Friday, March 31, 2006

Social Injustice Is A Two-Way Street

A good deal of listserv discussion surrounding allegations against members of the Duke men’s lacrosse team in mid-March is very emotionally charged.

Those who know me know that my passion for Durham is based in part on its sense of place, its core values, its response to the injustice of stigmas and stereotypes. I don’t just apologize for Durham. My job is to help inform people about Durham so that, if they elect to visit, Durham can meet their expectations and they can contribute to reinforcing our sense of place.

But I guess I’ve thrived here for nearly two decades and hope to live here the rest of my life because I share this community’s deep-seated reaction to social injustice.

So I hope that those Durhamites who are emotionally charged beyond what is already an emotionally charged issue will permit me to express the following 10 beliefs:

· I believe social injustice is a two-way street. It impacts the privileged as much as the underprivileged.

· I believe that, in our concern for victims, we should be careful not to victimize others who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

· I believe our only hope in a civilized society is to believe in the system of justice. Even if and when it may be flawed, it’s better than any alternative including vigilantism.

· I believe the administrators at Duke are honorable people, wanting to do what’s honorable for Durham, students and Duke. Their motives are no more or less honorable than those of us incensed at anyone being victimized.

· I believe the stereotypes of Duke students as rich and privileged are inaccurate and unfair. Duke raises and distributes an immense amount of aid to its students.

· I believe both privileged and underprivileged people can believe and act as though entitled.

· I believe in DNA and technology to help us identify culprits and focus our indignation but, most of all, in a jury of peers with access to far more information than I have. I believe as many innocent people can be convicted as guilty people can go free.

· I believe our minds must remain open not only to whether something happened but also to who and where and when.

· I believe we need to deal with this as we would if we were learning about a group of black men at a historically black college in the 1930s, accused of victimizing a white woman in the days of white hoods and burning crosses.

· I believe in personal responsibility and that we put too much responsibility on cities, counties, public schools, police departments and universities to “police” personal responsibility when it really belongs with the individual.

I’m proud of a community that is passionate about social injustice. I just believe it’s a two-way street.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Stewards of Place-Based Assets

I just attended a conference for a movement called “civic tourism.” It’s an umbrella extension of the discussion of eco, geo or cultural and heritage tourism, all of which focus on “place” vs. entertainment-based tourism that has no connection with “place.”

I haven’t regularly attended conferences for some years. There are too many more efficient ways to engage in dialogue that are less redundant or about people “bearing testimony” vs. engaging in true dialogue.

But this one was an exception. I’ve always been considered an “odd duck" in some circles for espousing the importance of place as a context in tourism development.

But at this conference I learned that convention and visitor bureaus are the “stewards for place-based assets.” Not the only stewards, of course, but key because tourism is much more than economic development. Tourism is about preserving buildings and heritage, conserving the ecology and landscape, celebrating ethnicity and art and music, and articulating a community’s sense of place.

Why is this important? Because, in the words of Dr. Scott Russell Sanders:

"[As contrasted to] many American cities and towns, where any sense of character or coherence has been eroded by the forces of development. Uniform highway design, strip malls, cookie-cutter suburbs, manufactured housing, garish franchise architecture, and box stores surrounded by deserts of blacktop have made our settlements less and less distinct from one another….

"A real place feels as though it belongs where it is, as though it has grown there, shaped by weather and geography, rather than being imported from elsewhere and set down like a mail-order kit….

"A real place conveys a sense of temporal depth, a sense that people have been living and laboring here for a long time. The traces of earlier generations are preserved in festivals and folkways and habits of speech; in old buildings that have been restored and kept in service; in landscapes that are still devoted to…traditional uses."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why I Cheer for Duke

The question is why not. I represent Durham, so duh! It’s a team with a following similar to the New York Yankees… similar proportion of fans nationwide as locally or with graduates. To top it off, it’s a great school, great basketball tradition, great coach. I’d have to have my head examined to not cheer for Duke.

But I’m frankly astonished at how some people who similarly represent Durham as a place don’t connect these dots, yet expect people to be loyal to their efforts.

One of my peer “Durham messengers” sees no conflict of interest with cheering wildly for a team in a nearby town because a child went there? Excuse me? Maybe I’ll encourage a business to select Downtown Raleigh over Durham because my daughter enjoyed herself there once. Another messenger wears clothing the color of schools in different nearby cities that compete with Duke, hoping to be neutral? What’s that about? Maybe membership dues in that organization should be split with similar organizations in other cities?

I can understand having an underlying (keep it to yourself) loyalty for where you went to school, but to me, when you’re a Durham messenger, you’re true blue (Duke blue) for the ACC and true Eagle maroon when it comes to the CIAA, soon to be MEAC, for North Carolina Central.

Otherwise, go work somewhere else. Life is too short to be conflicted, and it's just hypocritical to represent Durham as a place which includes Duke, ask Duke for money, and then not reciprocate.

Next blog, I’ll tell you how I really feel. ;-)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Visitors Much More Than Economic Development

There’s a great project run by Dr. Don Schilling called Civic Tourism. He very articulately writes that tourism development is about much more than economic development or spending, jobs and tax revenue.

Don notes that tourism, if done around place and done organically, is about preserving the environment, historic preservation, cultural sustainability, community pride, citizenship and much more.

Destination Marketing or Management Organizations (DMOs or convention and visitor bureaus) must be a forum for communication and discussion about these areas.

It's also about avoiding copy-cat marketing and development, or as we often call it, emulation marketing. It's about getting in touch with the organic sense of place in each community and revealing as much as building it. It's about the cultural, natural and built environments.

It’s a tall order. I remember when tourism development wasn’t even given credit for economic development, and now the challenge and the obligation is even greater.

We’ve come a long way since the '70s when the debate was about adding visitors to convention promotion.