Monday, December 19, 2005

Eliminate Crime to Reduce Poverty or Reduce Poverty to Reduce Crime?

Crime is so inscrutable that many of us who've never experienced poverty fall into what I believe is a trap by drawing too close a correlation.

Singling out poverty as the underlying cause of crime may not make sense. It begs the question of why so few people in poverty turn to criminal behavior. Eliminating poverty may not be the panacea for reducing crime, especially for sociopathic, senseless crimes like murder and rape.

Substance, child or spousal/partner abuse also isn't exclusive to those in poverty by any means. It is true that people who don’t perceive other opportunities often turn to drug-dealing, but the demand for illicit drugs is across all socioeconomic levels.

Even things like eviction for not paying rent aren't exclusive to those in poverty or even those without jobs. More than one analyst has identified that character development has a much closer correlation to crime than poverty.

The alarming problem with crime is that it is much more likely to victimize those in poverty or low income. If for no other reason than to give those in poverty better access to opportunity, we need to guarantee them above all, personal safety.

Regardless of the underlying reasons, there must be no tolerance for homicide and forcible rape.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fear of Confrontation

I’ve been reading Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Turns out the dysfunctions are applicable to a team of 4 or 5, an organization and a community.

One in particular is something I run into often with civic and business leaders, and that’s "fear of conflict." This isn’t the type of conflict common in politics or the conflict some groups use as political theater. Those too easily devolve into interpersonal attacks and back-channeling.

The conflict discussed in the book is "ideological conflict" (over concepts and ideas). Even business leaders who battle daily with competitors in the dog-eat-dog world of the free market are often very reticent to permit passionate debates at a community or intraorganizational level. The book goes on to warn that those who fear conflict "doom themselves to revisiting issues again and again without resolution."

Engaging in the conflict of passionate debate and ideas is a time-saver, and it minimizes politics and results in rapid problem-solving. Even in a community like Durham, where we pride ourselves in being outspoken, we could use a major workshop on fear of conflict.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Durham Crime Comparative

This is a bit later in the year than usual, but linked are the updated crime benchmarks that have been tracked for the past decade. They show 10 Southeast communities similar in makeup and size, including Durham as a city and as a city-county, and then a similar group broadened nationally to 29 communities nationwide.

The value of this information, produced and disseminated on behalf of the 10-organization Durham Public Information and Communications Council, is that it provides perspective both to residents and potential newcomers.

It also aids the news media in providing perspective to otherwise anecdotal references too easily skewed to the sensational. It also helps officials calibrate deployment of crime prevention assets and programs by clarifying where Durham is unique and where it is out of synch.

The Durham Police Department has for instance used the data to address and make great strides in the area of robbery.

The data are not to be used as an apology or excuse to lessen intensity in the effort to drive crime ever lower. It is a tool to better inform those who trade in negative word of mouth and exaggeration which serve no useful purpose at all. The website URL for this report is

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Perception vs. Reality

Why does it infuriate people to learn that "perception" is as important to the solution to a problem as reality? My guess is it makes the person affected feel like the problem isn’t being taken seriously.

But the fact is perception fueled by word of mouth is as powerful as, or more powerful than, the reality, and perception is anything but equitable or fair. To me perception is an impression, and reality is the fact. Perception can be accurate, or it can be a myth and urban legend.

Fixing "reality" never eliminates misperceptions. We’ve learned that by tracking changes in public opinion polls before and after big developments that create a lot of buzz. Misperception is fueled by stereotyping, unbalanced media coverage and the fact that people like hearing about "bad" stuff as long as it isn’t "their" bad stuff.

However, it's not either/or. Evidence shows that both the reality and the perception must be addressed simultaneously…create awareness to fix the problem and address misperception by confronting inaccuracies and giving people the tools and information necessary to address "water cooler" talk.

We all learned this watching political campaigns. It's fine to talk about being "above it all," but it's been proven repeatedly that, if a maligned candidate doesn’t respond with equal intensity, it is assumed the charges are true. Silence is interpreted as assent, and it's true with the reputations of communities as well.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cognitive Distance Friction

There is a consumer behavior to which we all can relate. It’s called by various names including "cognitive distance friction." It is what we all experience when it seems like it takes forever to get somewhere but time of travel seems much shorter on the way back.

It greatly impacts visitors to a community because, as researchers in Australia have discovered, a mile when we are traveling at home or in familiar surroundings seems like 20 miles when we’re away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings.

People who develop shopping malls adapted research on this behavior years ago to help determine how far malls need to be apart before it makes sense for a department store to have multiple locations without cannibalizing itself. I remember, in the early days, that it was something like 15 minutes or 15 miles, because after that point, it took a very exclusive product or an incredible sale to pull people any further.

Lots of things intensify or exaggerate distance friction, and Durham has them all… e.g., irregular road patterns, hills and dales with no dominant geographic features, heavily wooded etc. The Internet has also intensified the effects of distance friction. Consumers now have the option, for a small shipping fee and a brief delay, of avoiding the logistics of a trip to the store or to a store in another community.

Distance friction is why so few people visit "regions" unless they happen to be centered around one dominant place. It’s definitely why so many traveling to either Durham or Raleigh elect not to combine a visit to both communities on the same trip.

Destinations like Durham with ample things to see and do over several days are also learning that it irritates visitors when they encounter distance friction, and the best way to overcome it is to simplify their itineraries… better directions and easier-to-read, accurate maps, the ability to select things to see and do within 10 miles, a distinct sense of place with good way-finding (road signs, banners, markers, gateways, corridors etc.) and most of all, very informed residents and frontline staff in hospitality businesses.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Principles or Personalities

There’s an old law school bromide that has been humorously adapted over the years:

"When lawyers don’t have the law behind them, they argue the facts; when they don’t have the facts behind them, they argue the law… but when folks don’t have the support of either, they usually attack personality, style or character, call names, pound the table and then change the subject."

So I guess it's kind of a compliment when someone begins to deflect attention from the issues to attack your style or personality. It’s embarrassing that many of us fall into this trap and get distracted in the drama and theater that ensue.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when personalities don’t mesh for a number of reasons. It’s nice when they do, but doing our jobs isn’t dependent on being chums or buddies.

There are three ways to make decisions: (1) go along to get along, don’t rock the boat, don’t make waves, (2) rigid policies (the approach that made the word bureaucrat a pejorative) or (3) principle-based.

Principles are, by most definitions, the ethical foundation, guiding light or closely held values and beliefs of and underlying foundation of an organization or society.

David Camner, Senior Partner at Performance Management, Inc., defines "policies, processes, plans, programs and so on as the mechanical means of achieving principles. When the mechanics fail, then principles rule. " Another example David often uses is that lawyers deal with the laws or policies and judges are meant to deal with the principles, e.g., interpret the Constitution.

But as former Mayor Nick Tennyson used to say, "There’s often only room for one person at a time to stand on principle."

To me, people and groups may have different principles, but if truly principle-based, they respect the roles and limitations and objectives of others. They work for the common good without pushing and shoving. They respect the law even when no one will ever know.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Two Ways of Decision Making

A lot of conflict or disjointedness appears linked to two, almost opposite forms of decision making. Some organizations adopt "information and principle based" while others use "who’s asking" often combined with "go along, get along." Often in the real world people seem to live on a one-way street, and of course, they prefer the latter to the former, except when they become roadkill on someone else’s one-way street.

There are benefits to each style…one is more sustainable while the other is less controversial and more malleable…one is more rational while the other is "personal." It also isn’t a question of public vs. private. It's true private organizations or advocacy groups can more quickly change or flip back and forth between the two styles of decision making, but while in principle, public organizations are expected to be information or principle based, the reality, as one elected official recently put it, is that politics is personal and partisan by definition, not rational.

I know which one I prefer, but that isn’t the issue, and my point isn’t about value judgments. The issue is that when two organizations, each with the opposite style of decision making, try to collaborate, it’s a car crash and bad feelings result. When one style of organization is required to make recommendations to inform another with the opposite style, it is guaranteed to result in a car crash and bad feelings.

Once a style is part of a corporate or organizational culture, it’s almost impossible to change. But a lot of lost productivity, heartache and bad feelings could be avoided if organizations recognize and respect up front that decision making styles may be different and then agree on which one will be used for the partnership.

But realistically, it usually isn’t possible for the information or principle based organization to compromise, and for the "who’s asking" style, it's not about the best decisions but the relationships.

It has taken half a century to figure this out, and now I sure see the crash coming in slow motion, but the styles are so inherently different, I haven’t found effective ways to head it off.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

It's About Coordination & Division of Effort, Not Turf

Durham has many strengths, but for the last five years, one of them has not been collaboration. Lately, it's like agencies and groups hatch ideas believing they are in a vacuum. Without doing an analysis of what is already in play or working through groups charged with certain areas, people charge off and reinvent the wheel or, worse, get things so disjointed and convoluted that it bogs everything down just sorting it out.

It impacts DCVB because everyone these days straps "tourism" to the front of any effort to make something feasible, most often without ever checking with the organization charged with spearheading tourism development. They’ll sit right in front me in a meeting and do it, so I’m not sure it is intentional.

I'll use an example to try to explain the absurdity of this phenomenon. It would be like DCVB hearing from visitors that the roads need to be improved, so instead of calling the City or State, the Bureau just goes out and lets bids and starts laying pavement. We might do a pretty good job, but why create that kind of disjointed chaos and distract from our true mission?

I hope we get over it. It's not common to Durham, just the last five years.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Two new Durham visitor features

Durham has certainly starred when it comes to building or launching new visitor-related facility and events. More than 20 have been launched over the last 10 years, and another 10 are under development. These stats mask that the new developments include hundreds of new restaurants and 30 new lodging facilities with nearly 3,000 rooms.

In the next two weeks, though, two huge new visitor features will open in Durham. The $25 million expansion and update of the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club will be complete, and the $23 million Nasher Museum of Art will open.

I know from a sneak peek how spectacular Nasher will be. Attendance at art museums has risen considerably over the last few years just as attendance at performing arts has stagnated and Broadway touring attendance has plummeted. It's all about a fast growing consumer behavior that the RAND Corporation reports call “consumption by appointment.” Flexibility has become a critical leisure time variant, and with museums, you can come and go on your own schedule.

Nasher also completes a full- to half-day culture trail with the new Art Museum, Duke Gardens, Duke Chapel and the Duke Sports Hall of Fame all in a walk.

WADU as we affectionately refer to the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club is one of the highest-rated properties in the State and the bellwether of Durham’s 6 total major convention hotels and 60 overall lodging properties. The renovation provided more meeting space, more guest rooms and Durham’s third legitimate business conference center.

For more info on new visitor developments go to

Lest we forget, though, experts have identified “build it and they will come” as a very dangerous paradigm for communities. Leisure travelers in particular always make a decision about where to do before considering what to do, etc. Durham, compared to competitors, puts much less of its occupancy tax to work for the purpose for which it was pioneered--destination marketing or the activity of drawing visitors to make these new facilities sustainable.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Postal Street Delivery Assignments Confuse Travelers

Sometime in the '90s the United States Postal Service started randomly assigning street delivery designations that don’t coincide with physical location. In other words, to make it more convenient for USPS, a business or residence located in the City of Durham, is often assigned a USPS mail delivery address with the name of another city in a completely different county, e.g., Butner, Hillsborough, Morrisville or Chapel Hill.

No question this was apparently convenient for the Postal Service. Apparently it was important for the address to reflect the location of the building from which the carrier embarked. I even had one official try to argue that it was done because Durham didn’t care.

However it plays havoc with visitors and newcomers who use a mailing address to find an actual physical location. In fact, it isn’t just inconvenient: it’s cruel, often taking people miles out of their way only to find out the address didn’t actually reflect a location which, in truth, is in a completely different community.

It also confuses entire hotel chains who list properties in directories by mailing address, believing it’s a safe bet the physical location is the same. It has improved, but it still confuses online services that provide point-to-point directions. It is still a problem for some that use old hardwired databases. Newcomers have been so confused they've taken children to the wrong schools or mailed tax payments to the wrong city and county.

In the early '90s, Durham successfully argued to have the Morrisville addresses corrected that had been confusingly assigned to the entire SE part of the City of Durham including scores of hotels. Now, it’s time to correct the others.

It takes persistence and coordinated effort, but it can be done. A community’s brand and identity are pivotal to economic development as well as clear and accurate communication.

There has to be a better way for USPS to identify carrier routes, e.g., ZIP code.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Cultural Landscape at Risk

Durham’s cultural landscape is at risk, which reminds me about what an arts consultant said to me once after examining the communities in what we locally call the Triangle. She warned me that Durham should never take its indigenous cultural personality for granted and that it contrasts greatly with other cities that look more like they went shopping for culture one day and brought back one of everything.

Five years of meetings with cultural groups in the mid to late 1990s revealed to DCVB why Durham’s culture is at risk and led to advocacy for a Cultural Plan, which was funded by a tax on visitors. The meetings revealed that:
  • Community-committed corporate leaders, able to focus on Durham as a place, such as the likes of George Watts Hill or Bob Ingram, are more and more rare and not being replaced.
  • Many corporations based in Durham have moved to distribution of philanthropy based on where employees live, and since half of the people working in Durham live elsewhere, half of what would ordinarily fund cultural groups is flowing elsewhere. With isolated exceptions, corporations based in other communities are not following suit.
  • Because of the change in corporate philanthropy practices, more and more groups are turning to local government. Funds that are available in other communities are used for other things here, e.g., DCVB would ordinarily receive 70-100% of the occupancy tax with up to 1/3rd available for matching grants, but in Durham, DCVB receives only 1/2 the amount the state recommends be made available for marketing alone and none of the portion useable for matching grants to festivals, etc.
  • Cultural groups in many cases lack capacity (awareness, background, interest, resources) to fully leverage the marketing that an organization like DCVB does to drive cultural consumers to Durham.
  • The media market in the Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville DMA is both extremely expensive and inefficient. The TV viewing area alone may be one of the largest in the country, covering 23 counties and parts of two states. This is good for broadcast companies but costly and inefficient for groups targeting audiences.
  • There is no coherent process by which the community makes decisions or prioritizes cultural facility development. Facilities are often championed by enthusiasts or developers, and decisions are made at the political level. Needs and feasibility assessments are often done to justify a project rather than to determine impacts and what is needed. Energy goes into "offense" and "defense" way too early in the process. The result is that some very needed projects are leapfrogged and existing facilities left unsustainable. Decisions must be as much demand-side economics and supply-side.
  • Too often cultural groups are pitted against groups drawing audiences for the facilities and events. "Build it and they will come" is at worst a myth and at best "not for long." There is far too much competition for leisure time, and the role of marketing cannot be overestimated. Marketing to drive demand and audience is the lynchpin.

Not all is doom. There are many strengths to the Durham cultural landscape, e.g., nationally recognized but genuine, authentic and indigenous, well developed and consistent with Durham’s personality as a place to live and visit. More on solutions later.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What is a Destination Anyway?

I remember when the term "visitor" was added to the name of convention and visitor bureau as an official umbrella organization to draw visitors to a community. Now thank goodness, the movement is away from that name altogether to the generic term, destination marketing or management organization. That’s another topic.

But what is a "destination" anyway? For a resident, it may be a workplace, shopping mall or ballpark.

For a visitor or traveler, though, a destination at its most basic and genuine is an interconnected, complementary set of attractions, events, services and products, all in very close proximity, which together create a total experience.

Typically this is a city, town or county as defined by residents. This all dates back to the idea of an oasis, only now the oasis is the destination vs. just a stop. It doesn’t have anything to do with municipal boundaries.

Cities, towns and counties work as destinations because 1) they are relatively small and manageable by a traveler in terms of density and land area, 2) they have a common tax base and business climate and 3) inherent travel demand generators, e.g., universities, convention centers, business parks, etc., are local.

Marketing to draw visitors is often done around nations and states, but they are only momentarily destinations. Nations and state are clusters of destinations with something in common and a way for travelers to narrow down the list of destinations. If France is a destination, it’s only as a means to narrow down an initial decision, because a traveler must settle on one or more local destinations.

Regions which are also clusters of cities, towns and counties, can work like one destination only where they are "centric" by nature or in other words, centered around one dominant city or place, say like Charlotte.

However, polycentric regions, like what we term the Research Triangle, while intriguing to visitors, are not destinations by nature of their very physical layout. In fact, presenting them as destinations can greatly inconvenience a traveler. Unlike nations and states, regions by nature are amorphous with no specific boundaries.

Imagine traveling to what you are told or think is Raleigh-Durham. You rapidly discover it’s an airport, located amongst many different places, and as you exit the airport, arrows to Raleigh and Durham point in completely opposite directions. If arrangements were made thinking it was one big place, e.g., lodging, places to eat and things to do or even a convention, the reality can be horribly brutal, resulting in commutes of at least an hour roundtrip to and from your actual destination.

To make things even more complex, if a region like what we call the Research Triangle has lots of hills and dales, irregular road patterns, no distinguishing physical markers like a mountain or river then a consumer behavior called "distance or cognitive friction" comes into play. Research on this behavior reveals that a mile when you are away from home, actually feels like 20 when you were back home.

Polycentric regions can benefit even more, though, from visitors because, with several distinct destinations and destination marketing efforts, they get many more bites of the "tourism apple" if, like the region including Durham, they involve many different communities with different personalities and features appealing to very different segments of travelers.

Why is all of this important? It's because the decision about "where to go," the destination, is the first decision a traveler makes. In the end it's about the people as much as buildings and events. People who live in destinations own the destination. When polled, nearly 80% of people characterize where they live by specific cities, towns and counties, and in places like Durham, nearly 7 out of 10 residents want Durham marketed separately.

Monday, August 29, 2005

What’s Fair is Fair

The attitude of some businesses, interest groups and even local officials toward the special lodging or occupancy tax is perplexing. It seems like such a win/win formula all around that it seems like they would want to emulate or replicate it elsewhere.

Lodging is one of a handful of businesses that have shouldered special taxes to self fund special uses. You know the old adage, special tax, special use; general tax, general use. Others include development impact fees and the fee on the telephone bill to fund 911.

Occupancy tax is what the special tax on hotels is called. It was pioneered in early 1980s in North Carolina to fund visitor promotion and marketing and relieve local governments of that responsibility. The formula is simple. The occupancy tax promotion is the pump to draw visitors, and local governments benefit from the far greater state and county sales taxes paid by visitors on not only lodging but also foodservice, shopping etc.

Over my 30 years, though, and not just in Durham, the attitude is rarely about emulating the occupancy tax formula to self-fund visitor promotion but instead how to divert it to other uses.

The easiest to understand is the dislike of earmarking by some elected officials. Some see it as tying their hands. I guess it's even understandable, though clearly hypocritical, that some businesses, while strongly objecting to a special tax on their businesses, are very eager to propose projects and uses that cannibalize the occupancy tax from its intended use.

While I empathize with local groups in search of sustainable funding sources, I have no patience with the rolled eyeballs and insinuations of envy that visitor promotion has a funding stream. Each could instead put those energies into emulating the occupancy tax model. They could identify groups of businesses and advocates that are related or complementary and jointly propose a special tax to self-fund these organizations.

In Durham, let's begin a dialogue on how to replicate the genius and self-reliance that underlies the occupancy tax to fund visitor promotion.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


When Princeton Review did its recent ranking and Duke and Durham ranked 5th-worst in the area of town-gown relations, I immediately wondered about the methodology. Sure enough Princeton was up front that it is a self-selected survey and anecdotal only to those who responded. This means it just represents the opinion of those who responded.

The media picking up on the release, however, presented it in headlines as equal with the more scientific surveys that are based on mathematical probability and much more difficult to field.

Naturally, a community like Durham and a university like Duke will be misunderstood. People go at each other in search of solutions and excellence. Another community may seem tranquil, at peace, unified and just be oblivious and uncaring.

Maybe the news media is tripped up by the distinctions, maybe reporters and editors actually believe readers, listeners and viewers can make the distinction.

Either way, a community like Durham will get misinterpreted. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed the Associated Press or even Google News get tripped up that twice the coverage is twice the news. Durham, by the way, is the only major community in North Carolina still covered by two major dailies, separately owned and competing for news.

Given a choice, though, I prefer a community that is alive and vibrant, if not always in synch and at peace, to one where everyone appears "out to lunch."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Cheap shot

It took a while for a July 24th Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News column disparaging Durham’s ranking as a top place to live to make it to my desk. The writer claimed not to disparage Durham, but both her column and the headline did just that.

The column was disturbing and probably intended to be, not because of what appears to be the condescending tone of the writing or the disappointment that Wilmington wasn’t on the list. It was disturbing because unlike other segments of the column, no apparent rationale for the condescension was provided, just insinuation and stereotype.

Durham residents appear quite pleased with Wilmington as a place to visit, and Wilmington residents come here in droves: if not for festivals and entertainment, then for conventions or to marvel at Research Triangle Park; if not for sports events, then for healthcare and shopping.

If informed, the writer shouldn’t have been surprised by Durham’s accolade. It’s one of many received in the past decade, both as an individual community and as a key component of the Triangle as a "Family of Communities."

Durham residents by a ratio of 8 to 1 are fiercely and justifiably proud of this community, possibly more than any community in the state. Durham is also a bit populist; never focused much on emulating other communities, but instead proud of its diversity and determined to stand on its own merits rather than pushing itself up by putting other places down.

Maybe all communities will be better places to live with more intolerance for condescension, stereotyping, stigmatizing and discrimination.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Sense of Place

I’ve always felt lucky that I fell into a career in visitor destination marketing as a perfect match for my degree in history. I believe that to truly market a community as a “place” to draw visitors requires understanding that community’s historical personality.

This isn’t just facts and dates or buildings and people but a feeling for what I’ve always called a community’s “unique sense of place.” This and similar descriptions come up more and more frequently in discussions about destination branding, in Joe Cortright’s theory of the “economic importance of being different and in books like Philip Kotler’s Marketing Places.

Barbara Lau at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies recently put me on to a book called The Power of Place by Delores Haden, a professor of architecture, urbanism, urban history and American Studies at Yale. She puts it all together along with well taken cautions to avoid clichés in tourism marketing.

Ms. Haden frames one area for discussion about buildings and cities as theatres of memory vs. futuristic theaters of prophecy’. Discussion also centers around cultural landscapes and urban buildings for social and political meaning as much as physical. This is timely grist if not overdue for community-wide discussion and debate in Durham.

Durham’s unique sense of place is at risk:

1) because people new to the community often perceive themselves as the Cavalry, here to save Durham and make it like other places,

2) because while major developments like The Streets At Southpoint emulate Durham’s unique sense of place and Federal Historic Tax credits incent the adaptive reuse of historically unique structures, architects for public facilities like the Detention Center or the new Multi Modal Transportation Center seem totally unaware of the community’s formal “Design Guidelines.

It isn’t a question of offense and defense or who’s right and who’s wrong…the issue needs broad discussion and debate because once lost, a community rarely if ever can recover its unique sense of place.