Welcome to our first match-up in the fourth annual Strongest Town Competition! In this round, 16 towns are facing off, and 8 will advance to the next segment of the contest based on your votes. We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about economic resilience, citizen involvement, land use and more, then vote for the strongest.

Can’t decide? If you’re looking for inspiration, check out how we describe the Strong Towns approach, or maybe take a look at the questions that make up our Strong Towns Strength Test.

Voting closes at 12pm CDT on Thursday, March 21st.


Photo by Ron Antoinette

Photo by Ron Antoinette

Claremont, California

Entry submitted by: Randy Lopez

At Strong Towns, we believe that local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place. How are residents in your town involved in shaping its future? How do residents’ experiences, struggles, and concerns directly inform the projects undertaken by local government? Provide one or more examples.

Claremont citizens have an extremely active relationship with city government. Our recent election had a turnout of over 70%. Beyond our city council, for example, local committees are active in and supported by the city in creating discussions and solutions for such issues as housing, homelessness, finance, business development, etc. It's not uncommon to see city council members at ongoing Chamber events and meetings, as well as actively participating at non-profit events and community gatherings.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that they’ll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

Claremont citizens have an extremely active relationship with city government. Our recent election had a turnout of over 70%.

Our city government, financial committees and community are very future-focused, and we communicate about the challenges we're having to ensure that Claremont is financially secure. As a city that is also a destination with our museums, shops, and cultural events, we discuss our financial situation at city, Chamber of Commerce, and planning meetings.

If we took a walking tour through your town, what would we see? How does your community use its land productively to promote long-term financial resilience?

We call Claremont the "City of Trees and PhD's" because of our scenic tree-lined streets and historic colleges. We have a business district, "The Village," with shops and restaurants near a historic depot. Our neighborhoods have a distinct charm and feature modern dwellings and student housing, and as a city, we all work together to retain our picturesque charm. Housing prices remain stable because of the value of our college, business and resident community. It's the reason Money magazine named Claremont #5 in its Best Places to Live ranking. We are also used as a filming location anytime an East Coast Ivy League college town-type setting is needed by Hollywood.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players, big and small, and how do they help your town to be financially strong and resilient? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Our business owners and key stakeholders communicate actively through our local Chamber and by supporting each other as business partners with events, ideation and ongoing conversations with City leaders. I am proud of the number of local business owners that have left large organizations to start their own businesses in Claremont because of our lifestyle and community. Our local businesses include such new establishments as the Meat Cellar, which started here with one small location and in a few years has grown to a successful chain of 3 locations in Southern California. Our Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Ophelia's Jump Midsummer Shakespeare Festival, and our Claremont Film Festival draw audiences from throughout Southern California and even visitors from other states.

What transportation options exist in your town for people of varying ages, abilities, and means? How easy is it to live in your town without regular access to a car? What transportation investments has your town recently made or is it in the process of making?

As a college and business community, many residents and visitors use public transportation such as our trains and buses to connect to Los Angeles and other cities. As a city, we are focused on sustainability and are leading a community and local government effort to add even greater train service through our Train Depot (which is served by the Metro Gold Line). We are active with the LA Metro Board and local legislators to create transportation resources for future generations.

I am proud of the number of local business owners that have left large organizations to start their own businesses in Claremont because of our lifestyle and community.

How easy is it to become an entrepreneur or a small-scale developer in your town? What kinds of support are available for a resident who wants to open a business or build on a small vacant lot?

The Chamber of Commerce is extremely active, and we have a strong community of entrepreneurs that benefit from local support and resources from local collaboratives and thought leadership from the colleges.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

I feel like I'm in a vacation setting everyday.

What is the biggest challenge your town faces, and what are you doing to address it?

Keeping our city accessible and supporting our quality of life amid growth, congestion, and housing challenges.


Photo courtesy of Kellie Ames, Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority

Photo courtesy of Kellie Ames, Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority

Delray Beach, Florida

Entry submitted by: Laura Simon, Lauren Lyall, Kellie Ames, Richalyn Miller, and BJ Sklar

At Strong Towns, we believe that local government is a platform for strong citizens to collaboratively build a prosperous place. How are residents in your town involved in shaping its future? How do residents’ experiences, struggles, and concerns directly inform the projects undertaken by local government? Provide one or more examples.

Our residents have always been very vocal in the community. Several years back, Delray Beach had a major obstacle to overcome in its downtown. An old schoolhouse, which had sat vacant for years, was to be turned into a shopping mall. Instead, the residents & city leaders of Delray Beach came together and gathered enough funding to refurbish the old schoolhouse and turn it into what we now call Old School Square. Old School Square, “the heART of the city”, is now the centerpiece of our Downtown, and its renovation led to our vibrant downtown today. Old School Square hosts a modern art museum, concerts, our local green market, the historic Crest Theatre, creative programs, and much more! Without it, we would not be where we are today.

Our City Commission truly believes that it’s not always about getting the most money at the beginning, but making sure a project is well-suited for the community it will be in and that it will have the most benefits in the long-run

When a new project or idea falls into our laps, we reach out to our business owners and residents first to see if the potential project fits with the vision of our community stakeholders. Two recent projects have been the subject of contention among our residents. One project involved the development of our West Atlantic Avenue Corridor, for which the city had issued a Request for Proposal (RFP). Many residents were not happy with the initial selection of developer and came to City Hall to voice their opinions. The RFP was re-issued once more, and a new developer was chosen after a much more rigorous assessment.

The other project, which involved tearing down miles of historic landscape in order to re-pave a main thoroughfare and add bike lanes, was not in line with what our residents wanted on that street. They felt that preserving the historic landscape was more important than bike lanes, as brand-new bike lanes are located one street east, and the current sidewalk structure was functional for both bikes & pedestrians. Our residents expressed their concerns through picket signs in their yards, talking to local media outlets, and coming to the City Commission to convince them this was not the right project for Delray Beach. The project did not move forward.

The power of community is important in Delray Beach. Our residents live, work, & play here and want to preserve their love for our Village by the Sea. They are extremely passionate about this community and they show it through community involvement. The City of Delray Beach has been awarded the All-America City Award 3 times, most recently in 2017.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for long-term prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that they’ll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

Delray Beach is focused on developing its West Atlantic corridor. This area has fallen behind the East Atlantic area in terms of development. In order for our downtown to come together in a cohesive manner, much of our focus has been on helping West Atlantic catch up. Our City Commission truly believes that it’s not always about getting the most money at the beginning, but making sure a project is well-suited for the community it will be in and that it will have the most benefits in the long-run for the entire city.

Financial solvency is an area we would love to advance in, especially since we learned of the unique fiscal impact models being used by other communities to make better investment decisions thanks to the work of the Urban3 team and Joe Minicozzi. Former Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein and the community at-large hosted Joe Minicozzi, Charles Marohn and John Norquist in a Town Hall Gathering (Delray Beach’s collective learning series) entitled “The Wealth of Cities: Creating Vibrant & Economically Healthy Cities” in April 2015.

Informed by these gatherings, Delray Beach has created an updated Comprehensive Plan to help the city navigate the next 15 to 20 years of growth. The plan, called “Always Delray” (a nod to maintaining Delray’s historical charm), puts in place new objectives for the growth of the community. One example from this plan is the “Community Health Assessment” objective. This objective evaluates community design impacts by conducting walkability and cycling audits, identifying needs for complete street improvements, and assessing the provision of universal design elements in parks, public buildings, and private development. Other policies analyze the feasibility of providing incentives to attract health providers, study existing neighborhoods to determine if residents can easily access commercial retailers to obtain every day needs, and implement a multilingual communications plan.

If we took a walking tour through your town, what would we see? How does your community use its land productively to promote long-term financial resilience?

Delray Beach has an extremely walkable downtown. If you walked our main street, you would be walking with residents, visitors, city officials, and safety ambassadors—you’d immediately feel like a part of the community. You would see ample outdoor cafés, green space, open businesses, families, and of course our furry friends. You can’t help but smile when you stroll along Atlantic Avenue. In fact, Bob Gibbs called Downtown Delray Beach “One of America’s top 10 shopping streets.”

You would walk onto one of Florida’s “Top 10 Beaches” & find a Visitor Center chock-full of information regarding the ongoing activities of our city. You might also see some construction: with more than 4 major projects in the works, our downtown is seeing rapid growth! We are currently adding 3 hotels to our inventory, a cultural center/movie theater recently opened, and we are adding office space, retail space, restaurant space, and more.

You will also see and feel a sense of safety. With our Safety Ambassador Program, we have patrols throughout the day and night to help assist our downtown visitors, businesses, & residents. Delray Beach balances the use of our town through a few different neighborhood vibes: The Set is our cultural and historical West Atlantic neighborhood. Pineapple Grove is an arts & music-centric community with a multitude of galleries & studios. SOFA is our newly developed, up & coming neighborhood filled with condos, businesses, hotels, & more. Beachside is a laid-back, fun-in-the-sun area with retailers, hotels, & restaurant. US 1, the major north-south thoroughfare, now sports wider paved side-walks, our newly opened movie theater and more. And then there’s our famed Atlantic Avenue: our vibrant, busy main street filled with restaurants, small businesses, and retail stores as well as our oldest hotel, The Colony Hotel!

Our community promotes long-term financial resilience through ordinances that keep our development in check. Conditions like a height restriction on buildings along our main corridor ensure consistency in our growth over time. The perception of safety, the vibrant, lively community feel, and the maintenance of green spaces assist in the desire for future investments in our downtown.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players, big and small, and how do they help your town to be financially strong and resilient? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Delray Beach has a diverse, vibrant, small business-driven economy. In fact, 97% of our businesses employ 20 or fewer workers. Our size makes us highly entrepreneurial and has built a national brand—Village by the Sea—around our charming and authentic vibe. We are one of South Florida’s top communities for dining, shopping and entertainment thanks to more than 30 years of work by the locals.

Our top employers are in the Healthcare, Education, Government and Retail sectors, and we are the southern seat for Palm Beach County’s administrative, judicial and transportation offices and services. Later this month and through a partnership with Florida International University’s The Metropolitan Center, we will reveal to our community our first-ever Competitive Assessment and Cluster Strategies Study to ensure that our future economic development plans and approaches are deliberate, strategic, and build upon our financially strong, highly diverse and resilient economic base.

Delray Beach has a diverse, vibrant, small business-driven economy. In fact, 97% of our businesses employ 20 or fewer workers.

As for a business we’re most proud of, we have a few, including Plastridge Insurance which just celebrated its 100-year anniversary last month! With retailers like Nina Raynor, who has celebrated over 60 years on Atlantic Avenue, and Hands Office & Art Supply with over 85 years in downtown, Delray Beach strives to maintain and preserve its most historic small businesses.

We have successful larger businesses as well. iPic Entertainment, which recently opened its new state-of-the-arts cultural center, theater and headquarters complex, will provide a multitude of employment opportunities and space for new businesses to reside. Ocean Properties Hotels Resorts & Affiliates, a significant hotel management and development company and one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, has been based in Delray Beach since 1969. A few other key players include Capital One Café, which opened in 2017 and plays a major role in the community by providing free work space, and Menin Development company, which owns several properties in the Downtown Delray Beach area. Without this type of strong development foothold from these successful companies, Delray Beach would not have the opportunities it does today!

What transportation options exist in your town for people of varying ages, abilities, and means? How easy is it to live in your town without regular access to a car? What transportation investments has your town recently made or is it in the process of making?

Our downtown is extremely walkable & bike friendly (scoring a 92 on the Walk Score assessment test), but we offer our visitors a couple of different ways to get around. We have a Downtown Trolley, called the Downtown Roundabout, that does a loop from the Tri-Rail station (a train that serves South Florida) throughout our Downtown and back. We have a complimentary golf-cart service that is great for getting around the central core of our downtown. It adds a bit of fun to our downtown as it hosts uniquely designed advertisements like a cruise ship and a giant pair of dentures which promote some of the local businesses in town. Locals often use bicycles and personal golf carts to get around as well. The city has provided an array of bicycle parking areas as well as designated golf cart parking spots throughout our downtown.

The city and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) are publicly funding two new transportation services for our Downtown: A Point-to-Point service and a Fixed Route service to replace our current trolley. These services will ensure eco-friendly, safe, sustainable, & reliable transportation options for our visitors and residents alike. The city has collected proposals from several companies to be finalized by the end of March and implemented by the end of April.

How easy is it to become an entrepreneur or a small-scale developer in your town? What kinds of support are available for a resident who wants to open a business or build on a small vacant lot?

Downtown Delray Beach prides itself on its small business presence. Our small businesses account for 93% of all of our businesses located in the Downtown district. We have many entities that support the start of a business in Delray—Career Cottage, Chamber of Commerce, the Office of Economic Development, the Community Redevelopment Agency, a local Small Business Development Center office, and the Downtown Development Authority, which all provide resources, support, and opportunities for those seeking a home for their brainchild in Delray Beach.

We have an extremely strong downtown core. With our main street—Atlantic Avenue—hosting the majority of our shops and restaurants, our downtown is constantly alive with activity! The property value in downtown Delray Beach has had an average growth of 13% per year for the past 5 years.

Our Community Redevelopment Agency recently renovated an abandoned warehouse space to become an arts incubator in our Pineapple Grove Arts District. The space, called Arts Warehouse, currently houses 11 “Artists in Residence” as part of their incubator program. They host workshops and events and provide resources to help these small businesses grow.

Our library, Arts Garage, and Old School Square Creative School are also centers of learning for the community. They provide courses ranging from Microsoft Office tools to photography skills to abstract art classes. All of these courses are open to the community!

We leverage local programs, like our Land Value Investment program [ed: this program promotes redevelopment of CRA-owned land by offering a long-term lease] to make sure a resident or interested developer can make their long-term dream of owning commercial building space in this community a viable reality.

It is important to Delray Beach that we grow our own and keep it local in order to move our community forward.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Where do we begin? Delray Beach was named a “Most Fun Small Town in America” by Rand McNally for so many reasons!

Our town celebrates its community through several different events throughout the year: Fashion Week, Mother’s Day Orchid Giveaway, and Small Business Saturday focus on celebrating our retail merchants; Savor The Avenue & Restaurant Week highlight our amazing restaurants; First Friday Art Walk & The Pineapple Grove Art & Music Fest show off the array of talented artists we have in the community; and The Frog Alley Caribbean Festival sheds light on the history of our Caribbean-American Culture. There is always something going on in town, and we love to celebrate our “Village by the Sea.” Our local green market is a weekend favorite among Delray Beach residents. Every Saturday, local farmers, vendors, florists and more set up shop in Old School Square park to sell their wares.

We draw in huge crowds for our seasonal events like Fourth of July and Christmas. With our 100-foot Christmas tree that lights up the center of our downtown, Delray Beach has been touted as one of America’s top Christmas destinations. (No easy feat when you live in a place where it never snows!) With over 100,000 visitors coming through town for the holidays, we invest in making our downtown festive—decorative lighting, business window décor, and holiday-themed menus take center stage.

We have an extremely strong downtown core. With our main street—Atlantic Avenue—hosting the majority of our shops and restaurants, our downtown is constantly alive with activity! The property value in downtown Delray Beach has had an average growth of 13% per year for the past 5 years.

What is the biggest challenge your town faces, and what are you doing to address it?

Delray Beach has grown dramatically in the past several years. While that growth has brought in amazing development, new business and employment opportunities, and an impressive number of tourists, we work hard to keep up with such quick growth. Delray has always been known as a “small beach town,” and with all of the new development, we have found ourselves in a bit of an identity crisis. We strive to continue to grow and develop while finding balance in maintaining the “small-town, community” charm that our locals have come to love about our city. Things like parking and traffic have become high-priority issues, and we work closely with our city’s parking management team to determine how to navigate the growth and move forward by implementing important preservation rules into our city ordinances.

We’ve implemented building codes to keep our building heights small and prevent high-rise developments in our downtown. We have added green space initiatives into new development & redevelopment, and we work closely with developers to create buildings that add to the small-town charm rather than detract from it. We aim to stick to a 1/3 ratio in new development, which was suggested by urban planning consultant Bob Gibbs—1/3 local, 1/3 regional, 1/3 national businesses. We have also obtained a Shopability study by Mr. Gibbs to help navigate the growth of our Downtown and implement changes to maintain its charm and beauty!


ROUND 1 VOTING IS NOW CLOSED.

Voting is weighted so that Strong Towns member votes account for half of each town's score and non-member votes account for the other half.