

Within typical suburban developments, the land used for roads and parking lots (pavement) is at least equal to the enclosed area of the buildings (habitable spaces) they serve. A quick look at an aerial view of any regional mall in America will show that this ratio can be 3 to 4 times in favor of pavement over useable / habitable space.  The impact over the last 50 years of consuming land in huge wasteful chucks is hard to know, but the foolishness of this practice extends beyond the loss of communities with a strong sense of place.  A future that slows expansion onto developable lands, and accommodates population growth by repurposing the wastefully developed or forgotten urban/suburban landscapes of our past becomes more likely from a world view.

Smart people that study these types of things estimate that all of Earth’s land presently being used to create the food we eat – a shockingly low 2.7% of the Earth’s surface, or 3.4 billion acres, cannot be expanded meaningfully, and is only large enough to feed a world population of 10-11 billion people. The U.N. projects a population of around 9.7 billion by 2050 and reaching 11 billion before this century ends.  The good news is, world population plateaus at 10-11 billion by some estimates due to declining birth rates.  The bad news, feeding the world population we are projected to have in just 50-years will require us to gradually transition away from eating meat, and to adopt entirely vegan lifestyles.  Because food energy is wasted in the production of meat – since it is first used to grow the animal and then transferred to humans inefficiently – grazing lands must slowly transition into crop lands as our population continues to grow.  Fruits and vegetables, by contrast, transfer food energy to humans far more directly, so, faced with a finite land area available for the world’s food production, increasing the efficiency of its use is the only solution.  Yes, rainforests are plowed under to create more agricultural lands, but this has a negative environmental impact, and does not fully replace arable lands that are lost to desertification and erosion each year at increasing rates.

So, yes, land on Planet Earth is surprisingly scarce and precious. Understanding this should make the prospects of converting farmland to housing developments seem foolish, but this is still a common practice.  Recognizing that grazing lands represent the inefficient creation of food energy, and having the wisdom to increase the efficient utilization of these lands to feed a growing world population will take courage and adjustments.  A similar adjustment of our appetite for land development is equally important.  And, while changing our diet will not happen without discomfort, retreating from suburban sprawl and car-centric living to increase land-use efficiency in the realm of human habitation would come with many positives.  Pedestrian oriented communities are physically and mentally healthier places, according to a growing body of research.  They are also more financially stable places to live as their efficient land-use translates into efficient infrastructure utilization and tax-base development.

A sprawling house with an internal transportation system seems foolish because we know what a home should feel like, and its intimacy is part of what we crave. Sprawling cities are equally foolish for the lack of intimacy they create, and cause us to accept as normal.  But, as we more fully appreciate the preciousness of land, and couple that appreciation with the opportunities to live in convivial places that use land very efficiently, it is encouraging to know that we have the knowledge to create, reinvent, and repopulate healthy pedestrian communities.  We just need the will to retreat from the sprawling edges of civilization where land is cheap, and return to where happy, healthy, places can be found, and life is rich and sustainable.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer from North Palm Beach, Florida.  He is also a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Hopelessness is the Silver Lining

By: Timothy Hullihan

Hopelessness may be the silver lining of a Trump presidency.  As a nation, we may find it to be the thread that binds us together, rebuilds the unity that made us great, and creates a powerful collective will to save our great nation – and, quite possibly, the world that looks for our leadership on the important existential issues of our time – climate change, food security, and sustainable land management for a growing world population.

It is my belief that many of those that supported, and voted for a Trump presidency will be most hurt during the next 4-years.  I sincerely hope I am wrong, because many of the people that supported him are hurting deeply already, feel isolated in an America that no longer works for them, and fervently believe Trump, as a Washington outsider, will work very hard, and differently, to fix that.  To those with the least hope, Trump’s soon-to-be presidency must feel like being pulled back from the edge of a cliff as they rejoice in the election of their savoir.

Reality, however, is already making itself known, and I deeply regret that career politicians and DC lobbyists are filling the ranks of Trump’s transition team – a clear indication of what will surround and advise him going forward.  The same people, the same methodologies, the same networks, viewpoints, and ideologies are forming to guide the man that was going to “drain the swamp.”  It is foretelling of an overwhelming sadness that will sweep through rural America as it learns that they placed their faith in a man that unabashedly manipulates people and the truth for personal gain, and their hope in a charlatan turns false, and the edge of despair again draws near.

In a 1998 interview with People Magazine, Trump was asked about a possible run for the presidency, his answer tells us much about the means and methods of this imposter.  “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican.  They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News.  I could lie and they’d eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”

Many of the 60-plus million Americans that placed their hope for a better America in Donald J. Trump will slowly learn a painful truth – one that they probably knew was possible, but chose to believe otherwise.  The 5.8-million Americans who voted for anyone other than the 2 mainstream candidates surely did so without hope, and that symbolic gesture of their hopelessness confirms their on-going despair.  The 60-plus million that saw hope in Hillary Clinton are now openly expressing their hopelessness through social media and public protest.  And, the 90-plus million registered voters that did not vote at all, may represent the largest and most entrenched segment of America hopelessness.

Hopelessness, therefore, is already the majority mood of our country, and this will only grow as the Trump faithful face the reality of fraud.  But, when hopelessness turns to hope, there is renewed energy for change.  When the numbers of hopeless people reach a critical mass, and they find hope together, change is enduringly possible. We are just 2 steps away from lasting and meaningful change.

First, the Trump hopeful’s return to hopelessness must find unity with the rest of a despairing America. Second, we must as a nation realize that hope in a political system of any kind shoots to low.  If we learn to place hope in each other and begin to rebuild our towns, communities and neighborhoods spiritually, one human relationship at time, pride will return, love of place and people will strengthen us, and government will recede to its proper place.

Rabbi Marc Gellman, who writes the God Squad column for the Tribune Content Agency, wrote elegantly about the false hope of politics in a November 10, 2016 article that addressed the presidential campaign’s general hopelessness.

“[T]he entire political sphere of our lives does not remotely touch or inform the most important parts of our lives. Our love for each other, our courage in the face of challenges, our gratitude to a power beyond us that also created and loves us — all this is untouched by politics. All this remains true and present before us no matter whom we elect. If there is no God, and no transcendent realm then the nation is as high as we go, and its leaders are the sole guardians and rudders of our existence. But we are more than bodies ruled by the state who happen to have souls. We are souls who happen to have bodies.”

The transcendent realm, whether through your God or the love of your community and its people, is where hope lies.  It is where sunrises, and poetry, and the apex phrases of favorite arias can take us again and again.  It is where we are reminded that symbolism leaves us wanting, and only people can fill that void.  It is where humility comes easy, because we feel so small within the vastness of universal truths.

The transcendent realm does not have a place for Trump and his sycophants.  The shallowness of their self-serving power does not reach there.  It is a place where we are free to love, and to think, and to join with our fellow man in common purpose.  This is the place where friendliness replaces fear; obligations establish what is right; and joys and sorrows are shared experiences.  Loneliness is abolished there.  Communities are strong there.  All people matter there.

If we must experience hopelessness and despair before the unifying force of communal hopefulness reigns throughout this nation, then God bless Donald Trump for casting it upon us.  Because, I am sure, we will rise up to transcend politics and it false promises, and reconnect with the dormant spirit of a great nation that was built by immigrants that came here with nothing but hope, and united in the challenges of survival and community building.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer from North Palm Beach, Florida. He is also a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Democracy in North Palm Beach

By: Timothy Hullihan

It didn’t occur to me until the September 8, 2016 workshop on a Memory Care Facility proposed on U.S. One, that the week-long charrette to kick-off our village-wide master plan in January is a rare form of democracy.  In North Palm Beach, however, it is in danger of becoming a symbolic form of democracy.

It is hard to imagine anything more democratic than a call to citizens to gather, voice their opinions, and collectively develop, and present ideas for a better place to live. For those of you that missed it, this happened on a Saturday in January in the cafeteria of North Palm Beach Elementary, and continued throughout the following week in the Village Council Chambers.  Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) is/was the lead consultant to our village for this enormous and much needed undertaking.  It is an on-going process.

At the end of the week, TCRPC’s team of world-class urban planners, architects, economists, market analysts, and retail development consultants presented an in-progress summary of the week’s work. They had crunched an enormous amount of data, synthesized the ideas expressed by residents with their own professional experiences, and formed some ideas of their own by observing and recording the positive and negative conditions within our village.  The presentation was, again, characteristically democratic.  Hundreds of North Palm Beach residents gathered, learned, and were encouraged to critique the week’s work.  Enthusiastic applause signaled that TCRPC was headed in the right direction. The week-long charrette then came to a close, and TCRPC took the next 14-weeks to further refine, develop and expand the document that will eventually be adopted as our guide for growth and development for the next 50-years.

In late-May TCRPC completed a draft version of the Master Plan Document (MPD), and delivered it to our Village Manager, Jim Kelly. Shortly thereafter, the wheels of democracy began to come off.  For 3-weeks the MPD was withheld from broad distribution.  Miraculously, the day after our Planning Commission met in June, it was emailed to the Charrette Host Committee, and the Planning Commission Members; and made available on-line to village residents, many of whom had participated in its development.

While it was reasonable to review the draft before it was distributed, the timing of its distribution raises questions regarding Mr. Kelly’s intentions. It may just be a coincidence, but a Memory Care facility being proposed on U.S. One was on the agenda for the June Planning Commission meeting.  While Memory Care is a needed use in the village, and would otherwise be a non-issue, the architectural form of the proposal was in direct contrast with a key element of the draft MPD that was broadly supported by applauding residents is January – a “Village Center” that would bring “walkable neighborhood retail” to U.S. One, and breathe much needed life into the dated corridor.  Keeping the Planning Commission in the dark on this stark contrast is not how a small town democracy is supposed to work.

Prior to the June Planning Commission meeting, I and TCRPC (on separate occasions) encouraged the Memory Care development team to bring their facility to this site, but to change its architectural form so it could help us accomplish one of the more significant goals of our master plan – a village center. The developer chose not to follow this advice, and continue on with the plans unchanged.­

During the Planning Commission’s consideration of the Memory Care plan, questions about the master plan naturally arose. I witnessed Denise Malone, our new Community Development Director, and a planner by training, twice mislead the commission with her answers.  I do not know if she misled them intentionally, or out of ignorance.  But, in either case, this is not the kind of representation a democratically prepared vision should be receiving from the most senior planner in our village.

She was first asked about the status of the master plan. Her reply was approximately, “We have not received the draft document yet, and we are not sure when we will receive it.”  At the time of her answer, it had been 3-weeks since the village received the draft MPD from TCRPC.

The second inquiry asked for more information on what the master plan said about this particular site. To this she implied that the master plan is general in nature and “does not make specific recommendations for this site.”   The Memory Care site is prominently featured in the MPD as one of its essential recommendations.  A rendering of the site as drawn by TCRPC in the draft MPD is below:tcrpc_page9_cropped

This sketch looks at the presently vacant land from the southeast, and shows Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in the bottom right corner and U.S. One running diagonally from lower right to upper left.

The proposal for a Village Center at this location is not just a whim. It is grounded in economic analysis prepared by veteran urban real estate analyst, Tom Lavash, and the state-of-the-art advice of Robert Gibbs, the author of 5 books on retail planning and one of the most highly sought after retail consultants in the country – both members of the TCRPC team.  Mr. Lavash and Mr. Gibbs participated in our charrette all 7-days.  Mr. Gibbs lectured to a small audience while he was here on Tuesday evening at the Country Club.  In an oversimplified summary, the Village Center proposal is derived from these facts:

  1. Our U.S. One Corridor is out-of-date, and presently less than desirable for new investment.
  2. A far greater level of decline in the quality of U.S. One in other communities has led to a broader systemic decline of these communities at-large – something we must avoid.
  3. We have approximately 3-times the amount of office space on U.S. One than our town’s population can support.
  4. However, TCRPC’s “Leakage Analysis” shows that we, the residents of NPB, spend 118M dollars annually in the retail establishments of neighboring cities, and comparatively little in NPB. Thus, we have an enormous opportunity to capture retail spending and guide it to U.S. One.
  5. Per Mr. Gibbs, 85% of all new retail being developed in the U.S. is of the walkable, place-making, town center variety. This is a huge opportunity for our urban location.
  6. We have 2.7 acres of vacant land on U.S. One that abuts a thriving residential area.
  7. Per Mr. Gibbs, homes that have walkable “place-making” retail within walking distance have a higher property value by 50K to 100K dollars in comparison to those that don’t, but are otherwise within similar real estate markets.
  8. Although a village center could happen at other sites, none of those suggested in the draft MPD are vacant sites, and, therefore, have greater obstacles to development. Time is not on our side.

For whatever reason, these facts were withheld from the Planning Commission prior to their consideration of the Memory Care proposal for the same site. When one recalls that we, the residents of NPB, paid $250,000 for detailed, and expert analysis of our town, concealing its recommendations is unthinkable.  Fortunately, the Planning Commission voted the proposal down 3-2, in spite of a being misinformed.  The applicant, however, chose to bring the proposal to the Village Council anyway, and that process began on Thursday, September 8th, and the wheels of democracy fell off completely.

Since the MPD is to a large extent the result of a democratic process, and, therefore, representative of the desires of NPB residents, the above events are sufficient cause for concern. However, the following events paint an even bleaker picture of the status of democracy in North Palm Beach.

TCRPC has been unwavering in their advice to the applicant: The “form” of the memory care building(s) should be consistent with the form of a Village Center to help advance the village’s emerging vision for the future.  The developer continues to resist any changes to the form of his building because it is a prototype that they build all over the country.  TCRPC recently agreed, however, to offer suggestions that might help the prototype building be more compatible with the draft MPD, but did so with many caveats.  The most important of these caveats was to not construe, or represent their assistance as creating alternatives to the master plan’s proposal.  It is a plan that is wholly independent of that set of recommendations, and their plans should be viewed only as a way to make an unfortunate situation as good as it can be.

Just like keeping the Planning Commission in the dark, TCRPC’s efforts to help the Memory Care building move a little closer to the state-of-the-art MPD, and a little further away from the dated planning methods that are presently plaguing U.S. One, were handled behind closed doors and away from the public eye. The Village Manager even misdirected anyone who tried to look up the back-up material for the workshop.  The documents that the Village Council receives in advance of workshops are typically posted on the village website, but by directing the Village Clerk’s office to post the original plans that were rejected by the Planning Commission, Mr. Kelly effectively misinformed anyone seeking information about the upcoming meeting.  I was aware of the TCRPC effort, and the creation of an alternate plan, and, upon seeing the fake set of back-up documents provided by Manager Kelly, I requested to see the actual material that would be presented to the Council.  I was not successful.  Ms. Malone even left me a voicemail which stated that she had not seen anything new; the old back-up material was still current; and it was not likely that the applicant would be presenting anything new.

In truth, the Council saw none of the fake back-up material that was posted on-line on September 2nd by the Clerk’s office at Manager Kelly’s direction.  What they saw was a presentation from Ms. Malone that contained, incredibly, the new TCRPC plan, and the revelation that she and Mr. Kelly had been meeting regularly with TCRPC to get this plan created.  They also saw a presentation from the applicant containing the new TCRPC plan, and an alternative to it of their own creation.  The tone of the applicant’s presentation encouraged the Council to simply decide between TCRPC Plan #1, and TCRPC Plan #2.  Neither presentation contained any mention, or reference to TCRPC’s list of caveats, or the master plan’s starkly different recommendations for the site.  It is especially discouraging that the draft MPD, prepared in a democratic fashion and supported by village residents, would not be considered important enough to at least be part of our own staff’s presentation to the Village Council.

The Village Council is the victim here, much like the residents of NPB are. This needs to be very clear.  They are good, honest, and conscientious people that have the village’s best interest at heart.  In fact, Vice Mayor Bush adamantly voiced opposition to the Memory Care building because it had not been tweaked in any way to conform to the draft MPD.

Unfortunately, the strategy of withholding information worked on the rest of the Council and the Memory Care developer was given the direction he was seeking. He may now proceed with his plans as submitted, and no acknowledgement of the recommendations in the draft MPD is necessary.  They will soon be bringing the full proposal to the Village Council for final approval, and rezoning of the property.

In a democracy, the desires of the people matter. In a democracy, the Village Center Plan for this site would have been presented to our Planning Commission and Village Council, but neither happened.  On September 8th, the Council was asked to choose between two horrible plans that essentially cancel NPB’s best opportunity to bring vitality back to the U.S. One Corridor.  TCRPC does not support either scheme over its master plan recommendations, and only the 5 village residents who attended the workshop are even aware that this is happening.

Democracy in North Palm Beach has a form with which I am not familiar.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer living in North Palm Beach, Florida

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