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Do You Love Deerfield Beach? - 04/16/13

A recent article in the Palm Beach Post caught my eye. It asked a question which could be an interesting one for Deerfield Beach residents 30 years from now. The title was "Do you love Lake Worth?" and invited Lake Worth residents to "Tell us what makes it special."

Lake Worth was first settled about the same time as Deerfield, roughly a century ago. A person interviewed by the Post, a long-time resident going back to the '30's, said, "What I like about Lake Worth's past is the role played by the pioneers and early settlers." He noted that many of the "good things" about Lake Worth today were started in the first 25 years of the cityís history. These "jewels," he wrote, "have been a 'gift' for new residents."

The moral is that what any city does in a particular time will determine what the city will be like and could be for future generations.

What we do today in Deerfield Beach will set the course for the Deerfield Beach of 2043, 30 years from now. Will we "love" it ó that is, will it be a place where people want to live and can afford to live? Iíve repeatedly stated that this should be the overarching goal and purpose, especially of land-use policy in the city.

Of course, people also work and play in the community. But keep in mind that Deerfield is almost the geographical center of a massive urban area, not out in the boonies somewhere. If you think of Deerfield as a suburb, it is really "sub" to two "urbs," to the south and to the north. It makes no sense to redraw land-use maps to create jobs, as jobs abound all around us. If the goal is to widen the tax base, but Deerfield is a place where people want to live, property values will rise over time to provide the revenue for required public services.

What, then, will Deerfield be like in 30 years? Will it be a place where people want to live, or escape? For younger families in particular, will it just be a way-station to a "better place" like Boca? Will public access to the beach be effectively cut-off by an almost perpetual traffic jam along Hillsboro and A1A? Will the city, especially the center part, be a jungle of warehouses, half-empty office buildings, and vacant store fronts, rather than a nice place to raise a family?

On the other hand, if Deerfield Beach is a suburb, it is not a fully-traditional one. First, as I've already indicated, it's as economically tied to the Palm Beach area as it is to Greater Fort Lauderdale.

I was raised in a suburb of St. Louis. It would be almost as if ó except for geographical impossibility ó it were a suburb both of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Second, Deerfield Beach is only a community in terms of geography, not in a sense of community. It's a collection of neighborhoods with disparate interests that happen to occupy contingent space. Yes, there are common interests, like public safety, water supply, and trash collection. But these are interests that could be served by adjacent municipalities. We don't need ó in this sense ó a "City of Deerfield Beach."

I can envision a time, perhaps 30, 40, 50 years from now when a City of Deerfield Beach might oversee, but provide few, city services.

In the past, I've argued that this lack of sense of community, combined with the mobility especially of the younger population, is a factor in so-called "voter apathy."

Third, we are more diverse in our population than the typical or traditional suburb. Approximately 20 percent of our residents fall into one or more of the "minority" categories.

In a recent study of urban trends in the U.S., Alan Ehrenhalt, the author of The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City (2012), notes the reversal of what we used to call "white flight." Now, he contends, young (white) moderns are more likely to migrate to the urban cores their parents fled from a generation ago, while minorities are moving to the 'burbs in greater numbers. He cites Chicago and Atlanta as prime examples.

Ehrenhalt is a journalist and author of books on urban policy, including The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues Of Community In America (1996).

"The truth," he writes, "is that we are living at a moment in which the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the twentieth century is coming to an end. And we need to adjust our perceptions of cities, suburbs, and urban mobility as a result."

Fourth, we, as a city, donít control education. I add this, because the education of our young people is as important to a truly fine place to live as is the cop on the beat or efficient trash pick up. When we talk about our young people in the public forums now, we are more likely to talk about keeping them off the streets during the summer than providing them with first-class educational opportunities.

I mentioned earlier, I was raised in a small Missouri suburb, with less (in fact, far less) than half the population of Deerfield Beach. Yet, it has the main campus of a private university enrolling over 21,000 students on campuses world-wide. It is also the site of a major Protestant theological seminary.

Additionally, Webster Groves maintains one of the best public-school systems in the country. My high school was on the cover of Time (Oct. 25, 1999). Why isn't education first priority in Deerfield Beach? Where is it written we can't have a college or university campus in this city?

I can even imagine a place, if certain people willed it.

These are just some thinking points for public officials and people who are interested. But it still comes down to this, a generation or two hence: Deerfield Beach, do we love it or hate it?