Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interesting stuff from the ’09 Pew research on People and the Press

First a chart showing the percentage of Americans who think the press is accurate has dropped from 55% in ’85 to 29% now.

Much of that has to be driven by changes within the news media. With many fold more outlets chasing or retreading the same news…with cuts in editorial and repertorial staff…with the blur between entertainment and news….well none of those add up to more accuracy. I wonder what percentage think headlines are accurate? I’ll bet that’s even lower.

But equally interesting is the chart showing the gap between how partisan political groups perceive various news outlets. I have a progressive friend who purposely listens to ultra conservative talk shows just to see the other side of the story. Seek first to understand, now that’s a novel concept!

Apparently a lot of people just read and view what they want to hear. And we’re surprised we’re increasingly polarized?

It seems clear more Democrats overall are open to more and different types of news media and view a greater diversity of outlets favorably.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Walking to School is Increasingly Rare?

When I was in grade school I remember a time or two arriving home on the school bus to our cattle ranch and finding my parents and sisters had been delayed returning from an errand to Bozeman or Idaho Falls. As instructed I would check in on the party-line. This was a telephone line shared by several families. So people would know I was home.

Two things made me recall that memory. One, a conversation with my Mother, subsequent to the rescue of a person who had been abducted when she was only slightly older than I had been. Two, an article in the Sunday NYT’s entitled “Why Can’t She Walk To School?”

My Mom was certain that today, she would not let me come home alone like I did because the world is a much more dangerous place. I said, Mom, I believe studies of crime statistics have shown that child abductions by strangers are extremely rare. Most are committed by family members or individuals known to the family.

You can’t blame people for being paranoid though. The combination of popular crime dramas on television coupled with the insatiable appetite of 24/7 news for the sensational amplifies everything. Throw in social media and the Internet’s ability to fuel ideas and notions around the planet (more often than not without perspective or context) and voila…kids today have a fraction of the creative playtime they had a few decades ago and almost no time outdoors.

In analyzing statistics about crime and trying to make sense of public opinion polls about people feeling safe, I’m aware there is little correlation between the opinions and reality.

Some say, we’ve never lived in a more safe time. I assume they mean crimes per 100,000 and in countries like the USA. But maybe they mean safe from strangers. Here is a snapshot from that Department of Justice study I was telling Mom about:
  • On average, 2,185 children under the age of 18 were reported missing each day of the study year.

  • That adds up to more than 797,500 children annually.

  • Of that total, almost that 204,000, or about 25 percent, were family abductions.

  • An estimated 58,200 were abducted by someone other than a family member.

  • Of those, 115 were taken by complete or partial strangers and kept for a period or killed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Great Overview of Social Contagion

Clive Thompson published a comprehensive overview of the research on social contagion in the New York Times Magazine recently. The science behind social contagion is of great relevance to destination/community marketing organizations including defending image and brand.

Is Happiness Catching?

Social contagion is the way ideas and behaviors move through social networks. This report builds on books by authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godwin. But as Thompson illustrates so well, it also has relevance to public health and overcoming things like obesity, etc.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Measuring One of Durham’s Core Assets

City Manager Tom Bonfield and I recently touched on a book we both have read by Dr. Richard Florida entitled Who’s Your City. It brought to mind one of the measures DCVB benchmarks.

One of the most valuable assets a community can have is community pride among residents. Residents deliver on a community’s brand. When you have community pride, you can leverage it as DCVB does in telling the Durham story. But you can’t “create” or “generate” community pride with “rah, rah” or a campaign. It is intrinsic, and some communities have it, but most don’t. Sadly, most don’t even realize they don’t have it.

Thanks to some great advice 16 years ago from Dr. Mitch Javidi of NanoPhrades (nan’ oh fray des) and his then partners, the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau began to benchmark this and other community attributes via scientific, generalizable public opinion polling.

As the community’s marketing agency, DCVB tells the Durham story, and that story has to be in synch with how residents truly regard their community. Otherwise the brand just won’t resonate and it definitely won’t be deliverable.

In telling that story and defending the brand, DCVB can help preserve or perpetuate community pride but the fact that Durham has it and has always had it is an invaluable asset.

Over the past 16 years, polls have documented that community pride in Durham has averaged in the high 70’s. This year it rose slightly from the year before to nearly 86%.

Also significant, few Durham residents are ambivalent. Only 6.8% register as neither proud or not proud. And 7.5% register as not proud with 3% “very” not proud. The ratio of proud to not proud is more than 11 to 1. Very proud to very not proud is also more than 11 to 1.

This is particularly impressive because two of Durham’s other brand values are “being outspoken” and “unpretentious” both of which are often misinterpreted by neighbors of other communities sharing the same news outlets. But it is just the opposite. People who are proud of their community also really care about improving it.

The survey is random and respondents are asked to respond on a likert scale to the statement “I am proud of Durham,” strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree and strongly disagree.”

Occasionally, DCVB has the image of other communities polled with the same question to provide a benchmark. Typically the responses are 30-40% proud, with about the same percentage not proud and the rest ambivalent.

Keep in mind that nearly 40% of Durham’s residents have moved here since the polling began. So the level of community pride has either infused those who selected Durham as a home or Durham tends to attract community spirited people to call this home.

Either way, community pride is clearly one of Durham’s many core strengths and a tremendous asset.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Political Courage

The current debate over how to overhaul health insurance is probably going to come down to two things: elected leadership with a plan and willingness to take bold action. I guess that could be part of the definition of a leader.

It reminds me of the leadership Bill Bell showed during an equally contentious debate over merging Durham public schools. The issue had been on the table many times since desegregation. Even though Durham Public Schools had long been desegregated, there remained two systems. One covered the majority of the City and County. The other, a smaller system, was called City Schools but covered only some neighborhoods in the urban core.

The smaller system meant a great deal to people. While it was a vestige left over from segregation, people took great ownership in their own school system. But the evidence clearly demonstrated that merger would eliminate duplication while providing improved resources and facilities.

In the 1990’s, even the Durham Chamber came around under the leadership of Marvin Barnes. Everyone seemed to agree something needed to be done but there were polarized alternatives.

Bill Bell was Chairman of the Durham Board of County Commissioners then, and had been on the Commission for about two decades. He, with a few others, forged a plan and courageously led adoption to merge the schools. No good or courageous deed goes unpunished though, as the saying goes. And he lost the subsequent election.

He paid a steep price but got the job done. We need that with healthcare reform.

Leaders willing to take strong steps can take note that Bill dropped below the radar for a year or two, then successfully ran for election again to the Board of County Commissioners and then went on to what is now an unprecedented 4 consecutive terms as Mayor of Durham.

But I’ll bet even if he hadn’t been eventually re-elected, Bill wouldn’t trade that for the successful merger of Durham Public Schools.

While elected leaders may sacrifice re-election in the near term, achieving health insurance reform will be a lasting legacy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Meaning of Core City

I read a study the other day that cited an analysis of airports and their core cities. I emailed the author to ask how Raleigh came to be singled out as the core city for Raleigh-Durham International Airport?

As I suspected, the analysis had fallen into the common trap of assuming each airport is primarily associated with one city. It has been many decades since that assumption had any universal validity but it’s amazing to see how many airports, airlines, car rental companies and consultants are still stuck back in that paradigm.

For decades now, many airports have served polycentric areas without a dominant center. RDU is one of them. Centric areas by definition are “centered” around one large dominant city, so it’s not just by size but by geography.

It makes a practical difference to distinguish between centric and polycentric areas. A visitor, traveler, meeting planner, newcomer or relocating executive destined for an area centered around one dominant city can guess where to stay or live and either be close to where they need to be or equidistant from several options.

A visitor to a polycentric area needs more information, or as in RDU’s case, risks staying or commuting 60-70 miles round trip from the destination. Believe me, travelers and newcomers inconvenienced by centric thinking quickly light up organizations like DCVB with complaints because they believe the destination marketing organization should have had control over the misinformation.

In the case of RDU, it has a catchment area of several dozen different cities, towns and counties. It is located equidistant between two metro areas, the four county area centered around Durham NC and the three county area designated as Raleigh-Cary. RDU isn’t located in a major city, it is located in a small town midway between and co-owned by two medium sized cities, Durham and Raleigh and their respective counties, Durham and Wake.

In addition to RDU, there are other airports serving polycentric areas, DFW, SEATAC, GSO, MSP and many others.

So the old, outmoded models stuck in the premise that all areas served by an airport can be truncated to name of one city have got to go. The world is much more complex and has been for some time.

This means airlines need to list cities and towns served instead of using the heading for what is really a list of airports. Such a change should be very simple in the Internet era. Additionally, when airlines say they’ve added a new destination but they actually mean a new airport, it is best to use the name of the airport rather than arbitrarily singling out one destination it serves.

Similarly, when advertising routes or fares, it is better to use the names of the two airports, e.g. RDU to DFW than to arbitrarily single out Raleigh to Dallas and disregard that the majority of ,passengers may be actually be using the airports to travel from Durham to Fort Worth.

Airports also need to give communication style manuals to new carriers, especially in polycentric areas, explaining the layout of the area and nomenclature that will not only be accurate but best for business. Snubbing 90% of the travelers in a polycentric area by truncating it to the name of only one city isn’t smart business.

Or we can just keep inconveniencing people, disrespecting owner communities and rolling those eyes. Which will it be?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Community Appearance Is Much More Than Meets The Eye

Community appearance for many is narrowed to litter or clean up, maybe beautification.

But it is far more central than that, and to me it may qualify as an overarching strategy for Durham.

Many dismiss it as superficial while others fear that taken to an extreme it will homogenize a community.

Here are just 20 elements which I include when I talk about community appearance. And they all have to do with curb appeal but also revealing a community’s unique sense of place:

  • Historic Preservation and Repurposing

  • Archeological Preservation and Interpretation

  • Commercial and Housing Code Enforcement

  • Flora and Fauna and Urban Forestry

  • Litter Clean Up

  • Abatement of Weedy Lots

  • Mowing and Planting of Medians

  • Design Guidelines

  • Tree and Vegetation Buffers

  • Elimination of Illegal Dumping of Construction Waste

  • Right of Way Trees and Plantings

  • Gateway Landscaping

  • Flags, Banners, and Streetscape Signaling Arrival

  • Roadway and Sidewalk Wayfinding

  • CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design)

  • Curbside Waste Removal and Recycling

  • Broken Windows Approaches to Policing and Crime Reduction

  • Graffiti Removal

  • Street Maintenance

  • Increased Valuation and Tax Base

Communities that ignore or dismiss appearance without looking at it holistically risk many things…erosion of its unique sense of place and community pride, as well as the economic and cultural importance of being different, to name just a few.

Any scientific public opinion poll in Durham, always shows almost universal agreement that appearance is an important or very important community priority.

This is an area in which Durham cannot be complacent and I’m eager for the day when elected officials and public servants speak out about appearance as an overarching strategy for community improvement and protect it as a priority.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Essential or Familial

I noticed it sitting in sacrament meeting. I went to a church with my family where trays of water and bread were passed down each pew. The water was in little tiny cups placed in holes in the tray.

My family was sitting together in the middle of the pew that day. I was about 11 years old. As I took the cup, my fingers trembled and my wrist quivered slightly and I spilled some.

No big deal, but it felt like everyone in both directions on the pew and behind leaned out and stared in concern like I was having a stroke or something.

It had probably first been apparent in first or second grade when we were all gathered around an experiment with “bluing” and rocks. The teacher was very clear about being extremely careful not to spill and I volunteered to pour it. But the condition didn’t really begin to kick in until teen-age years and doctors when I’d get a physical each year for school sports would tell my Mom that it was “just part of growing up” and would pass. They were right about a lot of things passing but not this.

It has progressively worsened. It is called essential or familial tremor.

I can be standing with a cup of coffee or a drink at a stand up event and talking to someone and all of the sudden my hand and wrist seems to make a sudden jerk or begin shaking and I spill. I’ve taken medication and the doses have gradually increased. It works for a time and then doesn’t and over time the medications just seem to have less and less effect.

As you can imagine, I’ve learned to ignore it or work around it. I was the only boy in my typewriting class when it was first offered in high school. And learning to type has meant I rely very little on hand writing which was always difficult and now near impossible except for a quick “RB.”

I didn’t know it then, but it apparently is a disability that could have qualified for a note taker in law school. Thank goodness they permitted portable typewriters during tests. But it really isn’t that rare. I’m one of 10 million people with a mutated gene resulting in what is called essential tremor, not as I understand it, because I need it but because there is no underlying factor and in 96% including me, it is inherited.

I notice it in my Mother’s hands now but she’s going on 82 so I can’t tell if it is the same as my condition or age related. I first noticed it in my daughter’s hands when she was in junior high or high school. I had hoped she’d be in the 50% that don’t inherit it.

It isn’t degenerative but it can begin to affect other things. Recently and only rarely, I have detected it now in my voice, similar to the actress Katharine Hepburn who also had the condition and was and is often mistaken for Parkinson’s.

For all of my work life, I could tell in their eyes when a few people would judge me. A very small percentage would ask me about it in concern. I’ve learned to explain it when I see people too concerned or distracted. Mostly it is either mildly embarrassing or annoying when people become more interested in what my hands are doing than what I’m saying.

Others have made the mistaken assumption, I’m nervous. I’ve never found any correlation with being nervous. Actually when I’m most nervous, say before a speech, the condition doesn’t seem to be a problem. Alcohol makes it disappear almost completely.

It affects me other ways. I have to hold a key with both hands to get it in the lock. And it was a hoot when my English Bull Dog #2 was a pup. I’d reach down to hand him something like a greenie and his head would be moving rapidly side to side trying to nab it at just the right time. It was a hoot, for both of us, I’m sure.

It seemed over time to be worse in my left or writing hand at first. So at age 40, I learned to write right handed. That worked for a while.

But cleaning out some files the other day I realized just how much my hand writing had deteriorated in the last 10 years.

It isn’t a big deal really in the grand scheme of things. I have great health and I really admire people who truly have disabilities and the way they deal with them. To me this doesn’t even classify as a disability.

I was told by my neurologist that it impacts the receptors. You see your brain doesn’t wait to send a signal for your hand to move. It apparently floods both the move and don’t move channels down to a receptor and then pulls back on one or the other when you need to move your hand.

My receptors are just messed up by that gene apparently.

The tremor is just annoying more than anything. But if you have wondered, now you know. And if you happen to have it, know you’re not alone.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Trees and Sense of Place

I did a lot of riding this weekend in the rural, southern part of Orange County, e.g., Mt Sinai, Wakefield, NC 86, Turkey Farm, Old 10, etc. Amazing how the temperature would instantly vary when the trees were back a ways from the road.

Someone not so long ago mentioned something about trees that could be a threat to Durham’s sense of place. Apparently most of the trees out along the right of ways throughout Durham were planted about the same time, e.g., 50 years ago. And they are aging out, pretty much at the same time.

If I understood correctly, this is both an opportunity and a threat, as most are. Hopefully someone is working on the solution not just the problem and rolling out a plan for trees.