Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Example of Why “Anger” Has Become An Elixir For Governance

In stark contrast to that area of town in general, grass grew taller and taller for weeks at a house that was for sale at the entrance to Rockwood Park, but fortunately before it became a poster child for the now well documented “broken windows theory”, either the previous owners, the real estate agency or an annoyed neighbor mowed the lawn.

This apparently isn’t the philosophy of City Parks and Recreation or its mowing contractor. Even while trendy parks are opened, the turf in other parks has evaporated over the years from neglect even as their use has increased. Now, maybe to cover the neglect, the decision has apparently been made to mow only a portion of each park, allowing grass to go fallow making them virtually useless.BUMSTEER

Poor decision, poor management, another victim of deferred maintenance and, where the buck always stops, poor governance.

Residents are given prompt citations, and should be, if they don’t take care to keep the city-owned right-of-way as well kept as their own property. Right-of-Way is the strip that runs between the street and private property, sometimes dissected by a sidewalk.

It’s also where “curb appeal” and resultant property values begin.

So residents are right to be indignant and demoralized, as my neighbors and many commuting to use the park are, that the City is so cavalier with its own upkeep including but not limited to the responsibility to keep recreational parkland not only mowed but free of limbs and weeds and well, recreational.

Unkempt areas attract not only litter but snakes and other vermin and bring them closer to residences and businesses, but they also are proven to provide a sort of psychological screen for minor crime, typically theft and quick to follow is major crime.

It doesn’t stop there. As well as eroding property values, unkempt areas, especially in urban settings, threaten public health, retard economic development and more. Nature areas have an important place but urban parks, adjacent to dwellings should be well kept. It takes much more than leaving the grass to grow wild to convert a recreational park into a nature area or convert it to a natural buffer.

Is the failure to maintain the roof on the picnic shelter or the cook-out grills also part of going back to nature?

It is terrific that reserves are being refunded for deferred maintenance of streets but Durham’s elected officials and public servants are being thick as a board on the importance of appearance overall, even if as one official quipped, “no one is calling to yell at them about it.”

Oh yeah, that’s why we elect people to govern our community, so they can sit by the phone keeping tabs on who gets angry enough to call them out. That’s just dysfunctional.

You want to know what gives government a poor image…just this kind of neglect and double standard. Government upkeep should set the example and begin with appearance and curb appeal, the most visible things residents can see.

Believe me, elected officials and administrators are not ignorant to how important this is…they’ve been shown scientific evidence as well as public opinion support time and time again…so when will they get it? When will someone step up and show leadership on this issue?

I guess when we all drop the unimportant lives we’re leading and get angry enough to call and tell them to get off their butt? Maybe its time to dust off the ole’ B.S.-O-Meter very effectively deployed in a former life to humorously shed light on condescension toward Durham, but this time B.S. won’t be Bum Steer and the “Bums” may be local.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Resisting More Than Coercive Parenting

I never was much of a parent and thank God every day that my daughter and only child understood and has been so forgiving and become such an extraordinary person and parent herself.

I marvel at how well my parents did, being ages 19 and 24 when I was born.  I watch as others so often struggle while some friends and my two sisters and daughter seem so naturally gifted as parents.

But I’ve never read three more helpful pages than the document I’m linking here in BYU Magazine, my university alumni quarterly, from an article by regular contributor M. Sue Bergin entitled Resisting Coercive Parenting.controlling_relationship_sp_sm

Ms. Bergin’s not writing about physical abuse but forms of manipulation and coercion that experts find can be equally harmful such as “quilting, shaming, withdrawing love, wounding with sarcasm or condescending remarks” even before they escalate to yelling and harshness.

She also notes another form of psychological coercion at the other end of the spectrum but often practiced in tandem, being “overprotective,” which can lead to “withdrawal and anxiety” and “feeling incompetent.”

I know parents with all of the best intentions who practice the full spectrum.  They are good people who want the best for their children.  Unfortunately, they also practice these techniques on other adults, co-workers, youth league coaches and school personnel.

These practices are also rampant in other parts of society.  Just get between some development interests or their advocates and elected officials and you’ll see these techniques up close and personal from both sides.

One expert cited by Bergin also notes that the result of these techniques on young people is that they have a hard time learning “inward control” because they are so focused on meeting parent demands.

Lack of inward control is also something David Brooks notes from experts in the new book The Social Animal; The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement as a pivotal reason holding generations back from true social mobility.

There is much more to this brief article and hopefully the small part I’ve touched on will motivate you to read it and then re-read it.  And if you’re not a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle, it is every bit as useful in other roles in life.

If you like this article, in light of Father’s Day, next month, you may also benefit from one by the same author published last winter by clicking here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Nobody’s Right If Everybody’s Wrong

There are probably several reasons the Tallman Trask at Duke University and I have kept in touch after my retirement from community/destination marketing at the end of 2009.

We’re both transplanted westerners.  We both frequently display an often inscrutably dry sense of humor and we’re both devotees of the music sub-genre, “country-rock” the beginnings of which I probably picked up not from growing up on a ranch but as a 15 year old from the Beatles’ 1964 “I’ll Cry Instead.”

A folk now turned more country-rock anthem, “For What It’s Worth” has been running through my mind for several weeks now after he passed along that Buffalo Springfield with several members of that now legendary, but short-lived, group might be coming to DPAC.

The lyrics to their memorable 1967 hit penned by Stephen Stills shed light on why my political affiliation is Independent and they are as current to today’s Tea Party fueled partisan vitriol as they were forty-four years ago, largely because Stills didn’t appear worried about the specific controversies as much as the he was about the intensity and polarization at the time as noted in this excellent breakdown of the song.

There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware.
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind.
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

What a field day for the heat.
A thousand people in the street,
Singing songs and carrying signs,
Mostly say, “Hooray for our side.”
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

Paranoia strikes deep:
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come and take you away.

Buffalo Springfield, which formed just as I graduated from high school, disbanded just 25 month later but was the springboard for not only Stills to Crosby, Stills and Nash and another sometimes-member of that group the prolific Neil Young, who started his current tour at DPAC; Jim Messina to later Loggins and Messina fame; and Richie Furay a later bandmate with Poco.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Jedi Knights With Norman Roots

Although my grandsons who are now going on ages 6 and 8, are more into Jedi Knights and lightsabers right now, they may one day be intrigued to know that they descend from the very real Knights of Guillaume le Conquerant or William The Conqueror, Normans from what is now northern France who conquered England in 1066, marking the beginning of the Middle Ages.Dunster_Castle

William de Moin appears in the first Doomesday Book, a kind of census instituted by then King William and completed about twenty years later.

Moin is also the surname origin of the name Moon but evolved  for our ancestors to Mohun as in Sir Reynold de Mohun, Earl of Somerset, born about 1184, a name shared by his son Sir Reynold II.  Their Dunster Castle is shown as an image in this blog but you can click here for a more comprehensive photo gallery.Dunster Castle Crest

When Sir Reynold de Mohun was near the age of my oldest grandson now, his father William de Mohun IV died in battle in 1193 at Jerusalem during the Third Crusade, which was led by King Richard the Lionheart.

Sir Reynold II had several titles other than Knight including Chief Justice of Common Pleas, 6th Baron, Governor of Saubey Castle, 5th Lord of Dunster, Justice of Common Pleas, Chief Justice and Earl of Somers.

Reynold is the original derivation of my full first name but circuitously came to the attention of my paternal grandmother first through a novel she read while carrying my father who also shares the name.  Only in my current family history research on her line has the earlier connection surfaced.

As I have throughout my life, but especially in elementary school, the original ancestors with that name endured a variety of spellings and pronunciations including Rainald, Rainauld and Reginald.  So my friend and Durham City Councilman Howard Clement has actually never been far off when he calls me Rain instead of Reyn (pronounced Wren.)

Although our ancestors sold Dunster Castle near the end of the 14th century, it is now part of Britain’s National Trust organization, towering above a medieval village of the same name and is open for tours.  You can even take a Dunster Castle Express via the vintage West Somerset Railway.

Maybe during my next visit to see my daughter and grandsons , our “Knightly” living-room fencing with lightsabers will take on a whole new meaning.

A Scarcity Of Water Nurtured My Social Mobility

Two months from today will mark 164 years since many of my ancestors crossed the Great Divide and settled in the west, before it had been carved into territories let alone states and into what Wallace Stegner termed “the geography of hope.”

The roots of my own upward social mobility aren’t found until 55 years after my ancestors arrived in the West and 46 years before I was born.  That’s  when Congress gave its approval to President Theodore Roosevelt’s first successful piece of legislation, The National Reclamation Act.P7020073

In part, this Act spurred both my paternal great-grandparents and grandfather (where he soon met my grandmother during a visit to see her sister) to move further north along the Great Divide to homestead the ranch and farmland later nurtured by my parents along the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in the upper corner of the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Eastern Idaho.

The Act also helped make possible the introduction and union of my future parents when my watermaster maternal grandfather and his family relocated just a mile away in the 1940s to care for the now nearly 100-year-old Ashton Dam, currently under reconstruction.

Given to me by my daughter when she was in college and just after he died, I still have a description by Wallace Stegner capturing the West’s incredibly unique sense of place:

“Aridity more than anything else, gives the western landscape its character.  It is aridity that gives the air its special dry clarity; aridity that puts brilliance in the light and polishes and enlarges the stars; aridity that leads the grasses to evolve as bunches rather than as turf; aridity that exposes the pigmentation of the raw earth . . .

In the attempt to compensate for nature’s lacks we have remade whole sections of the western landscape. We have acted upon (it) with the force of a geological agent. But aridity still calls the tune, directs our tinkering, prevents the healing of our mistakes; and vast un-watered reaches still emphasize the contrast between the desert and the sown. . . .

The primary unity of the American West is a shortage of water.”

Teddy Roosevelt, as President Abraham Lincoln did 40 years before by enabling the transcontinental railroad, understood as David Brooks writes, that projects like these were driven by “policies designed to give Americans an open field and a fair chance to spread the spirit of enterprise, enhance social mobility, and so built the nation.”

Stegner also wonderfully describes the spectacular mountain peaks that perpetually frame my native homeland memories:

“The mountains of the Great Divide are not, as everyone knows, born treeless, though we always think of them as above timberline with the eternal snows on their heads.  They wade up through ancient forests and plunge into canyons tangled up with water-courses and pause in little gem-like valleys and march attended by loud winds across the high plateaus, but all such incidents of the lower world they leave behind them when they begin to strip for the skies:  like the Holy Ones of old, they go up alone and barren of all circumstance to meet their transfiguration.”

As someone who spent nearly four decades place-making as an executive for community/destination marketing organizations in three different communities, two in the West and one, my home now for more than two decades, in Durham, North Carolina, I have a special appreciation of both Stegner’s beautiful articulation of place and the roots of my social mobility.

After all, “Home,” as Stegner wrote in his 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Independent Voters At Odds On Issues

I’m not sure Republicans in the North Carolina legislature care what Independent voters like me think, but they should.  Overall, Republicans has lost the 11 point advantage Independents gave them and now trail among all likely voters.

Independents now represent 1/4th of all registered voters in the state.ncsealcolor

Take a look at how Independent voters line up on six key issues of debate in the General Assembly based on various scientific polls including Public Policy Polling.

  • 85% of Independent voters oppose permitting the outdoor billboard industry to override local tree ordinances and clear more trees so billboards can be seen for longer distances compared to only 9% in favor.



  • 53% of Independents prefer a separate vote to extend unemployment benefits compared to 23% who support making it conditional on other issues.


  • 46% of Independents oppose compared to 28% in favor of chopping a week off of early voting.


  • 78% of Independent voters support retention of the law requiring greater reliance by utilities on renewable energy and energy efficiency.


  • 80% of Independent voters support new legislation to double the amount of renewable power that energy companies are required to use.

Political parties formed almost immediately after the founding of this nation as a “representative” republic but not for the same reason.  We became a republic because it was hard for the general public to access information and voice opinions in a timely fashion.  But that’s no longer true.

Parties formed around dangerous factions focused on seeking power and control, a danger noted by President George Washington in his farewell.  I’m not sure the nation or North Carolina is ready for a pure democracy, although with new technology that is more than feasible.

It is still valuable for elected officials to take a closer and more in depth look at issues as long as they exercise what a recent book by a conservative columnist terms good “mental character” which is far more important for “real-world” judgment and decision making.  Far too many forget they are elected to represent “all of the people,” not just those who voted for them.

But several elements of “mental character” don’t come easily to many politicians such as the “tendency to collect information before making up one’s mind,” “seeking various points of view before coming to a conclusion” and a “disposition to think about future consequences before taking action.”

A good start would be for Republican lawmakers in North Carolina to listen to the collective opinions of Independents, that is unless they want the only time that party has controlled the legislature in 136 years to be “one and done.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Good News About Litter Shows How Far We Have To Go!

The good news about litter is in a thorough study revealing that there is 61% less of it than in 1969, but also showing just how far we have yet to go, if we are to eliminate it all together.

Part of the reason for the decline to today’s 51.2 billion pieces litter may be the drop in the number of cigarettes smoked each year in the U.S. from just more than 500 billion in 1969 to around 360 billion today.

But at 36.3% of all litter, butts still rank as the #1 type.  Of course, the study is only ground level and blind to sources of desecration proliferating above ground level, termed by many as litter-on-a-stick and also viewed as detracting in some states by nearly 7 to 1 by Republicans and Democrats and nearly 8 to 1 by Independents in some states.Types of Litter

The study shows that some kinds of litter pollution have dramatically increased since 1969.  The product made famous 40 years ago by the memorable line in a still popular movie, “I just want to say one word to you.  Just one word...Plastics!” has increased 165% since then.

Litterers don’t just run up the tab for taxpayers.  As poorly as many cities and counties, including mine, address litter, they shoulder only 8.5% of the cost.  Throw in what it costs states and you only get to 11.7%

But 80% of the costs driven by litter are shouldered by businesses which invariably pass it along to consumers, driving up the costs of products and services.

Want to focus on areas that can make a huge difference right away? Then think about rectifying the following and we’ll be off to a good start:

  • Motorists who do not use car ashtrays or litter bags.
  • Business dumpsters that are improperly covered.
  • Loading docks and commercial or recreational marinas with inadequate waste receptacles.
  • Construction and demolition sites without tarps and receptacles to contain debris and waste.
  • Trucks with uncovered loads on local roads and highways.
  • Household trash scattered before or during collection.

Monday, May 23, 2011

“PC” Conservatives – A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse!

For more than two decades conservatively-inclined Republicans have loved to smugly dismiss anything they didn’t like by labeling it as “politically correct” or “PC” turning a positive term, coined by the Founding Fathers no less. into a pejorative.

So it is kind of fun as an Independent to watch them hammer one of their own into submission this week for saying something, well, politically incorrect, although it is something many conservatives believe but aren’t saying.anti-political-correctness

“The shoe certainly fits” but I’m not sure why they didn’t evidence the same demand for conformance when David Stockman, the late conservative President Reagan’s budget director and someone ultimately familiar with “supply-side” economics, labeled the now adopted Republican debt reduction proposal as an “attack on the poor to coddle the rich” less than a month ago in a New York Times Op-Ed entitled The Bipartisan March To Fiscal Madness.

Columnist Maureen Dowd had already famously written a few weeks before that “Republicans hate social engineering, unless they are doing it.”

So why did the always hyperbolic Newt Gingrich cause such a stir by saying much the same thing even being forced to “kiss” Limbaugh’s ring?  Is there something the conservative establishment fears about the famously “loose cannon” or are they just much too PC now themselves to tolerate honest debate among the ranks?

All I know is that whenever someone in the future tries to cut off thoughtful discussion by dismissing it as PC, I know what I’m going to say.

Something about “newterizing” open and honest discussion.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Proof That Festivals Can Leverage Community Improvement And Help Change Lives

We learn to expect the close partnership, such as the one between the world-acclaimed Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) to culminate with a publicizing of input-output-based estimate of economic impact including local tax yield.Deirdre Haj

But Full Frame’s executive director Deirdre Haj is proof that Festivals can be leveraged even further to improve lives and communities in other ways.

She’s a firm believer that, as an apprentice profession, filmmaking and particularly documentary filmmaking could be a perfect fit one day at Durham’s Holton Resource & Career Center. She’s partnering with the East Durham Children’s Initiative on a pilot project with the help of some grants from Durham Rotary Club (Downtown) and Durham-based Mary Duke Biddle Foundation and GSK.

Her passion and dream for an eventual Documentary Film Trade School in Durham, a community with an already significant resume as a film location, is informed by solid independent third-party research conducted on a program by the Adobe Foundation.

The research showed that after involvement in documentary filmmaking, “at-promise” youth, a term Ms. Haj prefers to “at-risk:”

  • 84% of youth reported learning more about important issues of their own choosing,

  • 86% of participating youth believing their work could make a difference,

  • 91% saying their opinions matter, and

  • 91% of participating youth are interested in continuing their education after high school.

Durham is fortunate to not only have a wider range of signature festivals than other communities but the fact that the majority are homegrown contributes to the community’s unique-sense-of-place and personality.

And as Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is proving, the difference they can make doesn’t stop there!

And DCVB’s role in this partnership is proof to those in the community/destination marketing arena that fostering and nurturing the sustainability of uniquely, home-grown festivals is a very relevant part of what visitor-centric economic and cultural development is all about.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is It Really Possible To Generate Community Pride?

Several readers, including some who are still involved in community/destination marketing (DMOs), emailed me for more information after a blog I posted in March. Even though that’s not how it is supposed to work, readers people seem to prefer to email me directly rather than post comments and I don’t mind.

The inquirers wondered how we were able to generate pride among Durham residents that is benchmarked by scientific surveys at an incredible 17 to 1 compared to an average of 1 to 1 in other communities, including those presumed to have substantial resident pride.Capture

The short answer is we didn’t, generate it that is.

When I arrived in Durham in 1989 to jumpstart the community organization envisioned as the “heart, soul, and energy of Durham as a destination and the defender of the community’s image and brand and guardian of its unique sense of place,” I had the distinct advantage of coming in “under the radar.”

This permitted me to get acquainted with Durham from the inside out, at a level unavailable to most people when they move here and are deluged the first few years with information about only the places they are supposed to see, gatherings at which they are supposed to appear and people they are supposed to meet.

I was immediately impressed with how “real and organic” and exceptional this new community seemed to be in so many ways and how intensely proud but unpretentious people were about this community. But when I was in the usual gatherings, I was told and overheard being said that Durham was a “red-headed-step-child” and needed to feel better about itself and that this had always been the case.

Only during scientific research to unwrap the issues beginning in the very early 1990s did I learn that the people who felt the former were residents and the people who felt the latter were either non-residents including those who happened to work or own or manage businesses here or sycophants seeking to impress them.

The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) didn’t generate Durham’s incredible community pride and passion among residents as much as we measured and identified it, revealed, nurtured and empowered it, protected and defended it and gave it much needed oxygen and breathing room by going on the offensive with fact-based and emotionally-honest messaging to back off and remedy the condescension, misattribution, misinformation and slights that dampened and inhibited it.

We were fortunate that the things oppressing and suppressing and distorting Durham pride were centered in two nearby communities. Of course, we didn’t expect to change any minds there. But we took persistent action to rescue and inoculate people who were positive or neutral when confronted by the sources that deliberately fostered negativity and put-downs and were much to powerful and intense to be addressed solely with positive promotion.

In the process, by being persistently passionate but fact-based, working on areas of improvement and simultaneously amplifying equally fact-based and emotive positives over a number of years we were able to convert what the authors of the new book Change Anything term “accomplices” to that negativity into friends.

It is someone else’s responsibility to deal with that issue now that I’m retired but the job is never finished.

But I can tell you what I would do now if I would trying to empower and fuel community pride among residents in other communities based on what I learned over that two-decade turnaround:

  • Get to know your community from the inside out. Explore the nooks and crannies, the offbeat neighborhoods and districts. Visit with people in their 80s and 90s who were born there including folks of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

  • Get to know your community’s official and unofficial history. The essence of pride among residents will be almost temporal and will be found in the cultural and environmental, as well as the built characteristics, especially those that are distinctive vs. mainstream.

  • Don’t make the mistake many organizations make by reaching back only to the time when white men began commercial enterprises. A community’s soul goes back much further and deeper than that.

  • Don’t wait until everything is “fixed” to take action regarding community pride. You can’t “build” your way to revealing and empowering community pride, but the fact-based and emotive messaging and defense of community pride also opens the doors and clears the way for fostering and financing preservation, adaptive reuse and emulation of sense of place attributes.

  • True community pride has little, if anything, to do with being “major league.” The fleeting pride that often comes from athletic achievement doesn’t accrue long to the places where it occurs and if elemental at all is more a result of community pride, than the actual cause.

  • Don’t assume pride among residents is generalized based just on what you hear from elected officials or boosters. Ask an expert in “diffusion” and scientific public opinion polling, typically a non-resident, to ensure credibility.

  • The expert selected need to be familiar with field-tested likert-scale questions based on results first from interviews with individuals and balanced and inclusive focused groups. Then to fully mine their insights, have them repeat and analyze the surveys each year.

  • Based on the initial results, in addition to residents, you may need to survey sources of non-resident commuters, communities in which the majority of people who work in your news media and places like your airport live and maybe statewide or nationwide.

  • It is important for the survey questions to explore community pride, community image, including perceptions of what one would expect based on “what others say” as well as those based on personal experience.

  • Sound, scientific survey results provide a foundation for deployment and targeting of communication tactics beginning with communicating the results themselves. Advertising-based community pride campaigns have been ineffective for decades now for the same reasons its effectively has declined so rapidly since the 1980s including too much clutter and lack of credibility. Start with earned media and maybe as blend of direct marketing and social media tactics.

I haven’t yet read his book, For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, published the same month as my blog post that stimulated these inquiries, but based on his guest post on The Infrastructurist blog, entitled Why Aren’t We Building ‘Emotionally Connected’ Cities, author Peter Kageyama “gets it” and not just because he used the recent event Marry Durham as an example.

We’ve also both been students of the multi-year Knight/Gallup study that found strong correlations between community pride and passion and higher levels of local GDP and loyalty and healthy economies.

Sadly, too many officials, developers and even community marketing executives feel much too important to grasp the significance of core community pride among residents let alone how it can either be fostered and leveraged for greater results or smothered and extinguished.

As for me, at least in the case of Durham, I learned how to nurture and foster it through trial and error, testing and measurement and creative execution and messaging and story telling. But for communities where it has been extinguished or exists only as a dying ember, it may be too late.

But I hope not.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Blackballing Is A Form Of Organizational Incest

“Politics isn’t logical, it’s personal” was the ominous warning an elected official gave me many years ago when he told me I could either look the other way with my organization’s legal restrictions on use of funds or pay with the loss of my job.

I didn’t look the other way and instead kept seeking a win/win solution, but that didn’t stop those bent on violating those restrictions. For them it was purely win/lose. It was personal and all about power.

Given that official’s revelation though, you’d think elected officials would be better at discerning controversies in other realms that only appear to be about money but are usually about something more personal such as the practice of blackballing or cabals.tumblr_ljibcilR8x1qgl8g0o1_500

One of the things that can give any governing board, but especially non-profit boards, a deadly reputation is when, or if, the practice of “blackballing” potential board recruits is permitted or enabled or practiced in any form.

Blackballing doesn’t have to be by secret ballot anymore, it can be done informally through a whisper campaign or a side-comment, but it is almost always deployed to keep people off a board either as retribution for a past position or out of fear of diverse opinions or losing control of a hidden agenda.

Many boards and executives form strong opinions and then look for information and sycophants to support them and blackball those who don’t.

They flunk “real-world 101” according to the award-winning book What Intelligence Tests Miss; The Psychology of Rational Thought by Keith E. Stanovich a professor at the University of Toronto. He identifies key attributes for successful “real-world” judgment and decision making that go beyond IQ, the first two being the “tendency to collect information before making up one’s mind and to seek various points of view before coming to a conclusion.”

The practice brings to mind the immortal words of Phil Everly, “I’ve been cheated, been mistreated” in a song later made even more famous by Linda Ronstadt. Two organizations that I know of blackballed me during the time I’ve lived in Durham. But thankfully I never had to worry about “when will I be loved” during my time here.

The first instance occurred a month or so after I was recruited here to jump-start Durham’s community/destination marketing organization. An organization to which I had belonged in other communities for nearly 15 years didn’t have a Durham chapter because some folks in Raleigh had blackballed Durham by claiming their chapter was “regional,” hoping to perpetuate the myth that these two very separate and distinct communities were just one big place.

Understandably, having me as a member, with my express mission to protect and foster Durham’s identity, would have upset their agenda or been awkward to say the least. Anyway, I didn’t really have the time or desire to commute all over an area twice the size Rhode Island just to attend meetings as they rotated from community to community.

I was also blackballed by a Durham organization that could have used my expertise given their tendency to use tourism as a rationale. But apparently, as sources eventually volunteered, I just had “too much information” at my fingertips and besides powerbrokers, often non-residents, knew from past experience that when facts didn’t support a proposal, I just wasn’t a “go along to get along” kind of guy.

It may have been their loss but I definitely never needed “more meetings” to attend during my now-concluded four-decade career as a community marketing executive. While friends and family know I’m a bit of a hermit, I never went so far as the Groucho Marx quote that “he didn’t care to belong to a club that would have him as a member,” later made famous again by Woody Allen in one of my favorite movies, Annie Hall.

But the temptation to blackball is also why non-profits with self-appointed governing boards should beware of any members with that tendency or even those who might tolerate it. Any credible organization should also be very careful to insulate all qualifications, procedures, practices and policies from this schoolyardesque behavior.

In fact the whole idea of an entirely self-appointed board, either by policy or practice or maybe just from laziness is never a good idea. Like any form of incest, inbreeding always has serious consequences.

Public bodies in particular should avoid funding any organization that tolerates blackballing; and should there ever be a need to identify underlying reasons for any controversies surrounding a funded organization, the composition of its board and how it is appointed along with any evidence of blackballing might be the first place to investigate.

Remember, politics is personal, not logical.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Looking Back To A Pivotal Secret Meeting

The violence that met the first Freedom Riders 50 years ago had been brewing by then for more than 50 years coming to a full boil as Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office as President 110 years ago and then promptly met in secret, late one night, with Booker T. Washington, a former slave and nationally recognized educator and thought-leader on race relations.

By then nearly 50 years of Republican power brokering, with heavy-handed partisan and racially driven patronage with Federal jobs, had given that party control of all but two elected presidencies following the Civil War era contributing to the hardening and re-dividing of the south nearly back to where it was at the end of that war.454px-President_Theodore_Roosevelt,_1904

It is possible that both Roosevelt and Washington agreed with the assessment of rival William Jennings Bryan that “the extremes of society are being driven further and further apart” – a statement that had been reiterated repeatedly the year before on the campaign trail.

That late night both Roosevelt and Washington were chilled by the recent news of another lynching of a black man in the south – news that had grown all too frequent over the past decade, but this time the man had been burned alive at the stake with pieces of his liver cut up and sold as souvenirs.424px-Booker_T_Washington_retouched_flattened-crop

As Republicans are doing today in legislatures across the country, southern white Democrats had renewed restrictions on voting so that less than 1 in 1000 black men could vote.

Born just two years apart, Roosevelt and Washington were bonded even before that night by an explicit faith in the meritocracy favored and epitomized by some founders like Alexander Hamilton. Roosevelt proposed and Washington agreed to support:

  • Quality vs. quantity in future distribution of patronage

  • Appointment of racially moderate whites, Democrats where possible

  • Extension of these practices for the first time north of the Mason-Dixon line.

To make good, Roosevelt’s first official act a few weeks later was to appoint, on Washington’s recommendation, Thomas G. Jones as a Federal Judge. Jones was a former Confederate Army Major (who had been wounded four times and carried Lee’s sword at the surrender of his army to then-General Grant) and a two-term former Governor of Alabama who was racially moderate for the time having promoted fair election laws and opposed lynching.

And then all hell broke loose.

The subsequent vitriolic condescension from the southern press back then rivaled today’s flood of the same by conservative pundits following the election of the first African-American as President. The vitriolic condescension today is thinly disguised by questioning his birthplace, his grades to get into Harvard and by reverse projecting, as psychologists would term it, using the ludicrous claim that President Barack Obama hates white people.

Politicians in Raleigh at the time of Roosevelt’s and Washington’s agreement were already looking down their noses at Durham for “doing things differently,” a long-held community personality trait, as they did again only recently over the issue banning digital outdoor billboards. A Raleigh newspaper editorial back then had already opined as paraphrased, “have you seen what they are doing in Durham? Whites and blacks are working side by side on the same street, like a wild west town.”

Five years before Roosevelt and Washington made that agreement, Duke University, then known as Trinity College had become the first white southern university to have a black man speak, let alone speak on racial issues, as Washington did on campus after receiving an invitation from the college’s students.

Then nine years after the meeting with Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington returned to Durham for the founding of what is now North Carolina Central University and lauded the approach the black business community was taking by making racial harmony a beacon for other communities, north and south.

Things certainly weren’t perfect in Durham then, nor today, but we’ve always done things differently and we were definitely going a different direction than much of the south.

Roosevelt and Washington, if they lived today, would each be just as controversial.

As he did just a little more than 100 years ago, Roosevelt today would be railing at members of his party who are attempting to dismantle environmental protections, strip consumer protections, disrespect labor, fuel anti-immigrant sentiments, enable greedy mega-corporations, limit early voting and in general make it harder for students and others to vote.

Washington’s philosophy would be far closer today to Dr. Shelby Steele’s as expressed in the controversial book The Content of Our Character, a title taken from Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, than to those who seem intent only on counting how many seats or positions they control only to discover, it doesn’t secure change.

Roosevelt and Washington firmly believed in government’s pivotal role in providing the foundation for social mobility.

Born in privilege, Theodore Roosevelt learned the importance of social mobility to making a nation great from his famously humanitarian father who believed, even in an era when the idle rich were truly idle, that everyone, regardless of a heavy work schedule, should devote one or two days a week to helping those less fortunate.

He was the first of the nation’s then 26 Presidents to be born and raised in a big city and he welcomed the cacophony of different cultures and ethnicities.

He was also the first President in the words of trilogic-biographer Edmund Morris “to mingle both Union and Confederate blood” and wanted the south, in his own words, back in “full communion.”

It is likely that during his 1896 ground-breaking speech in Durham, the first at a southern white university, that Booker T. Washington reiterated a metaphor he coined the year before and one still famously adapted today by four-time-national champion Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski to describe the importance of teamwork: “we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

Two years after the Roosevelt and Washington meetings set off such an uproar throughout the south, a white professor at the same southern white school here in Durham set off another by writing in a southern quarterly that “Booker T. Washington is the greatest man, save General [Robert E.] Lee, born in the south in a hundred years…”

Two years later, during a visit to Durham, Roosevelt praised Professor John Spencer Bassett’s courage and the university for supporting him in a speech noting the importance of academic freedom. The great man visited Durham one last time, accepting a rare honorary degree less than a year before his death in 1919.

Hopefully, we can emerge from the extremes in today’s society that seem to also be driving us further and further apart by adapting to today’s bitter partisanship and extremism the dream Washington articulated for blacks during a speech in Durham:

“We are to live in the South together, black and white, and it is sometimes helpful for us to speak directly and frankly to each other. When two races are to live in the same country, the sensible policy to pursue is to do everything that will promote good will and friendship rather than enmity and discord. In every part of North Carolina I want to see the Negro get to the point where he will not be merely tolerated in any community, but he will render such fine and valuable services that he will actually be wanted in every community.”

May God bless America with more leaders like Teddy Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Too Many in Tourism May Suffer Lack of Mental Character

Too often tourism interests are viewed as superficial because, well, they often are!  Something that sets apart the “best from the rest” among community/destination marketing executives across the country these days is the ability to be “selfless.”

Take outdoor billboards for instance.  Ostensibly useful, cute and quaint in the century before last, today in obsolescence, scientific surveys show billboards are viewed by 7 out of 10 residents as a detraction from communities and a defacement of the scenic landscape.

Unlike the value of other advertising that, beyond the advertiser’s message, subsidizes the creation of or access to overall content in newspapers and magazines and on television, radio and the Internet, billboards provide no valued-added content in return for the desecration they cause while contributing to the ad clutter that is dramatically eroding the  effectiveness of all advertising and creating a backlash among consumers.188186_147711958629510_4221682_n

So you’d think that opposing outdoor billboards and working for their elimination should be a slam dunk for tourism interests and especially community/destination marketing execs, right?

But while many acknowledge the threat, instead of showing leadership and speaking out selflessly on behalf of the very destinations upon which they rely, the majority of tourism interests and DMO execs alike sit on their hands, as a group did recently in North Carolina  because, “oh my,” by speaking up they might lose some donated advertising space.

Equally pathetic, in another very scenic state out west, a DMO bragged about using a digital billboard to communicate the very importance of the tourism, which billboards, by their nature, desecrate.  Tourism isn’t alone in the failure to “get it.”  Other types of organizations, even in communities that ban billboards, like mine, will slip their use in proposals for public funding right under the noses of elected officials.

Don’t get me wrong, the failure by many tourism interests to “get it” has nothing to do with IQ or mental force but it definitely shows a lack of mental character including the courage to “selflessly” defend destination integrity.

So if your community is seeking “best from the rest” leadership in its pursuit of visitor-centric economic and cultural development, look for someone with courage, mental character and the ability to be “selfless.”

For anyone feeling deficient, science shows selflessness can be “learned,” but courage and passion, probably not.  And as a tourism blogger often laments, “just plain stooopid is forever.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Alarming Decline In The Effectiveness of Advertising

Many years ago, a well-connected member of the governing board for the community/destination marketing organization for which I was chief executive at the time, came to a meeting after having been cornered by one or two people in the community who were always complaining around town (but not to me) that we needed to run big advertising campaigns and do less of everything else, forgoing the proven advantage of data-based-decision making.

During the meeting, with a wry smile she suddenly and loudly asked, “why do we have to do all of this marketing, let’s just place some aaayyuddds”  Everybody at the meeting burst out laughing along with her not only because of her delightful accent but because, as it turned out, many knew she wasn’t the first to be cornered.

Before once again going back over the research and marketing intelligence underlying that part of the organization’s marketing blueprint, I tried to break the tension by using the humorous quote attributed to John Wanamaker, who pioneered modern marketing in the late 19th Century, when he said “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”a_decline_in_sales_indicated_by_a_red_down_arrow_and_a_blue_bar_graph_0515-1009-1002-2239_SMU

Today, it’s more like 1%, instead of Wanamaker’ 50%, that is effective according to experts like Seth Godin.

And a study of several decades of advertising by researchers at Southern Methodist and the University of Southern Californian which shows that the ability of a 1% increase in advertising to generate increased sales or market share has now fallen to a median of .5 and an average of .12, down dramatically since 1980.

However, advertising is not only still a very significant element of marketing, it is the engine that subsidizes the creation of and access to a huge amount of valuable content via the Internet and on radio and television and in publications including newspapers.

But determining where and how much to advertise is certainly no slam dunk.  When durable goods like cars and appliances are excluded, the elasticity index even dips into the negative meaning an alarming 43% of all advertising is unproductive.

That’s probably why a recent survey shows that while 55% of small businesses intend to increase marketing, more than any area of expense, only 13% will focus on traditional advertising such as TV, radio, print and billboards, while more than 60% plan to focus on web-based marketing and advertising or a blend.

Even online, frustration with ad clutter not only causes consumers to tune out but studies show that by a 6 to 1 ratio they are likely to view the advertisers less favorably, with nearly a third viewing them much less favorably.

To use an example Godin gives to determine the true cost: consider that someone selling space on an outdoor billboard claims that it will be seen by 100,000 people, it really means that the slightly more than one in ten advertisers who may be interested must divide the cost by the 1,000 people it may impact and then further by the percentage that could be likely prospects.

A recent survey showed that fewer than 1 in 10 North Carolinians make use of ads on outdoor billboards once a week and 7 out 10 never use them and consider them a detraction from their communities and the scenic beauty of the state.  For advertisers is it really worth offending seven potential customers to reach one?

Billboards may not be a good example because they don’t subsidize any value-added content beyond the ads themselves the way advertising does via the Internet, in newspapers and magazines and on television or radio.

A once useful and quaint medium in the early 1900s, billboards, often now referred to as “litter on a stick” have become an obsolete and unnecessarily amplify the ad clutter that is so much a part of why the value of advertising overall is so severely diminished.

Rather than react defensively, for advertising to survive, the vast $300+ billion advertising-industrial complex in this country alone, including agencies and news and information mediums and related associations, need to collectively self-regulate within to:

  • Retire obsolete technologies and those offering little or no content,
  • Reduce advertising clutter,
  • Adopt and self regulate standards requiring ad rates to be quoted per impression and indexed to advertiser target audiences and,
  • Cast out charlatans who publish only as a guise to cram in as many ads as possible at the expense of distribution and content.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Morning Baseball Reverie

Wednesday morning, before lunch, I took in a Durham Bulls baseball game. Yup, the only one they will play in the morning this year and it was cool, overcast but not rainy and before the humidity set in during the afternoon.

I like baseball because it is different than other spectator sports and entertainment options. It does seem unusual to go by yourself. You can find a seat with some elbow room and hear yourself think. The pace is such that you can tune in and out without feeling guilty, text, leave your seat without inconveniencing other spectators or distracting the performance and roam around the facility, shopping and eating and still catch most of the excitement.KerryReynGary and Jex

That morning game also transported me back more than 50 years to my first organized baseball games as a player. I was on a team with my two best friends, Gary and Kerry shown in the image with this blog (that’s me in the flattop sandwiched between Kerry on my right, Gary on my left with Jex, Kerry’s older brother on the end.)

We practiced in an empty lot. Gary’s dad Ed was the coach and got guaranteed laughs by frequently appearing to grab an imaginary fly out of the air, tossing it to the ground and stomping on it before he pitched, until one day his watch came off and he stomped on it by accident. Nobody laughed.

I think I played second base but I don’t really remember. I must have played catcher at one time because I wasn’t wearing a mask and got clobbered in the lip by the follow through of a mighty swing.

I was a pretty good hitter, mostly because my Dad had taught me to hit both right and left handed during hours of practice in the backyard after learning that I wasn’t a pure lefty and preferred to play sports right handed.

I remember how scruffy we all felt when we played the team in a small town settled by Germans and they had real uniforms and a grass field. The name of the town was a Native American term for “hole in the ground.” We beat them, twice, teaching us that looks aren’t everything.

I remember getting two home runs when we played the team in the tiny town where my dentist was located. Coincidentally, all of the fillings in my teeth were put in that year. I told my Dad at dinner that it was ten just to make sure he was impressed. He wasn’t and I got a lecture on boastfulness, humility, exaggeration and about everything else I think.

After more than three years of lessons, I had quit piano earlier that year to play on that team after my Mom caught me staring out the window when I was supposed to be practicing and gave me an ultimatum. I sure wish I had grasped the concept of being able to do both back then.

I wonder what Gary and Kerry are up to now in their 60s? Oh, and just so you know I didn’t daydream the entire game away on Wednesday morning. The Durham Bulls beat the Indianapolis Indians 1 to 0 on a home run once again by Justin Ruggiano, only instead of his fourth walk-off, it was a walk-on in the first inning.

I definitely think the Bulls should have more morning games each spring, after all, research shows that 70% of humans are most alert in the morning, only 10% are foggy until afternoon and 20% don’t come alive until after 6 p.m.!

Oh well, the next one I’m attending starts just 5 minutes after morning’s end and you don’t have to be too alert for reverie. One of the joys of retirement is a flexible schedule!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Educating Governing Board Members About Cabals

Cabals are very small groups, typically three or four people, who conspire to control, co-opt or undermine organizations outside the normal channels of influence, decision making and policy, usually for pecuniary gain but sometimes out of boredom.

Many people who fall into cabals by association with a ring leader not by intent or conspiracy but the result unfortunately is the same, a pain in the butt and a tremendous waste of productivity to the organization.

During a nearly four-decade long career as a CEO for organizations in three different communities, I gained experience dealing directly with five or six cabals that I know of and several others while serving on other boards. Some were entirely internal to the governing boards, others fronted for outside special interests.

Hey, as Joseph Heller wrote in Catch 22, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Here are ten clues that may help CEOs and, more importantly, governing board members for organizations learn to recognize, avoid and disarm cabals:

  • Cabals try to avoid processing concerns directly to or through chief executives, preferring end-runs instead that will paint the executive into a corner or in extreme cases behead the organization.

  • Cabals prefer opinions, especially their own, to information-based decision making and firmly believe they are smarter.

  • Cabals form around a consistent ring leader but members may change over time and even be innocent to the primary motive or ulterior motive.

  • Cabals prefer the push and shove of politics to logic or best practices and appear to disrespect organizational codes of ethics and governing board job descriptions.

  • Cabals rarely read or don’t read to digest content or for understanding, sometimes for plausible deniability, so they can continue to resurrect the same concern to new faces.

  • Cabals disrespect normal channels for giving input or resolving concerns and dismiss any answer, no matter how well grounded, that doesn’t go their way.

  • Cabals disrespect and seek to undermine governing boards, sometimes blackballing others or using internal factions and rump sessions or by fronting for outside special interests.

  • Cabals can be persistent, trying again and again, often over a number of years, probing for new or unsuspecting board members misrepresenting that governing responsibilities must include content expertise.

  • Cabals are equally prevalent among public, private or non-profit sector individuals and sometimes involve a combination.

  • Cabals are best disarmed when board members respond by arranging a face to face meeting with the chief executive and then helping the executive report the results to the full board including naming the individuals involved.

Cabals have little fear of being revealed or of participants “paying a price” because, by nature, organizations want to avoid controversy and embarrassment. They are often governed by business people immediately focused on keeping the “boat from rocking,” bored adrenalin junkies stirred by any excitement or controversy and elected officials who are glad to have company given the state of partisan politics.

Cabals are protected most by sound-bite-understaffed-he said-she said-conflict-fueled news coverage that given limitations just won’t be able to distill or pinpoint the reality.

The best way to avoid or quickly disarm cabals quickly is to thoroughly orient board members on how to immediately identify them and redirect their concerns through proper channels.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Earning Word-of-Mouth Enthusiasm

Accolades are nothing new to Durham including those received by DPAC-the Durham Performing Arts Center.Capture

Similar to Durham’s celebrated restaurants, the Museum of Life & Science, the Carolina Theater, Duke Performances, Durham Bulls, college basketball and football games and many other Durham visitor features and festivals, nearly 70% of the people attending DPAC performances are visitors.

This alone is compelling testimony of the vitality of Durham as a destination, but DPAC is excelling at earning another key tribute and that is the willingness of attendees to recommend the facility to others.

A testament to the great work done by Bob Klaus and his staff at Nederlander/PFM who operate DPAC for the City of Durham and the many volunteers including Durham Wayfinders is the fact that out of 30,580 survey responses by attendees during the 2010-2011 season, nearly 98% will recommend the facility to others and an astonishing 78.4% are extremely likely to do so (click on chart in this blog to enlarge for more detail.)

It is one thing for a community and its collective assets, spearheaded by its community/destination marketing organization, to get on the list for consideration and then draw visitors but it is quite another to fulfill or exceed the expectations necessary to generate word-of-mouth marketing and enthusiasm.

DPAC is doing both and the secret, in the words of general manager Bob Klaus, is “…friendly and passionate people who revel in helping people,” which just happens to reflect two of the multiple values inherent in Durham’s overarching personality as encompased by the community’s brand signature, “Durham – Where Great Things Happen.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Proposal To Eliminate Poverty Without Spending One Dime More Than We Do Now

“Poverty is a consequence” was the opening statement at a luncheon presentation yesterday by Dr. Michael Munger, a former libertarian candidate for Governor of North Carolina and director of Duke University’s joint Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program with the University of North Carolina.

Munger’s speech was the perfect bookend to one by Gene Nichol last fall at the same weekly luncheon.

Americans ranked “Helping poor people” the second highest area where they believe we need more government spending and Dr. Munger presented some interesting information that may explain why, in the same opinion poll, Americans also want less spent on welfare:

  • In constant 2007 dollars those with the lowest 20% in terms of income in this country today have double the income they had when I was born in 1948.

  • The line currently below which people are considered poor is $11,200. What some term our “welfare state” current spends $16,480 per poor person. Of course a good chunk of that feeds the bureaucracy and never makes it to poor people.

  • The $550 billion the US government spends on means-tested programs to reduce poverty (excluding Medicaid spending for nursing home residents) is enough, if distributed quarterly each year directly to poor people, to eliminate poverty altogether.

  • Currently aid distribution through various programs collectively reduces the poverty rate less than 1% while perpetuating a huge bureaucracy, lobbyists and political capital.

Dr. Munger believes we could do more, much more and touched on some solutions. He noted that part of the problem is that capitalism is arbitrary and cited some including what trickle-down-guru David Stockman terms today’s disemboweled, off-shored economy on Main Street.

He seems to agree with George Washington’s farewell-speech caution (co-authored by Alexander Hamilton) about the dangers inherent in self-perpetuating political parties given as he departed from office after his second term as the nation’s first President.

Dr. Munger is a proponent of tax reform to close loopholes. He seemed to agree that poverty is a problem of wealth and distribution, not rich vs. poor. He pointed out examples showing that the rich had merely worked the political system to their advantage and he was much tougher on elected officials for playing the politics that permits it.

Dr. Munger touched on our collective reluctance as a society to “trust” poor people to do the right thing if the funds to eliminate poverty were distributed directly.

I couldn’t help but think, as he concluded, that Dr. Munger may agree with an assessment David Brooks wrote so eloquently in The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, published just two months ago:

“…freedom should not be the ultimate end of politics. The ultimate focus of political activity is the character of the society. Political, religious, and social institutions influence the unconscious choice architecture undergirding behavior. They can create settings that nurture virtuous choices or they can create settings that undermine them…

…You can pump money into poor areas, but without cultures that foster self-control, you won’t get social mobility….Everything came down to character, and that meant everything came down to relationships, because relationships are the seedbeds of character.

The reason life and politics are so hard is that relationships are the most important, but also the most difficult, things to understand….character and culture really shape behavior, and… government could, in limited ways shape culture and character.

…government should not run people’s lives. That only weakens the responsibility and virtue of the citizens. But government could influence the setting in which lives are lived. Government could, to some extent, nurture settings that serve as nurseries for fraternal relationships. It could influence the spirit of the citizenry…

…The social fabric is based on the idea that effort leads to reward. But very often, government rewards people who have not put in the effort. It does this with good intentions…and it does it with venal intentions…By separating effort from reward, they pollute the atmosphere. They send the message the system is rigged and society is corrupt.

…Aristotle wrote that legislators habituate citizens. Whether they mean to or not, legislators encourage certain ways of living and discourage other ways.

Statecraft is inevitably soulcraft.”

Monday, May 09, 2011

A DMO Best Practice To Measure Cultural Cost/Benefit Gaps

An important bottom line for community/destination marketing organizations (DMOs) is to close gaps and a gap that isn’t measured is nearly impossible to close.Cultural Gaps

That’s why I was intrigued while surfing, as I periodically do, through Durham’s research portal to see that the DMO in my hometown continues to improve on a best practice of measuring the gaps related to cultural facilities like museums, theaters, ballparks and convention centers that are meant in part to be closed by drawing visitors and taxable visitor spending (click here or on the chart in this blog to enlarge.)

It is a best practice other DMOs are increasingly noting because the Durham organization digs out of various parts of local government budgets, not only the more superficial gaps related to “operating” costs, but also both one-time capital expenses and long-term construction debt service.

The chart is also noteworthy because it also nets out the costs against local tax revenue generated by visitor spending related to each facility, both prompted (main purpose of the trip) or opportunistic (during trips for other purposes.)

It would be great if local governments across the country made this easier to do, not just for cultural infrastructure, but also for other infrastructure as well including tree canopy, streets, sewer and water etc.

It is short-sighted and unfair to single out cultural infrastructure with the expectation that it pays for itself when it is every bit as crucial to the overall vitality of any community as those that aren’t, such as streets, water and sewer treatment plants and tree canopy.

Too often their focus seems to be just on divvying up the general fund and the lack of overall context typically results in news portrayals that make it appear that officials are “playing favorites” by playing up some cultural facilities and coming down on others without ever providing a complete and “apples to apples” type of comparison.

That local governments don’t do this is more about habit, inertia and practice than anything purposeful.  And they are also currently a bit preoccupied by significant challenges as the Federal and State governments make drastic cuts, ostensibly to reduce deficits but often in reality just shifting the burden to the same taxpayers but at the local level.

Come to think of it, a version of this chart should also apply to any cuts at the Federal and State level making it clear which costs are truly being cut while demonstrating any related revenues and economic impact that will be surrendered as a result and which costs and responsibilities are merely being shifted down to another level.

Taxpayers along with “booster socialists” need to realize there is no free-lunch.  DMOs are charged with the task of broadening the tax burden by drawing in visitor-related spending.  This results in closing “gaps” between benefit and if more DMOs did what Durham’s is doing they’d have a much clearer picture of that challenge.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Two Differences About This New Wave of Durham Lodging Construction

Durham, North Carolina is poised for another burst of growth in its number of lodging guest rooms.  With properties currently underway, including the Hampton Inn & Suites opening later this year next to Northgate Mall, the current 7,650 will expand to 8,600+ by mid-decade.

Net older lodging properties that were retired for various reasons over the past two decades, this represents a nearly 200% increase since Durham began to emerge as a visitor destination, spearheaded by formation of a destination marketing organization.

Lodging represents only 2% of all tourism-sector organizations and collectively reaps just 19% of overall visitor spending.  But it is an interesting indicator to watch because new guest rooms are built only in response to a community’s current and future visitor vitality and typically only after demand has been generated to justify them.Residence Inn - McPherson

With far less developable land, the City of Durham may be 79% smaller in population than Raleigh, one of the core cities for the next metro over.  But currently with 43% more lodging guest rooms per 1,000 residents, city to city, Durham may be growing smarter as a destination for visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

Two things are different with this burst of Durham guest room expansion.  One, nearly 300 guest rooms will be located in Downtown Durham, doubling inventory there and exceeding the historic peak in 1970.

More significantly, we’re also seeing the first time a world-wide lodging chain will emulate Durham’s architectural sense of place.  This isn’t the first visitor-related facility to emulate Durham’s sense of place - that status belongs to The Streets at Southpoint and Main Street.

It is no surprise though that George Stanziale is involved with shaping the design of both projects.

The 145-room Residence Inn in the Brightleaf Square District will not only embed the façade of the historic 1926 McPherson Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital but appears to me to emulate an adapted-reuse-remnant of Erwin Mills that stretches along Ninth Street on the other side of Duke’s East Campus and complement the wonderful adaptive re-use of The Kings Daughters Inn around the corner.

I’m not an architectural expert but I’ve had some experience with place-making.  While I doubt the hotel’s design allays every neighborhood concern, I know from working with chains of all types over the years how unique it is for lodging developers in particular to go to this extent to pick up complementary architectural details in new construction, even though it makes much better sense from a business viewpoint.

Local governments should be setting an example but it seems to me that all too often officials back themselves into a corner with their own construction by getting too far along in the “needs” process before factoring into specifications for architects the importance of scale and design in historic and cultural districts, as evidenced by several recent projects in Durham.

That’s just one reason I’m very heartened by the appointment of Bob Ashley as the executive at Preservation Durham.  Using invaluable private resources like award-winning Endangered Durham, I hope PD, under Bob’s leadership and with the backing of the Durham Heritage Alliance co-anchored with DCVB can persuade local officials to seriously address the need both in the public and private sectors to have Durham thoroughly inventoried both by neighborhood but also by period and type of architecture.

Only when we specify as a community what we truly must preserve can we successfully protect the “built” aspect of our unique sense of place.  To do that we need to also identify what we won’t be able to preserve while ensuring stringent design policies for private developers and local government developments alike.

Trying to protect everything on an ad hoc basis will ultimately just sap our enthusiasm and support for preservation while discouraging good developers.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

So Where Do Americans Want More or Less Government Spending?

I like this observation made two weeks ago about the now official Republican budget/deficit reduction proposal from a senior official in President Reagan’s very conservative Republican administration and former Republican member of the House of Representatives:

“Trapped between the religion of low taxes and the reality of huge deficits, the Ryan plan appears to be an attack on the poor in order to coddle the rich.  To the Democrats’ invitation to class war, the Republicans have seemingly sent an R.S.V.P.”

norc_logo_colorPoliticians aside, for anyone actually caring about the spending priorities of the American people, I recommend an annual scientific opinion poll I’ve been following each year since 1973, the year after I graduated from college.

Fielded by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, the results are formulate by taking the percentage wanting more spent in an area and netting out the percentage thinking too much is spent in that area.

For those who don’t want to read the year to year trends for each spending area from 1973 to 2010, here are the most recent top ten priorities where American people want more government spending:

+68.6% Education (remember, these are ranked by the net of those thinking we spend too little and those who think we spend too much)

+57.6% Assistance to the Poor

+51.2% Crime Reduction

+48.9% Social Security

+48.5% Environment

+46.0% Drug Use

+43.8% Childcare Assistance

+41.4% Healthcare

+39.1% Drug Rehabilitation

+36.4% Law Enforcement

American priorities for more or less spending over time are certainly not on automatic pilot.  But Education has been a top spending priority since 1989.  Improving Healthcare was number one in 2004 and second from 2006-2008 and now following healthcare insurance reform has dropped to eight.

Assistance to the poor was the tenth priority in 1996 and second this year but  Americans think less needs to be spent on welfare.

Republicans at the state and national level are well wide of the mark with current attempts to cut or gut environmental protection which has ranked in the top five priorities for “more” spending each of the last five years.

As for two other areas the Republican caucus has seemed to resist, roads and bridges and mass transportation at the 11th and 12th priorities for more spending, still very high.

If politicians are truly looking for places Americans think less needs to be spent, the survey reveals those as well – beginning with defense, welfare and foreign aid.