Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Truly Conservationists

Durham NC, the community where I live is not the only place struggling with a damaged culvert, the pipe that permit waterways including those that allow stormwater to pass under roadways instead of over them which leads to flooding, etc.

However, poorly designed, placed or maintained culverts can also create hurdles.  Earlier this month, Trout Unlimited (TU) and Orvis jointly announced an ambitious plan to replace or repair poorly constructed culverts across the United States over the next 10 years to reconnect 1,000 miles of fishable streams and wetlands.

Orvis is a 150-year-old, family-owned, mail order business selling and often innovating outdoor adventure and sporting clothing and equipment, especially fishing, hunting and birding.  The company has long partnered with conservation groups such as TU, a 53-year-old, 140,000 member conservation organization for fishing enthusiasts.  A 2011 study showed that 91.1 million Americans over the age of 16 fish, hunt or watch wildlife.  More people fish and hunt than play golf and tennis combined.

Growing up along the banks of the famed Henry’s Fork(voted the best trout stream in America by TU members) on the Idaho side of the Teton mountains  I naturally learned to fly fish and hunt, although I was never much of a hunter, preferring to reach first for a camera or to just target shoot.

During college I still fished up a canyon along the Lower Provo River (voted one of the top ten trout streams in the Rockies) but left those interests behind when I graduated.  Today it is a joy to watch my grandsons fish off the dock, with Orvis rods of course.

Research today shows more people who fish and hunt live in the South than in the East and West combined.  Half are either ideological moderates such as me or liberals.  More than half are Independents such as me or Democrats by party affiliation.

Nearly 60% of fishing and hunting enthusiasts live in cities and towns and nearly 40% are now women.  But perhaps the most impressive fact is that more than 8 out of 10 self-identify as conservationists.  Those who are strongly so outnumber those who aren’t by 3 to 1.  Those who are conservationists also outnumber NRA members by more than 3 to 1.

Even though half are conservatives and 42% are Republicans, hunters and anglers want their needs on public lands to be given consideration before oil and gas leases.  The majority want mining royalties to be used to clean up abandoned mines.  Predominantly they believe we should confront global warming and restore Clean Water Act protections to wetlands and waterways.

Overall, those who hunt and fish believe that conservation is as important or more important than gun rights.  Clear air and water isn’t just a top three trait that liberals, moderates, conservatives and libertarians share for the places they select to live.

Ideologues and partisan politicians should study the moderate undertones shared by the 33 million people sixteen and older who fish each year and the 13.7 million people who hunt as well as the even more moderate positions held among the 71 million Americans who engage in wildlife viewing each year.

So how can so many in Congress seem dismissive of or oblivious to more than 80% of the US population who fall in that age group?  The answer is political rent-seekers.

Rent-seekers is a term describing special interests with powerful lobbyists who while they may be representative of those who vote during periodic elections, are sure to walk the legislative halls each day misrepresenting or seeking to subvert the popular will for their own pecuniary gain.

To me they should be fair game for anyone who believes in a return to truly representative government.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

At The Core Of Bringing Durham Back

Small businesses make up 99.7% of the US economy but more than half are home-based and only a quarter are employers.  Those that do employ others have generated 64% of all net new jobs since 1993 and 67% since the latest recession.

Many in that category are the local, independently-owned, non-franchise, non-chain restaurants that contribute so much to sense-of-place in communities rated as “foodie” such as Durham, NC, where I live.

As stated in an Indy article last week by Dr. Nathan Vandergrift, head of Duke Medicine’s Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Center and whose brother John is now a chef-owner and even founder of several Durham restaurants:

"…what's put Durham back on track is food…"

He definitely has a point but I believe it all began much further back, especially downtown, than he may have meant or knows, back before there was a Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau to fuel consumer demand and long before there was a Downtown Durham Inc. to nurture supply.

Many restaurants inhabit historic structures, some are there long enough to become historic landmarks themselves, but as described recently by Barry Newman in the Wall Street Journal, “Restaurants are show business. When one flops, you strike the set, build new scenery and hope for a hit.”

Restaurants are what Carlo Caccavale, an associate director for the American Institute of Architects in Los Angeles described to Newman as “disposable spaces,” so to see the impact of chef-driven restaurants on the resurrection of Durham, one has to go back at least 30 years.

Durham’s renaissance can be traced to when chefs such as Bakatsias (pronounced bah-kah-SHAH,) Bacon, Ferrell, Ball and Barker first planted the roots for what would become a colony of acclaimed Durham chefs and restaurants first in what was then Loehmann’s Plaza, then throughout the Ninth Street District and by the dawn of the 1980s in downtown’s Brightleaf District.

Early in the 1980s, this colony also planted the seeds for locally-sourced and organic cheeses, meats and vegetables and gourmet retail outlets such as Fowlers and the Ghirardelli Ravioli Factory in downtown Durham’s Brightleaf and City Center districts.

As the 1980s turned to 1990s the Durham colony had attracted, inspired and even mentored chefs such as Foster, Howell, Day and Royal who populated acclaimed restaurants in the Rockwood District and even more than 20 years ago along Main Street in downtown Durham’s City Center.

These chefs further inspired and mentored many of the other chefs about whom Dr. Vandergrift was probably referring such his brother John and partner Chris Stinnett, who grew up in Durham, and other natives, some returning, such as Cotter, Brooks and Tornquist as well as some who emerged earlier in the 2000s such as Kelly, Hanna and many more.

Restaurants are disproportionately represented among the 10-12% of small businesses with employees that open and close within a year or the half that survive less than five years.  It is not without irony that alternatives such as “pop-up” restaurants and food trucks have evolved.

Small businesses generate 16 times more patents per employee than larger enterprises and this would be even higher if it was realistic for chefs to patent innovations.  Instead, chefs are more likely to share innovations, spawn new ideas and colonize.

Food trucks are an example.  Spotting football players in a training camp in Texas eating burgers from a truck, Tom Ferguson ran the idea of a Durham food truck by fellow-chef Sam Posey.

Both had trained under the original colony of Durham chefs and Poley had owned a restaurant which featured a different burger every month among the nouveau items on his menu in between stints with the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Within two weeks in the fall of 2008, the first dedicated food truck in all of North Carolina was spawned in Durham – aptly named “Only Burger” and now wholly-owned by one of the partners, Brian Bottger, whose roots also trace back to that original colony of chefs.

This community rapidly became a haven for food trucks and an inspiration for many other communities.  Many in Durham have not only served as incubators and test kitchens and Twitter-followed pop-ups but ultimately as inspiration for many stand-alone restaurants.

Now they have inspired another Durham native and historic preservationist Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and his partner, Rochelle Johnson, a graphic designer to innovate The Cookery by renovating a brick warehouse located on the western fringe of downtown Durham that had been the home of the Durham Food Co-op since the 1970s.

The team carefully restored the building, milling floors from tobacco warehouses here into the bar top and creating ironwork railings and accents from materials taken from the old Heart of Durham Hotel and Liggett and Meyers tobacco factory.

The facility serves as a state-of-the-art culinary incubator for commercial food production, for culinary workshops and for events and true pop-up restaurants for visiting chefs or those wanting to test market concepts.

Dr. Vandergrift may have put his finger on the type of businesses that have ignited the renaissance of not only Durham but the groundwork for a reignited downtown.

Following demographic and consumer trends, downtowns nationwide are undergoing rapid revitalization, but two things are responsible for the fact that Durham’s has also retained its unique-sense-of-place: historic preservation and place-based small businesses led by restaurants, breweries and food-related retail.

Whatever success we bask in today, is due to pioneers in each of these arenas, and a credit those who laid the groundwork for each of these types of food-related businesses over the last 25 to 30 years, even downtown, even in the city center.

This has also taken decades of reinvestment in “the commons” by local government, something upon which even global corporations are now realizing they depend and in which they should also invest.

A smorgasbord of local chef/owner driven independent businesses is also at the core of Durham emergence, two decades ago, as a center for knowledge-based workers so in demand by global concerns and start-ups alike and often classified as the creative class.

Success is never easy and it never comes overnight and it is always oh, so fragile especially for food-related businesses which are demand-driven and extremely sensitive to supply, unlike other types of development including office-related, so they depend as much on a steady stream of visitors as they do residents.

Just ask the chef/owners of Durham’s small, independent restaurants and the next time you frequent one, be sure to say, “thanks for helping to bring Durham, including downtown, back to what it is today.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Travesty on Sandy Creek

Tree canopied hills, dales and ridge lines dominate the landscape of Durham, North Carolina, where I live.  They are contoured by scores of streams that feed rivers and lakes and provide drinking water here and for many other communities downstream.

Durham is an activist community and nowhere is that more apparent than in the restoration of streams and wetlands, but thousands of volunteer-hours and the collaboration of scores of public and private organizations such as Duke University are now violated by outdoor billboard companies. 2012-10-04 15.08.30

Sandy Creek is a Durham stream that drains nearly the entire campus system of Duke University where researchers study aquaterrestrial biogeochemistry including the urban stream impairment plaguing all communities and threatening water supplies.  The restoration of Sandy Creek has even appeared recently in scientific journals.

Overall, 1,400 acres of the community drain into Sandy Creek as it makes its way to merge with New Hope Creek and then flow into the drinking water supply stored in Jordan Lake.

Upland, Duke has made some amazing provisions to restore and protect Sandy Creek as it passes the president’s house and down through the university’s acclaimed hotel and golf course, while volunteer groups, neighborhoods and local governments have worked to restore and protect the lowland floodplain and wetlands through which it flows after passing under US Highway 15-501 Bypass just south of Cornwallis Road, including recreation trails and the conversion of an abandoned treatment plant into an education center.

Now that collective work has been desecrated by four huge billboards erected along that highway by out-of-state companies which have been enabled by new legislation forged by a handful of their advocates in the NC General Assembly.

These companies can now clear cut football length areas of trees and vegetation in either direction from these billboards as well as in front of and behind the unsightly structures.

As shown in the series of photos linked here and to the image in this blog, the action by this billboard company, which happens to own half of the fewer than 90 that still remain here after billboards were banned in Durham in 1984, has also denuded the banks of Sandy Creek wiping out the trees and vegetation that were preventing soil erosion and slowing run off and preventing sediment from the impervious surface of the roadway from polluting this environmentally sensitive stream and making its way into the water supply. 

Aware of the overwhelming objection of North Carolinians to the measure, particularly the 8 out of 10 opposed to sacrificing trees for billboards, advocates for the legislation enabling this travesty claimed at least twice on the floor of the General Assembly that respect for local ordinances and efforts such as Durham’s would be protected from the abuse.

But in fact, as those assurances were uttered any such provisions respecting local efforts in communities such as the restoration of Sandy Creek were being stripped out of the final version of the bill by a small conference committee of just 12 legislators, one of whom ramrodded the legislation and another a now federally-indicted owner of billboards himself.

Many in the legislature are only now waking up to the havoc being wreaked across the state by this billboard legislation including another particularly egregious threat to water quality in Charlotte.

There are many other examples but it all adds up to the fact that all of this destruction of tax-payer-owned green infrastructure commons is being permitted to an out-of-state enterprise over the strenuous objections of 8 out of 10 North Carolinians just so the already-visible structures can be sure to be seen by the 8% of motorists who may still use them in a given year.

This travesty led Republican candidate for governor, Pat McCrory to call attention to the legislation in the first debate even though the measure was sponsored by a powerful leader in his own party while his Democratic opponent remained mute perhaps because he has taken thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the years from out-of-state billboard interests.

According to the most current annual Gallup poll on the topic, by nearly 8 to 1, Americans greatly worry about pollution of rivers, lakes, reservoirs and drinking water, and this concern has remained consistent over the past 10 years, even through the economic difficulties of the last five.

Spurred by the Federal Clean Water Act, communities such as Durham with stakeholders such as Duke University understand that it is economically far more efficient to prevent pollution and runoff with green infrastructure than it is to treat water with gray infrastructure.

However, the North Carolina General Assembly need not rely on federal legislation or public opinion polls to know that the new billboard legislation is against the will of the people.

Just over 40 years ago, by more than 7 to 1, North Carolinians voted to embed an amendment in the State Constitution:

to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty” (Section 5, Article XIV.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Infographic - Web Marketing Primer

Provided by:

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Role of Teaching and Creating Organizational Alignment

A study released a few weeks ago by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and conducted by researchers at Stanford and the University of Utah quantifies the value of good supervisors.

They found that replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team’s output by about the same as adding one worker to a nine member team.  As noted in an announcement of the findings in The Atlantic, the average supervisor is 1.75 as productive as the average worker.

The biggest difference the study found concerns “teaching” which is quantified as two-thirds of a supervisors impact.  In my experience over a 40 year career, teaching is right up there with critical thinking, problem-solving and strategic awareness.

Even in a high performance organization, about 10% of the employees each year become disengaged for one reason or another.  The annual average over a decade among all organizations is an incredible 70% according to Gallup surveys.  It isn’t possible to motivate people but it is possible to create an environment where they find their self motivation and that begins with supervisors who are good teachers.

For a chief exec of a community organization, as I was for most of my career, the importance of teaching extends to external audiences and governing boards as well.

Teaching is a form of communication but it begins first with listening.  A word I wore out over the last two decades of my career is ‘alignment.’  It means arranging all day to day effort, more than half of which in any job is project management, so that everything possible is consistent with the goals, objectives and mission of the organization.

Any misalignment means fragmentation, even if ever so slight and ultimately a loss of energy and productivity and higher costs.  In community-destination marketing, which was my profession, it is also important to achieve alignment with strategic partner organizations, local officials and residents which can sometimes be a bit like “herding cats.”

We definitely need our best teachers in our schools, but the ability to teach is a skill that also needs to be incorporated into organizational management by executives for anyone promoted into supervisory roles.

A promotion to supervisor based on one’s ability and willingness to be a good teacher is far more to success than is basing it solely on the merit of being a good individual contributor.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Priority Place-based Trait Across the Political Spectrum

A fascinating new study asked thousands of people who are ideological liberals, moderates and conservatives to rank the attributes and traits important to judging a city or town or area in which to live.

The results confirmed why two North Carolina cities such as Durham and Raleigh, even though they are separated by only two other towns, continue to diverge culturally because they appeal to different groups of people.

But to me, it boils down to what a reporter for a large city daily newspaper once remarked to me, “one of these towns just as well be Tulsa and the other Kuala Lumpur.”Place Traits by Ideology  In other words, their difference was like night and day!

However, what was interesting from this survey is that “clean air and water” rank not just first out of 47 attributes for liberals but also second for moderates and third for conservatives and libertarians. (click on the image and scroll down to the second chart.)

More often than not, the challenge is to “connect the dots” for people when it comes to things that threaten clean air and water.  People see a roadside billboard and may or may not even notice the inherent blight it creates, but if they could see or equate it with the fact that, in order for the billboard to be seen, the destruction of trees and vegetation that clean our air and water is necessary, and in addition, soil erosion and stream pollution will be direct results, we would most likely want to become truly billboard-free.

Billboards have continued to pollute roadsides long after all but 8% of the population has ceased to find them useful even over the course of an entire year because that industry is not only very effective at political rent-seeking through heavy contributions to political campaigns and arm-twisting of elected officials, but also because the billboard industry is effective at shaping the pro or against debate as positioning them as the underdog.

In reality, the debate is actually over defense of clean air and water and freedom from blight, values held by more than 7 out of 10 North Carolinians today and even protected by a constitutional amendment in the early 1970s.

I’ve witnessed first hand recently that support instead for an increasingly obsolete and increasingly destructive mode of advertising in the current North Carolina General Assembly such as roadside billboards is more a signal that elected officials, appointees and even some administrators seem far more responsive to special interests than public opinions.

I am not sure if moderates, like me, were studied but psychological research noted in this post by Dr. Brittany Liu at the University of California Irvine shows that conservatives are drawn to cognitive coherence while liberals are better able to handle cognitive complexity.

As a moderate myself, I relate to fact that moderates are probably more mixed.  I was immediately drawn to Durham more than two decades ago by its diversity and authenticity, but I am often puzzled when we seem to take fragmentation to new levels such as the incoherent way we’ve approached urban forestry and way finding signs along roadways which by its very nature must be coherent to mean anything.

Yet remarkably, even though three or four individuals tried their best to undermine it and still refuse to embrace it, Durham is one of the few communities where diverse groups across the community are able to work together to distill an overarching brand to communicate the personality, values and traits distinctive to the community to external audiences.

Regardless of who is elected or re-elected President of the United States, I am persuaded by this post by Dr. Ravi Iyer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California VIMLab, that we have more in common across the political spectrum than we are led to believe.

We just need to pay more attention to our common values and less to labels.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

7 Attributes to look for in Local Elected Officials

A handful of people have suggested or encouraged me to run for City Council in Durham NC, where I live, now that my friend Mike Woodard, in whose Ward I live is most likely moving on to the North Carolina State Senate.

These well-intended folks have citied some attributes that I’m flattered to think someone may believe I have, including name recognition from an apparent poll that may or may not have been scientifically conducted recently by some individuals.

Even though those who have prodded me are not close acquaintances or friends, I always feel a twinge of guilt when the subject is broached.  Many of my reasons for not being interested seem selfish --such as not liking long or repetitive meetings or taking late night phone calls.

I’m infinitely more patient in my early 60s than at any time in my life, but I'm still not known to “suffer fools gladly,” to borrow a phrase from the Christian Apostle Paul.  I also promised myself when I retired several years ago that I would pursue very different interests and challenges and so far it has been very rich and rewarding.

During my recently-concluded nearly 40-year career in community destination marketing on behalf of three different communities, more than 20 years of which involved standing up for Durham, I had a front-row seat and almost daily contact with many of the finest local elected officials one could ever hope to meet and, of course, even a few who were unfortunate exceptions.

Far too many people are motivated by ego to run for public office and I probably qualify in that regard (smile.)  I can also easily run down a long list of much better qualified and younger prospects.

But rather than listing why I would not be a good candidate (one is that I am an Independent with no party apparatus – City Council candidates run on a non-partisan basis, but party affiliation inevitably enters into the endorsement and get-out-the-vote process,) let me list some of the things I think should be considered minimum requirements for any candidate:

  • An insatiable curiosity and love of reading, not just for interest but for learning and content.  Far too many elected officials don’t read and local officials are required to read and digest a lot.


  • A proven aversion to special interests, lobbyists and rent-seekers.  Far too many elected officials are addicted to the adrenalin-fix that comes with the bump and shove of politics.


  • An inclination to value questions more than answers and to think strategically and conceptually.  As Duke-based behavioral economist Dan Ariely once wrote -  “We tend to value answers over questions, because answers allow us to take action while questions mean we need to keep thinking.  Never mind that asking good questions and gathering evidence usually guides us to better answers.”


  • A grasp of, loyalty to and respect, affection and patience for the almost temporal values, traits and strengths inherent in Durham’s personality including social justice.  Durham residents deserve this at the very least.


  • An intolerance for Disneyification as much as for blight and neglect.  A keen respect for the value of green infrastructure and clean air and water is vital to quality of place and social mobility and critical as part of any cost/benefit analysis.


  • A proven willingness to proactively stand up for Durham and its identity whenever and wherever it is not given its due including touch points at co-owned assets such as the airport and in any partnerships or collaborations across the region or the state.


  • A strong disposition for evidence-based decision-making, measurement metrics and the unfailing use of benchmarking.  We don’t elect people for their opinions but rather for their governance.

At this stage of my life I am just not interested in running for or holding elected office but I am grateful for those who are and I believe there is no more important position than elected officials at the very local level.  It is a thankless job, but we deserve the best.

Often, however, these are not the ones who desire it the most.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Biophilic Convergence of Art, Nature, Science & Place

Even in the remote Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho where I was born and spent my early years there was no shortage of national heroes as I entered grade school in 1954, but none was more famous than scientific researcher Dr. Jonas Salk who had produced a vaccine against polio two years earlier that was being tested nation-wide that year with the inoculation of school children.

He was right up there with war hero and President Dwight D. Eisenhower and sports heroes of mine at the time including some who were from or playing in Idaho such as Elgin Baylor, Jerry Kramer, R.C. Owens, Harmon Killebrew and Vernon Law.

Salk, who would never win the Nobel Prize and was rejected by the National Academy of Sciences, would rival in fame two of my other national heroes at the time, Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson as well as two then-college heroes Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown, and a couple of high school basketball stand-outs you may have heard of, Jerry West and Oscar Robinson, all destined to be legends.

Polio had ravaged the nation during the first half of the 1900s, even afflicting a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1921.  But it wasn’t until 1938, six years after FDR was first elected President of the United States, that research into a cure and prevention began in earnest, just as Salk was entering medical school at New York University which didn’t have the quotas common at the time for students of Jewish origin.

In the months before I was born, Jonas Salk, a descendent of Russian-Jewish ancestors and with whom I would share the middle name “Edward,” was just settling into basement quarters at the University of Pittsburgh where he had been promised a research lab of his own to work on a cure for polio.

Sometime after I was born and four years before polio would strike 58,000 people in a single season, more than any other communicable disease, in an effort to clear his mind and escape that cramped, basement space, Salk sought respite in the Italian village of Assisi.

There dominating the landscape stood the 13th-century Franciscan monastery, named in that place of his birth and burial for  Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone, Saint Francis of Assisi.

Salk credits the rooms, spaces and views at Assisi with providing the inspiration and fresh ideas he would use to pioneer the first vaccine for polio.

I don’t know if Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, the new Nobel laureate in the sciences who does his research at Duke University in my adopted home of Durham NC is as inspired by art as much as he is by sports, but Salk certainly wasn’t unusual in his interest in the arts such as architecture.

Studies led by Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein, a physiology researcher at Michigan State University have looked into the role of avocations in the arts behind creative scientific discoveries among Nobel laureates in the sciences as well as members of the Royal Academy and the National Academy of Sciences compared to the general public over the more than a century.

Even back in 1947, as Salk was settling into his less than inspiring basement digs at the University of Pittsburgh, a poll of eminent scientists across the nation confirmed that “80% strongly recommended fine arts training as an essential element of scientific education,” a finding not rigorously tested and validated until Dr. Root-Bernstein’s study.

As blogged from these studies recently in Scientific American, “Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.”

Neuroscientists, as noted by Emily Badger in her article for the new issue of Pacific Standard, are now looking closely into biophilic design.  When Dr. Salk commissioned Louis Kahn in the early 1960s to design his Salk Institute for Biological Studies along the seaside area of La Jolla area on land granted by the citizens of the City of San Diego, California, he sought inspiration from his time at Assisi by asking for “ample natural light, views of the Pacific Ocean, and a vast central plaza."

By 1984, researchers such as Dr. Roger Ulrich began making startling discoveries that confirmed Salk’s beliefs about Assisi, finding that the view from their window was a significant factor in post-operative recovery and the need for fewer painkillers.

It is no surprise then that ten years ago neuroscientists from Salk’s Institute teamed up with surrounding architects to found the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture.  In her article Badger quotes one of the founders, Dr. Fred Gage as saying in a speech that “changes in environment change the brain, and therefore change our behavior.”

The late Dr. Salk’s institute has trained 2,700 research scientists and, ironically, five have gone on to win Nobel prizes.  But you don’t have to go to La Jolla to see the influence of architecture on creativity.

Riding a national wave of renewed interest in historic downtowns, Durham’s city center’s adaptive reuse of several million square feet of unique 19th-century brick tobacco and textile factories has fueled its growth as a center for start ups and entrepreneurs, while at the same time, enhancing the community’s emergence over the past 20 years as a top-ranked center for the creative class.

Environment, both natural and built, are crucial to inspiration and creativity.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Proven Productivity of Work From Home

Because they must try to remain operational during and after natural disasters by running lodging hot-lines and providing maps to emergency crews, community-destination marketing organizations such as the one I ran in Durham, NC, until retiring a few years ago, were among the first, at least in this community, to empower staff to be able to work from home beginning as early as the mid-1990s.

By 1999, the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) was using the tool to provide workplace flexibility and to amp up already high productivity by another 20%. 

This is one of many reasons that organization has received four national Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility, after becoming the first DMO in the nation to be so recognized in 2005.

Between 2005 and 2010, the number of workers telecommuting in the four-county Durham metro area increased from just over 8,000 to nearly 11,000 which represents nearly 5% of the workforce.

The Durham metro area only appears to be below the national average of 10% because it provides such a large proportion of jobs for non-residents who commute in from in other metro areas.

Nationwide since 2005, the percentage of regular telecommuters has grown 66% while the workforce grew just 3%.  Half of the nation’s workforce is now able to telecommute at least part time.

I suspect the number would be even higher except that at least half of employers are ideologically conservative and not just because that group has been slower to embrace new things.

According to research done by Dr. Jonathan Haidt and others, a significant element of the moral matrix of conservatives is wrapped around the fear that people who are slackers will cheat the system.

According to the research in his new 2012 book The Righteous Mind, liberals tend to focus on fairness as equitable, while conservatives tend to focus on proportionality.

It is easy to put safeguards and monitoring in place to curb abuse, and there is evidence that there is less abuse from those that work from home than there is among those in the workplace in general.

Those who continue to deride the practice of working from home as “shirking from home” are well advised to read the results of an experiment by a major Chinese employer that was published a few months ago.

The study was led by Dr. Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University.

Something tells me though, that just as there are still employers who whine about receiving too many emails and instead of shifting to contemporary message platforms, still pine for the days of the snail mail in-box, there will always be executives who resist the concept of work from home.

They will be easy to spot fading away in your rear view mirror while still muttering about takers vs. makers.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Infographic – World’s Greenest Cities

Friday, October 19, 2012

Illustrating A Touch Point

Place branding is still relatively new, successfully distilling an overarching brand, such as has been done by Durham NC, where I live, is even more rare.

Most places still fall into the trap of thinking a brand is just a logo or a catchy tagline or what officials there want or presume it to be rather than something distinctive that can  be truly delivered.

An authentic brand is a distillation of the almost temporal values, traits and descriptors that are distinctively manifest in the minds of generations of not only its internal stakeholders but also its external audiences.  Far too many attempts at defining a place brand seem contrived or incomplete or even misleading and the problems can always be traced back to a flawed process.

Some place brands are just inaccurate in the same way that White Rhinos aren’t really white, Australian Shepherds don’t come from Down Under, Sperm Whales weren’t valued for their sperm, Hermit Crabs don’t live alone, Guinea Pigs don’t come from Guinea, Oystercatchers only rarely eat oysters and Flying Lemurs aren’t lemurs at all.

Various road trips over the nearly three years since I retired have taken me through 40 of the 50 states in the USA, crisscrossing many via multiple routes.  This is pretty impressive for someone who hated to travel during a nearly 40-year career in marketing communities as destinations for visitors.

Through a windshield it is easy to see why geography isn’t a very good way to brand or summarize the personality of any state because each one offers such a variety of landscapes and terrain.  Taking that approach is likely to result only in a stigma.

States are not usually destinations anyway.  Instead, they are a means of narrowing down a route or a specific destination town or city.  But how a state is branded, both in communications and in terms of being litter and billboard-free, can enhance or destroy first and last impressions.

An effective place brand must be reinforced at every touch point.  The State of Maryland even appears to tweak the hue of yellow used on roadway signs and markings there to resemble the shade of yellow in its welcome signs and on its state flag which are drawn from a part of the state’s seal.

Officials there swear that isn’t the case.  Maybe its just a dab fluorescence, but the change was very noticeable, to me at least, as I have traveled across state lines into and out of Maryland from adjoining states on six different occasions.

State seals and flags are notoriously poor designs for large scale use but Maryland, since the Civil War, has not only extracted an element that is scalable, but made it an overarching brand signature for the state including the University of Maryland.

If you are wondering what “every touch point” means, the appearance that Maryland seems to tweak the standard yellow used on roadways and signs is a good example, even if only perceived.

As for Baltimore Orioles, whose sweet sound heralds spring throughout much of the Eastern half of United States including where I live in North Carolina, they are not named for the city or the baseball team but because some believe the species exhibits a bright color similar to that in the crest of Lord Baltimore, the first Proprietor of Maryland.

On the other hand, some may find in the name a reminder of something I once read entitled Why Men Love Red but Wear Brown!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Do Tax Cuts Generate Growth?

There are some really smart people who run for President of the United States of America and many who may be even smarter serving as advisors to these candidates.  One of them, Mitt Romney, who was a richer if not also smarter classmate of mine at Brigham Young University during the 1970s, is promising to cut taxes even further as a means to quicken economic growth.

To moderate Independents such as me that may sound reasonable, in the same sense that any stimulus is also reasonable, until you look at the result of past tax cuts as illustrated in the chart in this blog which appeared last month in a New York Times piece by David Leonhardt.  

Looking at the period covered by the terms of our previous four presidents, it turns out that when taxes were increased during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations growth occurred – indicating that their tax increases actually generated or were not adverse to economic growth.

The complete opposite happened, when in the both the early and mid 2000s, George W. Bush cut taxes.

Of course it is more complicated than that and anyone interested or swayed one way or another to base his/her vote on this issue alone would be well advised to read Leonhardt’s piece.

One reason tax cuts have so little, if any, impact is that tax rates are are currently so low.  Tax cuts also don’t make much sense at a time when our most important priorities are to make significant reinvestments into aging infrastructure, research and development to achieve energy independence and to restore strategies to generate social mobility and pay down the deficit.

Any tax priority now seems better aimed at revising the code and eliminating loopholes and especially favors carved out by rent-seeking groups that rather than create value-added to the economy seek to use lobbying and campaign donations to rig the system in their favor.

As for the so-called 47% who Romney claims don’t pay federal income taxes, which is more like 1%, it appears to me from recent analysis that they disproportionately live in red-states and that the proportion has tended to increase during my lifetime mostly during Republican administrations.

There has to be more to the fact that so much analysis reveals that states dominated by factions who seem to despise government and taxes the most, including reforms such as those being made to healthcare, are the same states where residents take far more than they give in terms of federal benefits, who are more obese and drive up healthcare costs, scam Medicaid while going to college and have higher teenage pregnancy and the worst credit.

Maybe some of this can be chalked up to “inversed projection,” a condition where individuals or groups subconsciously rationalize a contradiction by painting themselves as the victim instead.

But just maybe, across the political spectrum, we all need to be a little less impious and spend more time looking into the mirror than down our finger.  Humility in a candidate may be the attribute that most swings my vote in this election.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hope for Collectively Rolling Back Climate Change

In response to one of his fellow-Republicans who had been dismissive of one of my recent posts which took a market-driven approach to reducing carbon as a means to roll back climate change, David Jenkins wrote:

“So are we to believe that we can dig up all of that sequestered carbon from bygone eras, burn it, and send it back into the atmosphere without consequence? That view is as impious as it is imprudent. It is certainly not conservative.”

Jenkins, who grew up in Taylorsville, NC, worked as a volunteer in high school on Jesse Helms Senatorial campaign and then attended Brevard College here before graduating from Furman University in South Carolina, also delivered possibly the most concise, if not best, description of what carbon regulation is and why it is important when he wrote:

“The earth was designed (I happen to believe it was designed by God)with something called the carbon cycle that naturally regulates the chemistry of our atmosphere and keeps it in balance.”

Of course a market-driven approach to reducing emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases such as methane is to levy a tax on them.  The idea was first proposed by Republican Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush before being stigmatized as a liberal conspiracy by many of the economic conservatives who now control the Republican Party.Berkley Video of 250 years of Climate Change by Decade

Economists all along the political spectrum prefer the use of taxes to curb negative behaviors such as “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol.

The idea of substituting a carbon sin tax for taxes that currently exist on productive behaviors such as work, has been supported by many such as Mitt Romney advisory Dr. N. Gregory Mankiw at Harvard and Cornell University’s Dr. Robert H. Frank, author of this year’s award-winning book entitled The Darwin Economy.

Frank argues that a relatively small $80 per metric ton tax on carbon would balance the climate while resulting over time in a gradual increase in the price of gasoline of 70 cents per gallon.  To level the “playing field” it could also be applied to imports from countries who refuse to curb their emissions.

As applied to some examples in or near Durham, NC, where I live, this would translate to $3.1 million for a municipal landfill here and $1 billion to a huge coal fired plant further north along the Virginia border.  Free marketers shouldn’t complain because these are costs to society that should have been accounted for anyway but were left as externalities.

In his book Frank also illustrates that dramatic savings to society through reduction in CO2 would create enough revenue to self-fund vouchers to low income households to be used to replace highly polluting vehicles with  more fuel efficient cars.

Oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens proposes that we can eliminate 75% of our reliance on OPEC oil by just converting the 8 million 18-wheel trucks on our nation’s highways to natural gas.  Dr. Richard Muller at the consortium Berkley Earth has suggested that one of the most effective things we can do to curb global carbon emissions is to make the technology for natural gas fracking readily available to China as a means to wean that country from coal.

Muller, a longtime climate change skeptic, dramatically reverse his position after analysis published two and a half months ago demonstrated that essentially all of our climate change problem is the “result from human emission of greenhouse gasses” over the last 250 years.

Click here or on the image shown in this blog to watch the impact of greenhouse gasses year by year or decade by decade in a very cool video of the earth.  Watch the video at that link closely for the impact of greenhouse gasses from 1950, just two years after I was born, until to today.

There is a renewed bipartisan interest in a carbon tax, as reported in an August Wall Street Journal story, including those at The Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a think tank formed by Republicans.

Social conservatives including many Evangelical Christians will be important to our coming together as a nation to address climate change.  Jenkins, the VP of Government and Political Affairs for ConservAmerica, formerly Republicans for Environmental Protection, laid this out in a 2009 brief entitled God’s Climate Plan, where he concluded:

“Once we, as Christians, understand how God has designed the earth to keep its chemistry in balance and support life, we have an obligation to respect that design and live within it.”

In their 2009 book entitled A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, co-authors Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and Dr. Andrew Farley, a pastor, describe the need for urgency in addressing climate change and propose a Christian basis for action.

They note that:

“In the United States, individuals and households produce 21% of the nation’s heat-trapping gas emissions. Another 17 percent is produced by personal transportation.  As individuals, that means we control more than a third of the country’s greenhouse gas budget.”

It is easy to feel futile as my friend Jason Walser, a young lawyer and conservationist, does as he bicycles to work each day in Salisbury, a community in central North Carolina, as he passes a freight train consisting of nearly 200 carloads of coal which are required daily by a nearby Duke Energy power plant.

All this said, I still have a feeling that we’re turning the corner on the debate over climate change and that soon we’ll apply our collective efforts to successfully reverse this problem.

However, while collective action at the national and global level is critical, it is just as important to ensuring a future for our children and grandchildren that we apply the technology now available to pinpoint our efforts to address climate change at the household, street, neighborhood and community level.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Relocating A 100-Year-Old Oak

With a sense of irony, many in my adopted home state of North Carolina have watched via the web since spring as League City, a town near the Gulf Coast of east Texas with a population somewhere between that of Cary and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has worked to successfully relocate a massive, 100-year-old Compton oak tree (a hybrid between an Overcup and a Live oak.)

518,000 lb. League City, Texas Oak Moved 1500 Feet

The 518,000 lb. League City oak was moved 1500 feet to allow county road-widening, while at the same time in my adopted home of North Carolina, we’ve watched a handful of legislators ram through legislation that, unbeknownst to most in the General Assembly, will sacrifice 70,000 publicly-owned trees along state roadsides to clear cutting by out-of-state billboard companies.

League City officials allocated $200,000 in impact fees to move what locals there call the Ghirardi tree which is named after the Italian immigrant on whose land the tree first sprouted.  Meanwhile in North Carolina we’re watching our legislature gratuitously surrender public trees which are worth more than $11 billion in lifetime soil, water and air conservation alone ($157,143 each).

And if that’s not enough, NC is even letting the billboard companies privately sell the public timber to cover their costs for removal!

Click here for a short video showing how the huge tree in Texas was relocated to a new park appropriately designed to educate residents about conservation, or here for a slideshow (may take a bit of effort to open.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Choices and Entitlement

The sentiment has been expressed before in many variations but none better than how it was phrased by CBS Television Studios’ writer Sarah Byrd (credited in part to supervising producer Adam Targum) for an episode of CSI: New York two weeks ago in lines delivered by Det. Mac Taylor played by actor Gary Sinise:

“The events of our lives shape us. But it’s our choices that define us.”

That, and in my personal experience, an awful lot of luck.

As Wall Street Journal conservative columnist and humorist Joe Queenan once wrote for another publication referring to his own upbringing in poverty - “It is a pathologically enduring, immutable condition.  Not a lifestyle choice.”

When some of the first government social safety nets emerged during the Great Depression in the mid-1930s, they were accompanied by volunteer and work requirements to ensure dignity, self-reliance and self-respect.

With common roots in Chicago’s Hull House, the vaunted welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) was launched in 1936 and is structured even today around a recipient volunteer program.

But for the entire 400 years since colonization of this continent began, we as a society have worried, as phrased by business professor and ethics researcher Dr. Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind, that people might “rely upon the safety net for more than an occasional lifesaving bounce.”

Who knows how much better safety net programs would be today if partisan hostility had not stripped funding out of the government programs that enabled associated oversight of conditional volunteer and “pay it forward” programs.  The Mormon welfare program is as successful as it is because of the more than 870,000 of associated volunteer-days on welfare farms and in storehouses and distribution centers.

Mormon officials report that individual recipients typically receive aid for three to six months while they volunteer, but my experience growing up in that culture tells me there is a small percentage of recipients, some multi-generational, who, just as is seen in government programs, never seem to be able to fully escape the vicious cycle of poverty described by Queenan.

Entitlement is no more common among the poor than it is with people who are educated or middle class or rich or in parasitic, rent-seeking corporations such as billboard companies.  A classic example appeared in a news story last week from Raleigh, which is near Durham, where I live.  A person quoted in the story questioned, while noting she had a PhD, why she should have to refrain from interrupting her boss and I suspect other forms of social and business etiquette?

It seems that both liberals and conservatives are too caught up in playing offense and defense over the condition of entitlement and other issues and have been for more than 20 years.

While more willing to join moderates in compromise, liberals have been far too dismissive of concerns raised by economists and sociologists, both White and African-American, about the troubling by-products of safety net programs, many of which these experts helped devise.

These included The Rediscovery of Character: Private Virtue and Public Policy by the late Dr. James Q. Wilson, The Moral Quandary of the Black Community by Dr. Glenn C. Lowry, now at Brown University or The Content of Our Character by Dr. Shelby Steele, now a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, all penned between 1985 and 1990.

As noted by researchers at the non-partisan Center for Evidence-Based Policy and the Brookings Institution in a Washington Post op-ed last April written by Daniel Stid a partner in The Bridgespan Group, since 1990 rigorous government evaluations of 10 overarching social programs using randomized trials found “9 out of 10 yielded weak or no positive effects.”

Gridlock, primarily forced by conservatives, has made a more nimble and entrepreneurial approach impossible; although to his credit, President Obama has found ways to fuel program innovations anyway, often by end-running the bureaucratic process.

Economic conservatives, having abandoned half of their “intellectual ammunition,” to paraphrase New York Times columnist David Brooks, have forgotten a founding principle of that movement that it is “best to reform steadily but cautiously” and turned instead to fiscal strangulation and a social mobility Dance of Death.

As Thomson Reuters Digital editor Chrystia Freeland wrote in yesterday’s New York Times in an article entitled The Self Destruction of the 1 Percent, adapted from her book published last week entitled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, today’s conservatives seem to be following the playbook of Venetians at the turn of 13th century.

And that didn’t turn out too well.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Infographic – Poop! A four-letter word no one’s talking about

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Pivot On Behalf Of Billboards

Following a recent presentation to people with tourism interests, during which he repeatedly stressed the value of the state’s scenic beauty, the Democratic candidate for governor, Walter Dalton, was asked where he stood then on recent state legislation that now permits out-of-state billboard companies to clear-cut with impunity more than 70,000 publicly-owned trees along state roadways that are worth a lifetime value of $11 billion in ecosystem services alone.

Dalton, who has long been a major beneficiary of campaign contributions from billboard interests, dodged the question, even when it was reiterated, by performing what is known as “the pivot.”  Probably knowing that audiences rarely catch on to this trick, he chose to answer a question that hadn’t been asked.

He explained instead why, even though it had won approval by the courts all the way to being denied a review by the U.S Supreme Court, he spearheaded state legislation on behalf of the billboard industry to take away amortization as a tool for local communities to remove the eyesores.

Lt. Governor Dalton asked rhetorically how the audience would like it if they were only given seven years to extract the value of their house?  It must have been obvious to Dalton, a former county attorney, that he was comparing “apples and oranges.”

Basing the construction value on the property tax paid on an individual billboard and the average revenue value reported per billboard in Inc. Magazine, which is wholly and parasitically reliant solely on the value provided by the public roadway, a billboard company can more than retrieve the value of a board in just five years.

As early as 1918, ten years after the roll out of the Ford Model T, courts established the constitutional right of communities and states to protect themselves from the blight created by billboards as well as the harm they create by lowering real estate values while destroying trees and the economic, environmental and public health benefits they yield.

Fortunately, Dalton’s opponent, Republican candidate Pat McCrory has proven that he understands the importance of billboard control and the right of communities to be billboard free.  If elected, lets hope he can better inform his colleagues who are in control of the North Carolina General Assembly and begin to put out-of-state billboard companies back in their place.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Spiritual But Not Religious

A Pew Research Center study released earlier this week clarifies the 18% of Americans who now define themselves as “spiritual but not religious” including 1 in 6 who are religiously affiliated and 37% of whom who are unaffiliated:

  • 92% believe in God or a Universal Spirit with 55% absolutely certain of that belief
  • 47% seldom or never attend a worship service while 19% attend weekly
  • 31% seldom or never pray while 44% pray daily
  • 55% are women, 45% are men
  • 70% are white, 11% are black and 11% are Hispanic
  • 23% are ages 18-29, 37% are 30-49, 30% are 50-64 and 11% are 65 or older
  • 35% are college graduates, 30% some college and 35% high school graduates or less
  • 44% are married, 56% not married and 22% divorced/separated/widowed, 24% never married and 11% living with a partner
  • 32% make more than $75,000 or more in family income, 33% make $30,000-$74,999 and 35% under $30,000
  • 35% are politically moderate, 36% are liberal and 26% are conservative
  • 31% are Republican or lean Republican, 62% are Democrat or lean Democrat and 8% don’t lean either way
  • 31% view religion as very important, 36% as not too important or not at all important
  • 45% are affiliated with a religion while 52% are unaffiliated and 3% did not specify

It is well worth reading the full report to see how the “spiritual but not religious” compare with those who are religious or religiously affiliated.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Opinions Are Not An Entitlement

On the Idaho ranch where I was born and spent my early years what we now call lunch was called dinner and what we now call dinner was called supper and no one was entitled to an opinion at either occasion unless you could present a supportive argument.

My parents and especially my late father would have heartily agreed with a post that addressed that effect a few days ago by Dr. Patrick Stokes of Deakin University on The Conversation, which hosts independent analysis and commentary from academics and researchers.

What makes it hard today for any moderate Independent such as I am is that far too many people along the continuum of other political ideologies spout their opinions as though they were preferences for a favorite color or an article of faith or a loyalty oath that should be sheltered from any need for justification.

I find little of value during sound-bite political campaigns so I turn instead for arguments occurring within ideologies.  Let me give just two examples.

Conservatives today, which comprise nearly all Republicans, appear in lock-step denial when forsaking conservation, environmental stewardship or the use of carbon credits to roll back climate change, which are ironically all  concepts initially spawned by that movement.

Any queries to defend those reversals are usually met only with a repetition of the stance as though everyone listening, including the questioner, is somehow hard of hearing.  And then any further attempt to seeking an understanding is dismissed in a huff as if it were disrespectful.

The best way to learn more about conservatives and the environment is to look deeper within that ideology and the thoughtful counter-arguments presented by ConservAmerica, also known until last spring as Republicans for Environmental Protection, formed in 1995.

There you learn that creating a market solution such as carbon credits which were designed to more rapidly and urgently roll back climate change are not some kind of liberal conspiracy but something proposed by Republican Presidents Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush.

Similarly, just as the majority of Democrats are moderate, not liberal, the majority of those in the environmental movement are far more diverse in opinion than it may at first seem.  Driven by the excesses of resource exploitation, the environmental movement can often seem to take things to an extreme.

Take the move to ban plastic bags for instance.  Beneath the appearance of unanimity of opinion in that regard are voices within the movement who question those such as Stephen Joseph and his seemingly contrarian Save The Plastic Bag Coalition.

Joseph earned his credibility by leading the charge to eliminate trans fats.  Studies show that the more detached people become from deep thinking, the more likely they are to become conservative.  Joseph is challenging liberals to continue to think deeply especially about issues considered to be “slam-dunks.”

“Paper or plastic?” isn’t a trick question and the answer isn’t simple. It has been estimated that we go through 100 billion plastic bags every year, requiring 12 million barrels of oil to produce and costing retailers about $4 billion which is passed on to customers.  Estimates are that Americans use about 10 billion paper bags a year, resulting in the cutting down of 14 million trees if not produced from recycled pulp.

Banning plastic bags in some communities and laws in states such as California have led to nation-wide awareness of the need to recycle not only plastic shopping bags but also dry cleaning covers, shrink wrap and shipping filler used to create composite decking and fencing by companies such as TREX and LifeCycle.

However, paper products are not only the most widely recycled items (more than 63%) but they continue to be the largest single component of municipal landfills where they convert into methane, a greenhouse gas with 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.

Plastic bags, by comparison, occupy only .04% of space in landfills and take much longer to degrade, which is a good thing.  Joseph points out that “even though consumers choose plastic bags 4 out 5 times over paper, paper bags take up 1.0% of landfill space, which is more than twice as much as plastic bags.

It is amazing what can be revealed when ideologies debate within their own belief parameters rather than being frozen into partisan gridlock or when non-experts are allowed to trump experts without being required to present supportive arguments in a news media obsessed with faux-balanced coverage.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Chronicle of the Billboard Wars

Two fellow marketing professionals and friends of mine have produced a stunning new documentary entitled Chronicle of the Billboard Wars (click here or on the image in this blog to view a trailer.)

Ossian Or and Sandra Valle of award-winning DoubleOMedia, LLC traveled the country to produce the documentary film on behalf of Blightfighters, a project of Scenic Minnesota

Copies of the full documentary can be purchased for $5 or even less in quantities by clicking here.  This piece provides a snapshot of how residents in communities across the nation are fighting back to reclaim their privacy, their property values, their public health and the scenic character and sense of place of their neighborhoods, cities, towns and states.

The documentary is a must-see for neighborhood associations and councils, planning officials, community-destination marketing organizations, chambers of commerce, public administrators and elected officials as well as anyone generally unaware of just how desecrating and extreme outdoor billboard companies have become.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Overarching Role Of Critical Writing & the Arts

I had just finished reading an article by Peg Tyre entitled The Writing Revolution last week in the October issue of Atlantic Magazine, when Frank Stasio, the host The State of Things, a public radio program broadcast from Durham, NC, where I live, interviewed the author along with several of the people mentioned in the magazine article.

Although, as Tyre writes, “research has shown that thinking, speaking, and reading comprehension are interconnected and reinforced through good writing instruction,” according to Arthur Applebee, the director of the Center for English Learning and Achievement -- “Writing as a way to study, to learn, or to construct new knowledge or generate new networks of understanding has become increasingly rare.”

A survey of 500 personnel hiring managers across the nation supports Applebee’s assessment.  In a USA Today article yesterday, Andrea Kay noted that one of the survey findings is that -- “Far fewer mature workers need to improve their writing skills — only 9 percent — compared to 46 percent of millennials, born between 1981 and 2000…”

Both the Atlantic article and Stasio’s interview provide an excellent overview of how interlacing critical writing into other subjects has created a remarkable turnaround for underprivileged kids in some low-performing schools.

Throughout secondary school and college it always seemed like I had to work two or three times harder than other students when it came to handwritten essays; and it wasn’t until I entered law school in the early 1970s, where the use of typewriters was permitted, that it seemed to be as effortless as it seemed for my peers.

As if being left-handed wasn’t challenge enough, essential tremor in both hands meant that I had to write more slowly and carefully than others while still racing to beat the clock.  It helped, when in my junior year, I became the first boy in my high school to take typing but it would be another seven years before that skill would help when taking of exams.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why I have such a struggle with commas (smile.)

I always breathed a sigh of relief whenever exams were multiple choice.  However, as Duke University professor Cathy Davidson noted a year ago in a Washington Post op-ed, Frederick J. Kelly, who invented that form of test, or at least was the first to deploy it in 1914, had a change of heart 14 years later when he became president of the University of Idaho in my native state.

Kelly is famous for writing that “college is a place to learn how to educate oneself rather than a place in which to be educated” and if he were still alive, he would be a strong proponent of “The Writing Revolution,” but the formulaic testing in the No Child Left Behind program, not so much.

In a blog post for Scientific American five weeks ago, Ross Pomeroy, the assistant editor for Real Clear Science laid out an equally strong case for the role of the “arts” as an overarching educational tool to include with science, technology, engineering and math, turning the commonly used acronym from STEM to STEAM.

Summarizing a few of the findings in a study linking the role of the arts in the success of science Nobel Laureates by Robert Root-Bernstein, Pomeroy notes in his blog that -- “Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.”

He also paraphrases Dr. Jerome Kagen, an emeritus professor at Harvard in writing that “arts contribute amazingly well to learning because they regularly combine the three major tools that the mind uses to acquire, store, and communicate knowledge: motor skills, perceptual representation, and language.”

According to Pomeroy, in remarks made to the Learning, Arts and the Brain Summit in 2009 at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Kagen noted that:

“Art and music require the use of both schematic and procedural knowledge and, therefore, amplify a child’s understanding of self and the world.”

Apparently, government’s continuing role in raising educational standards and fostering creativity and innovation is a lot more complicated than continuing to keep “Big Bird” in existence.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Infographic - National Report Card

For a link to the article in the Atlantic, click here.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Calculating A Goal For Reforestation of Durham NC

The amount of money allocated for urban forestry by elected officials in Durham NC, where I live, is sufficient to plant, nurture and maintain 350-400 trees per year, only if residents and volunteers contribute additional treasure and sweat.

That’s only a little more than the number of trees needed each and every day just to replace the number of trees our community loses to development in order to sustain the economic, public health and environmental benefits a tree canopy yields to a community.

To put this into further perspective, New York City, which has roughly the same land area as Durham County (304.8 vs. 290 square miles not including water surface,) including the Borough of Queens which covers approximately the same land area as the City of Durham (109.2 vs 94.6 sm,) plants 8,000 trees a year, 2,000 street trees alone.HorseBarns-5

Durham makes the mistake many communities do when it limits urban forestry to just those on City-owned or maintained property such as parks and right-of-ways.  Places such as New York understand that urban forest management includes a community’s entire tree canopy.

Waiting for the next public budget hearings to get Durham on track will be much too late.  Priorities are being established with the City management right now and they have customarily resulted in targets for each department and division that focus on being the same or lower than the previous year.

If you are like me, you hope that elected officials and administrators are looking strategically at the needs of the community, using “best practices” and scientific studies as aids to help develop a budget to meet those needs and communicate it to the general public.

But in reality, their limited resources are fully absorbed by the task of figuring out how to divide up the pie and juggle priorities.

This is how our street maintenance got so far behind that we had to pass bonds to catch up.  Streets aren’t the only type of infrastructure – gray, brown and green – that was allowed to degrade and it would have been far less expensive to incrementally maintain each and every year.

So many services in Durham have fallen so far below “best practice” that people have forgotten what those benchmarks are or have settled into the routine of just cutting or adding a certain percentage.  So something such as urban forest management doesn’t even come up for review as a resource or infrastructure to maintain, only a cost.

Following an in-depth urban forest resource analysis in 2007, New York City set a goal of planting a million trees during the current decade or in other words to increase its tree canopy of 5.2 million trees by 20%.  They have already reached 612,000 trees and counting.

Per year that breaks down into planting approximately 20,000 additional or replacement street trees, 30,000 trees planted by residents or private partners, 48,000 trees planted by Parks, Storm Water and other agencies as well as reforestation required by zoning regulations.

The NYC goals also focus on biodiversity and native species, not just the number of trees planted.  I am sure it includes a heart to heart with big box nurseries and residents about what constitutes native and the size trees must be able to reach to truly generate economic, health and environmental return.

Durham’s vaunted street tree canopies that contribute so much to the sense-of-place and property values in its historic neighborhoods are aging out.  People who take these lush canopies for granted need only peruse photos taken before 1930 to see how Spartan the community once looked.

Here is my first pass at some of the facts Durham needs to consider in setting its own goals for urban forestation:

  • County-wide, Durham has 11.2 million trees in its urban forest.  Net those that may have naturally regenerated, we’ve surrendered 1 million trees to impervious surface in the last 30 years or so.


  • Part of any urban forestry goal for Durham should be to gradually replace the million trees lost during those years – replanting, nurturing and maintaining, for example, 91 trees a day over the next 30 years.


  • Based on forecasts, net those trees that will naturally regenerate, Durham also needs to plant or incentivize the replanting of 152 trees per day to replace those that are forecast to be surrendered to additional development or impervious surface over the next 30 years.


  • A zero-loss strategy then would be to reforest 243 trees a day (88,695 per year) through a variety of means including ordinance requirements, incentives to residents and other private property owners and by public agencies such as storm water, parks, public works, public health, urban forestry etc.


  • Remember, I am suggesting that this be phased over 30 years, not trying to duplicate the ambitious goal of a million trees in a decade that was set in NYC, and it nets out those trees that may naturally regenerate and even the nurturing of those could be incentivized.


I am sure there are other ways to calibrate a goal for reforestation of Durham.  I’ll happily share the metrics behind the goals shown in this blog, but another approach could be to index the amount reinvested in reforestation or afforestation to the proven dollar benefits of overall urban tree canopy, such as those so thoroughly documented for NYC.

One thing is for certain, yielding annual benefits worth $2.3 billion,  Durham’s tree canopy is a resource well worth managing to its fullest potential.