Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Trading Paths Give Insights

There’s an interesting organization called the Trading Path Association (TPA) based in Hillsborough, NC. It’s a preservation organization focused on the Piedmont of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Eventually it will encompass Tennessee.

The group studies and preserves the artifacts of ancient roads from Native American trading paths to horse trails, wagon roads and river crossings. It had never occurred to me that these elements are obviously important landmarks to understanding pre-modern and pre-historic cultures, societies, communities and economies.

They often give clues as to why communities sprung up where they are, and communities are crucial to our sense of unique place and identity. Communities transcend the organization of states and nations because they are organic vs. contrived.

Ancient roadways mark the organic evolution of communities or settlements, but they also mark the connections between cultures and cultural and racial blending. We’re fortunate in Durham that what we term the Old Indian Trading Path runs through the northern part of the community, as it once made its way between Petersburg, VA, and Athens, GA, with a spine roughly tracing what is today I-85. In Durham, the Old Indian Trading Path passes right through the Historic Stagville State Historic Site, goes through Treyburn and roughly along Mason and Saint Marys roads.

One of the major services the TPA provides to cities and counties is the identification and mapping of these paths and river crossings so they can be preserved and interpreted, not only for visitors but also for residents. Even private developers are using the information to provide new residents the history of the land and a connection to place.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Yellow Pages Very Customer Un-Friendly

Remember when the yellow pages used to be the “go to” resources for reliable information? Even though they were advertising-driven, you could rely on the indexing and that these were the most convenient businesses to your location.

Then the phone companies shot themselves in the foot. Out of greed, they began to let any business, local or not, buy a listing…and they were salt and peppered into local listings without any indication that these businesses were located far away in other communities.

Then deregulation spawned a bunch of knock-off books.... They took listings from legitimate yellow pages and lumped a bunch of communities into one book to make it “convenient” but again with no rhyme or reason to the listings. A user takes a “crap shoot.” The listing may be a mile away or a 60- to 100-mile roundtrip.

Now out of self-defense, the legitimate books contracted by phone companies are doing the same.... Who gets screwed? The truly convenient local business and the reader/user. Neither has a chance in a million of knowing what’s convenient, fast and reliable.

I guess the whole notion may work in a region centered around one dominant city. But in polycentric regions like the Triangle, with no dominant center and covering an area many times the size of a state or two, it drives people crazy…both as a figure of speech and in drive time.

All that these folks are doing is driving people to the Internet…where the Web is doing just the opposite. Local is even more local…except Citysearch which insists on lumping the communities in the Triangle together and treating them differently than almost any other area…ever notice that Baltimore and Washington get separate sites?

But that’s another blog.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Remembering Dr. King

The phone rang last month, and the voice on the other end said, "This is Reverend Douglas Moore...." It got no further because I interrupted with "Wow."

He chuckled and said, "You know my name?" Reverend Moore went on to tell me that he noticed that he has been cropped out of a photo in one of our brochures, and since he’s writing a book, a lot of which takes place in Durham, he wondered if he could be reinstated.

I told him it was probably inadvertent as redesigns took place but he was if anything the subject of the photo. Reverend Moore now lives in Washington, D.C., and was formerly an elected official there.

He’s a hero of mine, as is Dr. King, because Moore, along with the late Judge McKissick, used Boy Scout and ROTC training methods in the basements of five, activist Durham churches to train students from several states on how to conduct sit-ins to effect desegregation of lunch counters and other facilities through the late '50s and early '60s.

In fact, Dr. Aldon Morris at Northwestern University, wrote a book noting that the sit-in in Greensboro, often heralded by the news media as the first, was no where near first, and the students were trained by Moore here in Durham. The Associated Press caught on to the movement when Greensboro happened, and for some reason, it was anointed "first."

But the other reason Reverend Moore is so significant is that, as the movement accelerated, he persuaded Dr. King, during a trip to Durham, to embrace "direct actions" like this. Prior to this Dr. King was a pacifist. King and Moore were graduate school classmates in Boston. Dr. King was the studious one, and according to Moore himself and others, Moore was the rabble-rouser.

So in no small way, Durham played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, one that is slowly coming to the forefront.

In the meantime, you can be sure Reverend Moore’s back in every photo possible.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Individual Responsibility

You know I’ve always been what my Dad called a "bleeding heart." I’m proud of it. Compassion for those less fortunate and idealism about the potential of people given access to opportunity aren’t just words for me.

I’m proud to live in a community that values its ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. I’m proud of the school system for aggressively addressing the achievement gap and the dropout rate. I’m pleased that individuals, neighbors, universities, local governments and the private sector are focused on neighborhoods in distress.

More and more, though, it’s dawning on me that what will make the difference is the individual…the individual person, the individual family and the individual neighborhood. I fear communities like ours have grown too reliant on governments and non-profit agencies, and we haven’t re-empowered individual responsibility and values.

Too often bad things happen, and people look immediately to the City or County or bus system or Public Schools or Social Services or emergency rooms to make things right. But it all starts with individuals and families.

Lots of people, including their children and some underage adults, were at a retail store recently when a young man outside was shot in the back for sticking up for his sister. Blame isn’t an issue, and the community has a role in the solution, but the dysfunctions that led to this will not be resolved until circumstances are unwrapped down to the individual and family levels. Everyone, including the news media, must dig down to immediately find out what went wrong at the individual, family and neighborhood levels so everyone in the community, including others at risk, can learn and improve.

In general, only by using each example to stimulate appropriate reactions and changes at those levels, will we be able to truly resolve community problems. It may be a wrongdoer comes from poverty, but lots of people rise from poverty without violence. It may be that the home is broken, but lots of very good and decent people survive and even thrive with broken homes. It may be substance abuse or holding two and three jobs has eroded the ability to parent and establish important values. It may be that neighbors and family members aren’t getting the reinforcement they need to rise up and deal with wrongdoers.

But in general, the solutions to the problems will be very clear as circumstances are evaluated at the individual and family levels.