Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy XMas

Infographic: Gaming The System

Click here to view this info graphic full-size

Friday, December 23, 2011

Predictors For Littering Behavior

Over the years I’ve learned through scientific research how a very few people can drive a significant problem, so I wasn't surprised when I read some new research on the behavior of littering.

For instance, during my now-concluded career in community marketing, only a little more than 11% of the residents of Wake County where Raleigh, the state’s second largest city is located have a negative or very negative image of Durham, where I live.

But those 1 in 10 who are negative generate enough noise to make nearly 30% of the population in that adjacent county believe that, based on the way people talk, they would expect a negative experience in Durham. They also create apprehension in another 30% and tranfer those impressions to businesses seeking to relocate to Durham and to visitors to Durham arriving through the jointly-owned airport and even via news reports.

Similarly with litter, a very small percentage of people can drive a problem that has serious consequences.littering study

During 2008, for a report published in 2009, Action Research used observations, intercepts and telephone interviews to help Keep America Beautiful unwrap and target the behaviors behind littering.  In one segment researchers observed nearly 10,000 individuals across 130 different locations divided across 10 different states evenly split between rural, urban and suburban settings, including 30 different cities, and nine different types of locations including fast food, recreation, gas stations, city centers, rest stops, medical/hospital, restaurants/bars, retail, etc.

Even though more than 90% of the locations had trash receptacles located in plain view, 81% of the littering occurred with notable intent.  Four percent of the individuals observed were litterers and another 17% disposed but improperly.  Overwhelmingly individuals held the view that littering is wrong, even those who had just been observed littering.

Only two variables emerged in the findings as statistically significant predictors of littering, 1) availability of disposal receptacles and 2) the amount of litter already present.  The second of these is a wake-up call for officials in Durham, North Carolina, where I live.

Possibly lulled at some point in the past by the incredible levels of Durham resident pride, satisfaction, and image of their community, officials began to neglect general upkeep of roadsides and medians and public buildings and spaces.  In time the neglect became a standard operating procedure betrayed only by how well maintained the southeast part of the community encompassing Research Triangle Park and the nearby jointly-owned airport remained.

However, officials back then and since may have failed to account that litter is not just generated by residents, but also by 3 out of 5 people working in Durham, who are nonresidents and there are another 6.9 million visitors to Durham each year.  It is widely known that even individuals who are diligent about litter at home can be much less so when away from home, especially when litter begets more littering.

But most importantly, this now institutionalized permissiveness of neglect failed to reckon that neglect such as litter leads to other problems such as signaling to petty criminals that no one's in charge and even providing a screen behind which major crime can fester.

The lesson is that a very small part of the population can generate a  problem which has serious consequences such as litter, if not addressed. One of the nicest presents officials can give the residents of Durham in the new year is the resumption to best practices of the general upkeep of roadsides and public spaces to best practices.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gaming The System

Fortunately, I was able to read the EPA news release yesterday about new standards for coal-fired plants before I read some of the reactions in news reports, many of them knee-jerk.

In North Carolina, about 67% of our electricity is still generated from coal-fired plants. One plant located in another county an hour’s drive north of Durham where I live and operated by a company based in nearby Raleigh is fed by about 150-200 train cars of coal brought to that one plant from West Virginia each day.

There are approximately 600 coal-fired plants across the nation.

The new and long overdue EPA standards brought to mind two reports I read earlier this year, with interviews with two retiring utility executives. In one interview in the Wall Street Journal with John Rowe, who headed the third-largest utility in the nation caught my attention with this quote about coal-fired plants gaming the system:

“…people with the old coal plants are gaming the system."

Mr. Rowe likens these plants to a "'49 Chevy" and explains that "there's been a big game of chicken in the industry because utilities have known these rules were coming for more than a decade" under the Clean Air Act, "and most of the utilities actually spent the money to get their plants somewhere close to compliance. We think about 60% of the coal fleet is. But some just decided to gamble. They just made one very big bet that these rules weren't gonna ever happen."

Mr. Rowe continues that "We object to their continuing to keep the market price down with plants that they're not going to clean up at all. We object to people running the plants just so they can trade shutting them down to some politician for building a new plant somewhere else."

The "real enemy here," Mr. Rowe continues, “isn't the EPA.”

Another interview a few months earlier on with Dick Kelly as he retired as CEO of Xcel, another large utility was equally insightful, especially when he said something the interviewer noted “would get him booted from the utility country club:”

"I'd be OK if there were never any more coal."

Both utility execs are optimistic about short-term and long-term alternatives to coal. As we bring now obsolete-coal to an end, we need to learn from two pivotal mistakes the Reagan Administration made in the 1980s and the ramifications of which we are still living with today.

They eliminated energy research, which had been implemented during the energy crisis of the 1970s and would by now have yielded energy independence.  In their zeal to downsize government they also failed to grasp at the dawn of globalization, the crucial importance of increasing government funding to reeducate people working in declining industries.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Strengths and Threats to Resident Attachment to Durham

(Reposted from Durham News Service)

For nearly two decades DCVB has used scientific polling to annually track things like community pride and satisfaction among residents. It has provided indisputable confirmation of the passion Durham residents feel about their community.  This is important to destination marketing because residents make emotional connections with visitors, and their engagement is key to delivering a successful Durham experience.

Durham was an early pioneer of this type of assessment as a means to monitor the resident attachment and engagement which is so important to the strength of a community.  In fact, there were no benchmarks to compare to except on the few occasions DCVB would sample opinions about similar communities in North Carolina.

Recently, though, the Knight Foundation and the Gallup Poll conducted a similar series surveys of 26 areas of varying sizes across the nation over a three-year period ending last year.

  • Passion and loyalty turn out to be the most important indicators of resident attachment to their communities or connectedness which correlates with economic health.
  • Compared to the overall passion benchmark of barely 1 to1 nationwide and in North Carolina, Durham passion among residents for the community is nearly 15 to 1.
  • In the measure of loyalty to community, which includes how likely residents are to stay and recommend it to others and the outlook for the future, Durham residents are three times higher than the benchmark. Overall attachment to Durham was more than double the next highest community in the benchmark.

The Knight/Gallup analysis also revealed something that threatens to erode resident attachment to Durham if not remedied. With only one glaring exception, among the dozen or so attributes that drive attachment, Durham was above or at the benchmark.

The three most important drivers for the benchmark were identified as 1) social offerings, which includes nightlife, restaurants, arts and culture, and caring about one another etc. 2) openness to different groups and 3) aesthetics, in that order.

  • In the area of social offerings Durham residents ranked the community 2.3 times higher than the benchmark.
  • In the area of openness Durham residents also ranked the community 2.3 times higher than the benchmark.
  • However, in the area of aesthetics, which by 4 to 1 Durham residents rank a as a high community priority, Durham ranks more than 4 times lower than the benchmark.

While by a ratio of 5 to 1 Durham residents rank the community high for availability of parks, playgrounds and trails, by 3 to 1 they disagree that roadsides and public areas are attractive and litter free. By 2.5 to 1 they disagree that Durham has good signs and way-finding to help people get around. And the longer people live in the community, the more they disagree with Durham’s standing on these last two measures.

Clearly Durham residents believe that if officials want to protect and improve the attachment and connectedness among residents then the element they most need to improve is the overall upkeep and aesthetics of the community.

Improving aesthetics will also help improve other drivers of attachment. Experts conducting regression analysis predict that if officials can engage in activities that improve resident perception of aesthetics from the current 2.45 on a scale of 1 to 5 or to 3.45, it will also improve the perception of education by 25% and the perception of overall basic services by 51%.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Embedding The Importance of Appearance

A few years ago when a former Durham city manager asked my opinion about resurrecting Keep Durham Beautiful my initial reaction was that it couldn't hurt but I also thought to myself “here we go again”… taking an anecdotal or project approach versus a strategic and holistic approach to restoring aesthetics to its rightful status.

Under my breath I may have muttered “why don't we make it beautiful and then we can worry about keeping it beautiful.”  However, one aspect, caught my attention. KDB was resurrected as a hybrid with its staff embedded in City General Services, now so ably headed by Joel Reitzer and the agency most responsible for general upkeep of the community, while working with and at the direction of a public-private Board of Directors and deploying both public and private funds.

To me the resurrected KDB further evolved the genius of the formula that has made Downtown Durham, Inc. a success.  DDI is a nonprofit almost wholly funded by the City and County to then turn around and lobby the City and County to do what has been needed to rehabilitate and revitalize downtown Durham.  One of the most important contributions of DDI was that it incessantly kept Downtown in the focus of every public agency.

DDI was able to help close gaps created by the natural tendency of agencies to become silos, something common as well in large corporations. Being embedded in General Services KDB had the potential to be even more effective at closing gaps and advocating in general for upkeep and beautification across every agency, both City and County.

KDB has now completed the bumpy road every start up must successfully navigate.  It is poised for new leadership for this next phase. While the organization has been successful at a range of anecdotal projects it has also helped close some gaps between agencies and programs and to begin to restore the overall profile of general community appearance within Durham's local governments.

Now, together with allies that also grasp the overarching significance of appearance to a community such as the Durham Appearance Advocacy Group, Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, Scenic North Carolina, and the Durham Appearance Commission, KDB is poised to help the City and County reestablish a strategic approach to the mutual obligation of scenic preservation, restoration and maintenance.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Making Recycling Inclusive

Durham, North Carolina is having great success with the larger capacity rollout recycling carts but other than a experiment in the city manager's office, I'm not sure when we will move to reverse recycling.  I saw this in action during a visit to my daughter and grandsons in Salt Lake City, Utah where they now have the same large recycling cart, but a very small cart for garbage.

The other day I asked a recycling executive with the City of Durham why it is that I see businesses like dry cleaners collecting plastic wrapping for recycling but that our curbside recycling does not accept that same content like many other cities do. I didn't get an answer or even an acknowledgment that this doesn't make sense or that this will be remedied in the near future.

It isn't just dry cleaners. The same is true with recycling electronics.  It isn't enough to just ask people to take those items back to the store where they purchased them or to keep track of periodic recycling days held in store parking lots.  If communities want households to efficiently recycle, they need to make far more frequent and timely adjustments to the types of items they accept  at curbside.

In the meantime it never hurts to communicate with residents why it is the City can't take something curbside and how long it will be before that will be remedied.  Once people are educated to recycle it is natural for them to expect that everything that is recyclable will be included.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Infographic: Almost Accurate

There are several things to note when clicking through to see the full infographic below created by Newsweek magazine about airports:

  • It illustrates why deregulation has resulted in cheaper fares, but also problems with airline profitability that has resulted in a decrease in service to many smaller communities.  Instead of tweaking the system, we went from one extreme to the other.  Deregulation is not a silver bullet.


  • Different than many charts of this type graphic artists attempted to truly list airports in about half of the instances but substituted the names of cities in the others to step in the right direction.  The names of airports and cities are rarely synonymous.


  • Makes one wonder if the list of popular destinations is a list of destinations or just a list of airports.  Airports never serve just one community, either outbound or inbound. Their catchment areas always include dozens if not dozens of dozens of distinct community destinations. No one has  an airport as a final destination except the airline.

airports infographics by Newsweek magazineInfographic by Newsweek magazine

Friday, December 16, 2011

Just What Happened Anyway?

Many people who have been kind enough to follow this blog noticed that I resumed posting yesterday after an absence of six weeks or so. Other than occasional family history blogs, I'm not really that comfortable talking about myself. But it would be selfish not to share an update.

Six weeks ago, in an instant, I stepped backwards off a landing and fell down a flight of stairs. I must've twisted in the air and somehow came down on my hand and wrist. Miraculously, I didn't hurt my back. But I did some serious damage to a knee and split my scalp along one brow deep enough to require 15 stitches and also shattered my wrist and broke off to of the bones in my arm the two bones in my arm just above the wrist.

The break didn't penetrate the skin but as I felt something to stop the bleeding on my forehead, I noticed that my arm and wrist were grossly misshapen. I'm 63 years old and this is my first broken bone. There wasn't much pain until, as explained in the ambulance, the muscles in my arm tried to move the two broken bones from just under the little finger back closer to the my thumb where they belonged.

In a flash I was in the suite in the Duke University Hospital emergency room where I would stay for nine hours while teams of doctors followed by medical residents and fourth year medical students and nurses sewed me back up, made certain with scans that nothing else was damaged that wasn't visible and moved my arm and wrist back into place while I watched in real time on a monitor and then finally, they immobilized everything with a giant cast.

Images of the break were immediately sent to Dr. Allen at Duke who skipped the usual consult and squeezed me into the schedule for surgery five days later. She skillfully inserted what looked like seven of the screws up into the wrist and another seven down the bones in the arm along with a plate and sent me home with a much smaller cast.

I took myself off the heavy painkillers within three days. Within a week of the surgery I was back in to see Dr. Allen where I got a cast I could remove when needed such as showering and began physical therapy therapy. I was also cleared to fly out west over Thanksgiving to meet my daughter and two grandsons, and mother at my sister and brother-in-law's house in Mill Creek, Washington.

Four weeks after the surgery I was given permission to eliminate the cast and put on even more difficult physical therapy and given a glove to compress swelling. In another week, or so the bones should've hardened around the screws and plates.

Still don't have enough mobility in the wrist or enough feeling in the last two fingers to be able to type so I am using Dragon premier which turns my natural speaking voice into text. I've been using a keyboard to compose since I was a sophomore in high school and people have often kidded me that when I write something, it seems I always need a keyboard between my brain and the creation of the document so this is a new experience.

I took out really good health insurance when I retired, but even so, the accident has cost me $7000 so far in out-of-pocket expenses, not to mention an incredibly heavy dose of humility. I've also gained a deep respect for people who really do have serious and prolonged injuries and unending pain.

As my doctors noted I've gone about healing with the same intense drive that I do everything but nothing but time will determine if the nerve damage will heal. I live alone and I'm forever indebted to a friend who cared for my English Bulldog Mugsy, and who came by each day to leave a series of plastic cups with all of my medication sorted so that all I had to was come downstairs and take them at the required intervals. Several neighbors also kept a close eye on me as I began to amble down in get the newspaper pick up the mail.

I read even more incessantly and got acquainted with Dr. Phil pretty good, but I've really missed the six hours I typically spend researching and writing this blog each day. I also missed riding the Harley Crossbones through what has been spectacular long fall. But I am so blessed to be healing and to know that an instant of carelessness didn't result in something worse.

I can't say enough about the efficiency, customer service and level of medical expertise here in Durham at Duke University. I have a long way to go before the wrist with all the hardware is as nimble and mobile and flexible as my other wrist but it's good to be back.

The facetious story about the accident occurring during a bar fight, which I posted in this blog in mid-November once it became clear how long the recovery would take came from a surgeon in the operating room who, after hearing me repeatedly asked to explain what happened leaned down and whispered that I should tell them it was a bar fight and that there were three of them and they would stop asking me questions. He was right. :-)

Can We Really Learn Online?

Re-post by Cathy Davidson

Can We Really Learn Online? Response to NYTimes on Wall Street's Digital Learning Enterprises | HASTAC

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Link Between Neglect And Burglary

Possibly reacting to headlines versus statistics, the Durham City Council was characterized recently as berating the police chief regarding the type of crime for which Durham is below average. But the angst was focused on the wrong type of crime and the wrong department.

The annual comparison of crime in 11 communities in the Southeast compU.S. and 28 nationwide that are similar in size and make-up reveals once again that overall Durham crime is below or near average, with the exception of one type of crime - burglary.

Hopefully the Durham Police Department is deploying or will soon deploy best practices in what has come to be called “predictive policing” including algorithms and statistical linkages.  But there is reason to believe other departments should be held as much or more responsible for reducing burglary.

While Durham is rapidly catching up on long-overdue street maintenance, it wasn't just street surfaces that had been neglected. Durham has long overlooked and some residents think neglected the overall maintenance of roadsides, medians, parks and other public infrastructure including maintenance and upkeep around the public’s buildings and property.

If the City Council wants to ask some tough questions in pursuit of solutions to burglary, the only type of crime where Durham is above average, it needs to drill down into why the operating maintenance related to the community’s overall curb appeal has been similarly permitted to degrade.

For example, an analysis in Arlington, Texas has revealed that for every one unit of physical decay or neglect in or near neighborhoods there are six burglaries in that same area.  In fact, physical neglect is a means to identify at-risk neighborhoods for burglary.

One neglected building or home can put a block at risk but when public infrastructure, including roadsides and medians, are neglected as well then the risk for crime must be even greater. The City of Durham’s elected officials and senior management must come to grips with the fact that failing to maintain the community's overall curb appeal has ramifications far beyond just appearance.

As we eventually did to to overcome our denial about the importance of overall street maintenance, it is time to restore operating maintenance budgets for roadsides, medians , and other areas of visual neglect that are degrading the community's curb appeal and putting residents at risk.