Thursday, June 28, 2012

Benchmarking A Destination’s Non-Profit Arts & Culture Sector!

Unlike commercial varieties which tend to make communities more alike, non-profit arts and culture sectors have the potential, when properly cultivated and aggressively promoted, to contribute significantly to a community’s distinctive sense of place and appeal.

That’s why I hope the community-destination marketing organization execs (DMOs) representing 139 participating cities, towns and counties and another 10 representing states are devouring input-output economic impact reports prepared through the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) to measure the non-profit arts and culture sectors in their destinations.

Even if DMOs haven’t already been using input-output to measure the overall impact of visitors on their communities as the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB), where I worked until retiring a few years ago, has since the 1990s or lobbied their community’s early involvement in the AFTA initiative as DCVB did, the reports and the deeper data behind them are invaluable, straight-forward and insightful and well worth perusal.

Through much more comprehensive analysis than is done in similarly-sized communities, DCVB had long ago documented that 60% to 70% of overall audiences for sports and entertainment events in Durham are visitor related, comprised of non-residents traveling here on overnight stays and day trips for purposes other than work.

So it wasn’t surprising when the AFTA analysis for Durham confirmed that visitors also generate 55% of the attendees and 76% of direct event-related expenditures at non-profit arts and cultural events. What was surprising and valuable as benchmarks, I’m sure, is that the Durham average for visitor-related attendees is significantly higher than:Non-profit Arts & Culture - Durham NC

  • the national average of 31.8%
  • 85% higher than the average for the eight out of North Carolina’s nine largest counties participating
  • 96% higher than the average for nearby counties and towns

Clearly, communities may vary, even when proximate, in the visitor-worthiness of their respective non-profit arts and culture sectors, the prominence with which the sector’s offerings are interwoven into destination marketing as part of the community’s distinctive appeal and character and the degree to which the sector must compete for audience and resources with mainstream commercial venues and events.

While studies show that nearly all visitors are drawn first to the appeal of the overall destination, when curated as part of the telling of its story, the fact is that, if Durham had not had these non-profit arts and culture events available as part of its community appeal, 59.2% of the visitor-related attendees at events here may have traveled somewhere else instead.

Visitors are motivated much more by distinctive and place-based arts and cultural events in a destination than by events that can be viewed anywhere and everywhere at anytime.

While a consistent link was not statistically apparent between existence of local universities and visitor-related attendance at non-profit arts and culture events, it was intriguing to note that Durham’s visitors are 32% more likely to have Doctoral degrees than the average for the largest counties in North Carolina and five percentage points higher than the average for surrounding counties and towns.

More 6 out of every 10 visitor-related attendees at a Durham non-profit arts and cultural event had attained a Master’s degree or higher in education.

Of equal, if not more, significance, though not truly economic value-added is what’s called “retained tourism” meaning that 37.4% of the Durham residents who make up 45% of the audiences at non-profit arts and cultural events would have traveled elsewhere had they not been available here.

The AFTA input-output computations are conservative and properly net out the dollars spent outside the local economy for goods and services or wages paid to non-resident employees, known as “leakage,” and provide the reader both the impact from local audiences which is a recirculation of dollars that would have likely been spent locally for some other purpose and the true “value added” to the economy by visitors.

No one deserves more credit for Durham’s involvement in the AFTA initiative than the Durham Arts Council along with the 56 out of 83 eligible non-profits that participate in the initiative, giving Durham a 57% participation rate compared to the national average of 43.2%.

DCVB also deserves credit for its unparalleled partnership with Durham’s non-profit arts and cultural sector in other ways beyond helping to inform this analysis including publicity via the Durham New Service, maintaining the community’s comprehensive inventory of cultural organizations and facilities, and compiling and promoting the community’s official event calendar, as well as generating volunteers through its more than 2000+ Durham Wayfinders.

DCVB has also become skilled over the years on how to deduct “leakage” from economic estimates it performs on behalf of specific events, thereby providing data that is relied upon by local government during the budget process.

The quality and vibrancy of Durham’s non-profit arts and culture sector is critical to the community’s economic vitality, but it is also extremely reliant on underwriting from Durham-based businesses, corporations and universities.

The data in the report is documentation of the return on investment for those contributions which are all too often diluted by the incessant foraging here by organizations and events located elsewhere including many in surrounding cities and counties.

The report is also inspiration to local governments, illustrating the return on investment in local tax revenue from contributions to the non-profit arts and culture sector even though these contributions are made using revenue from visitors, not local taxpayers.

There are nearly 120,000 non-profit arts and cultural organizations nationwide playing a pivotal role in the unique personality of their communities and as an economic engine for America.

The audience impact alone of non-profit arts and cultural events nationwide is $74 billion, $24 million of which is generated by overnight and day trip tourism.  I count as one of my final rewards before retiring as CEO of the DCVB, a role in forging a partnership between Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) and AFTA.

This partnership is now clearly symbolized by recognition of DMAI on the back of AFTA’s report for Durham.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Benchmarking Roadside Appearance

By nearly 4 to 1, residents of the city and county of Durham, NC, where I live, rate appearance and physical upkeep a high community priority.  The ratio of those who feel strongly that way is 6 to 1.

The challenge of meeting this expectation is compounded by the fact that the state’s sixth most populated county swells each day with commuters who hold three out of every five jobs here (a far greater net proportion than the vast majority of other communities) along with nearly 7 million visitors each year.

While after years of neglect, residents who live within the limits of the City of Durham perceive some incremental improvements, with 2.7 to 1 satisfied with the overall appearance of the city, with 8% very satisfied and 18% or nearly 1 in 5 dissatisfied or very dissatisfied and nearly a third uncertain.

While city residents ranked cleanliness and appearance of roadsides an area to increase emphasis, in an anonymous survey last year residents of the city and county combined disagreed by more than 3 to 1 with the statement that Durham roadsides are attractive and litter free.  Those feeling very strongly disagreed by nearly 5 to 1.

There are also some other disturbing signs that tolerating neglect and failing to maintain best practice levels for appearance for so many years has been demotivating.

Durham is the 6th most populous county in North Carolina and nationally known for its volunteerism, but it ranked only ninth and very nearly fell to 11th or 12th in terms of volunteer hours devoted during the 2011 NC Big Sweep litter clean ups.

Even so, with fewer than its share of volunteers and volunteer hours compared to its share of state population, the Durham participants were able to clear away its proportion of litter at 5.5 tons compared to nearly 193 tons statewide.

While Durham is slightly less than 3% of the state’s population, enforcement agencies here issue only 1.8% of litter citations statewide and win an even lower proportion of convictions.

Though sixth in population, Durham ranks 9th out of the ten most populous counties in litter citations and convictions.

Nearby Wake County is 3.4 times Durham’s population, spread out over a geographic area nearly three times larger, but agencies issue nearly five times as many citations for litter there.

While Durham residents are as much as 15 times more passionate about their community than the benchmark for other communities, a pivotal predictor of attachment, by several measures there are indications Durham is falling well short of residents’ expectations for overall appearance.

As volunteers for Keep Durham Beautiful spread out through the community on July 12th to conduct the annual Durham roadside litter/appearance index, it is important that city and county officials take heed.

Volunteer clean up efforts are a means to supplement not substitute for a backbone of day-to-day maintenance expected of local governments here. Without that, volunteer enthusiasm wanes while it is likely that agencies have less incentive to approach enforcement with the same intensity even though the link between neglect, environmental disorder and crime is so strong.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation does an excellent job each year of documenting interagency and non-profit litter clean up and enforcement including roadside beautification.

It is an excellent template for consolidated reporting upon which cities and counties along with related non-profits would be well advised to expand so the picture is even more complete.

NCDOT manages 79,330 miles of roadside including county roads throughout the state, the second largest of any state.  Even with reductions in resources, NCDOT employees picked up litter along 150,410 shoulder miles last year filling nearly 400,000 bags.cropped 46

The State Adopt-A-Highway program leveraged 4,631 groups to adopt 9,100 road miles and deploying nearly 450,000 volunteer hours to clear 12,157 roadside miles of more than 1700 tons of litter and debris, recycling 327 tons.

Together with 33 others around the state, affiliates such as Keep Durham Beautiful rallied more than 72,000 volunteers in 258 communities to clear another 12,564 miles of roadway of 454 tons of litter and debris and another 5,497 acres of park and public land and 122 miles of shoreline.

All of this effort still falls well short of keeping state and local roadways clean enough to inhibit litterers.  In the words of the late Charles Kuralt, “Two Americas meet there: the ugly one and the beautiful one. And of course, Americans of their own free will created them both.”

The blight of litter is caused by just 4% of the population who intentionally litter and another 17% who are oblivious such as the worker at a Virginia I 85 rest area shown in the photo in this blog who, while on break, sat casually smoking cigarette after cigarette during my recent stop, throwing the butts at his feet all within five feet of a canister for that purpose.

Is it only coincidence that the percentage of people who litter is similar to the percentage who still find roadside billboards useful, even if for just a few times a month.

Those who litter intentionally may feel empowered by the fact that some in the North Carolina General Assembly still advocate on behalf of the nearly 8,000 billboards along just its major highways alone, often referred to as “litter-on-a-stick” by many of the nearly 8 of 10 North Carolinians who consider them a desecration.

But the good news about litter is how far we have come, thanks to the efforts of the dedicated agencies, organizations and volunteers in the NCDOT report.  Through their diligence and commitment we can be inspired by the words of Kuralt:

“I am persuaded of this with all my heart, ordinary Americans want a beautiful country. We are proud of the amber waves of grain and the purple mountains majesties.

And we are not powerless…”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mining For Benchmarks

Compared to the national average for how people perceive where they live, residents of Durham, North Carolina, where I happen to live, are seven times more likely than the national average to believe that living here today is better than it was five years ago and more than a third less likely to believe things have worsened over that period.

That is one of the take-aways gleaned from comparing results from two scientific surveys taken a few months apart, one on behalf of the American Planning Association (APA) and the other by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB), the community’s marketing agency.

Mining secondary studies is an important way to leverage primary research even further, but it is absolutely crucial to establishing benchmark perspective.

I felt comfortable using the two surveys to develop a benchmark because wording of the questions’, statistical reliability and anonymity were so similar.

In an example of “reverse mining,” DCVB had posed similar questions including this one to help mine benchmarks from the Knight Foundation's Soul of the Community study, subtitled “Why People Love Where They Live and Why It Matters.”

But the benchmark from the APA survey could also be compared against the results of a bi-annual satisfaction survey begun a few years ago by the local government for the City of Durham which differs from the nearly two-decade annual DCVB survey because it excludes Durham residents who do not live in the city limits and is heavily promoted as a survey conducted by and for city government.

Respondents to that survey agreed by 6 to 1 that the city was moving in the right direction.  When the goal is harvesting benchmarks, the relative anonymity of the surveys can have an effect as well as whether they are written or telephonic.

Durham County is basically a single one city county so when DCVB anonymously asks all Durham residents to rate the community as a visitor destination the results are favorable by nearly 8 to 1 but when city government openly poses the question to just city residents, the response drops to 5 to 1, which is still favorable.

The difference could be that the opinions of city residents differ from Durham residents as a whole or because written surveys can be less top of mind or because respondents interpret city to mean only certain specific areas or even because people may answer answer if they know who is behind the question.

Both surveys are reliable and equally valuable but considerations must always be made when selecting a benchmark.

Often surveys such as APA’s yield results that can shed light on broader issues.  When asked which leaders would be best to implement change (respondents could check all that applied,)  neighborhood representatives and business professionals tied at 43% each, both nearly 1 1/2 times greater than elected leaders at 26%.

I guess, if this were viewed on a national level, that this is favorable to both President Obama, once a neighborhood organizer, and also to Mitt Romney, once a private equity capitalist, but not so much that they both have held elected official.

But on a more serious note, in Durham, where neighborhood activism is strong, it may be why so many were stunned when the City Council levied a special tax on Downtown when it purportedly had the support of only 6% of those effected, and why so many now are steamed that anyone who opposed this special tax has been arbitrarily and questionably blackballed from serving on the quasi-public board that will administer this tax.

Blackballing may be is common in politics but it has no place in the administration of public or quasi-public organizations or in neighborhoods improvement.

Mining surveys such as APA’s can also provide comic relief – 92% say that things work better with a plan, 79% agree that community planning is needed but 20% don’t want it funded by tax revenue – 62% rank water quality a priority (5th highest) but failing I guess to connect the dots, storm water is rated a low priority.

A nice result for those of us who work with unique sense of place is that having “locally owned businesses nearby” rates as the number one factor for an “ideal community.”  The APA survey also validated why so many places fail to grasp the importance of aesthetics, one of the key drivers of community attachment in the Knight study.

Those communities and their organizations that mine data for insightful decision making are way ahead of the curve, while those that also mine every piece of secondary research are close behind; but the few who still do everything possible to suppress research, well they don’t have a clue!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stockholm Syndrome And History’s Down Escalator

I am always surprised at the number of public administrators these days who appear to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon where hostages begin to defend their captors.

Ask these individuals a question about a level of service or upkeep and they note how stretched they are for resources.  But when attempts are made to rally the electorate to motivate elected officials to provide the funding necessary to do the job right, these individuals almost always begin back peddling if not diving under the table.

There is definitely the impression that retribution is alive and well among civil servants and not just politicians, undermining more than a hundred years of civil service reform.

This behavior also enables elected officials and pundit enablers to gridlock measures popular with the general public.

In the electorate we are under the impression that administrators openly and passionately advocate within government for resources and services sufficient to do right by the public and publicly owned property and that the merits of these discussions find their way to elected officials where they are further examined and and help to create insight and inform decisions.

I fear that isn’t the way it is working in practice these days.  Public administrators seem far more willing to push back on the electorate with excuses about why things can’t be done properly than they are to advocate for what they need to get the job done.

Even if they aren’t silenced within agencies, in my experience they can be subject to interference and even threats by elected officials.

By-products of this dilemma are not only gridlock and less passionate advocates within agencies but a passive CYA culture when it comes to holding the line in the face of special interests or the now ubiquitous absence of strategic thinking.

In contravention of one of the 8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees public administrators who are passionately outspoken about their jobs today are often suppressed into silence for fear that they will be accused of rocking the boat or draw retribution from and even “scalp-hunting” from elected officials while those who are inept are given safe haven.

The result is that lobbyists and special interests have free reign over what was meant to be in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, “government of the people, by the people, for the people” while in the words of Hardin Tibbs month before last, both administrators and elected bodies in “democratic governments seem increasingly populist rather than strategic, and wait for electoral pressure before risking policy initiatives.”

Tibbs, a business consultant, eloquently blogged six months ago that we stand at the convergence of two major historical tendencies where “ascending upsides and descending downsides meet, converging in a fleeting moment of equal power, which pushes open the door of possibility to its widest extent.”

He continues that “Now is when our mere attitudes about the future can make a decisive difference.  Here is a tipping point in time where we can jump from the down escalator of history onto the up one.”

Tibbs argues that “Now the main risk is getting caught in the downdraft of pessimism, for here is an opening of maximum creativity.”

“The ideas we debate now will crystallize into the template of the era to come – the transmodern civilization being born.”

In my opinion, we need passionate public administrators, not just politicians, to be a part of that debate.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Infographic – Volunteerism By Day Of Week

Volunteer By Day

To open the full infographic, click here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Infographic – Amazon’s Hold, Grasp & Grab

If clicking on the graphic doesn’t enlarge it, try clicking here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

8 Take-Aways From Each Side Of The Helmet Law Debate

My late father would become apoplectic at mention of the law mandating the use of seat belts after it was enacted in 1986 where he lived and now in force in every state except New Hampshire for anyone in the front seat and for all passengers in 26 states and the District of Columbia.

So I have a window into the seemingly absurd objections by lobbyists for motorcycle owner organizations to laws in many states, including North Carolina, where I live, requiring the use of DOT-approved helmets, even going so far as to muzzle government-sponsored educational programs.

The battle over helmet laws has been raging since the late 1970s when many began to be rolled back.

Personally, lessons learned in my formal training on how to ride a motorcycle were enough to convince me not only to wear a helmet, but a full-face helmet, since injury to the jaw and face is more prevalent than to the top of the head.

Dad understood the logic of seat belts, he just objected to being “required to use them”  so debating with him about this and a variety of other issues taught me to look behind controversial issues to try to learn why otherwise reasonable people might be contrary to something that seems to be in their own best interest as well as the interests of society.

Here are 8 take-aways from reports for and against helmet laws:

  • Helmet use is estimated to prevent 37% of fatalities among motorcycle operators and 41% of fatalities among passengers.


  • There were 8.2 million owned and registered motorcycles in 2010, compared with 4.3 million in 2000,) but the 1.8 fatalities per 1000 vehicles has increased only 0.3 percentage points.



  • Helmets do not prevent motorcycle crashes:
    • 34% of all motorcycle fatalities involved alcohol making awareness and intervention programs  more effective than helmet laws.


    • 25% of all motorcycle fatalities involved invalid licenses making promotion of safety programs and licensing and testing more effective than helmet laws.


    • Half of all motorcycle fatalities involve another vehicle and that vast majority of these are the fault of the other driver so motorist awareness programs as well as motorcyclist “conspicuity” programs would be more effective than helmet laws.


  • While motorcyclists are as likely to be covered by insurance as other motorists, studies show that insurance doesn’t cover the costs of investigating accidents which studies show average more than $7,000 each.


  • Enactments of universal helmet laws have consistently been associated with a 90- to 100-percent increase
    in helmet usage, a 20- to 40-percent decrease in fatalities and fatality rates, and approximately a 67-percent decrease in serious head and brain injuries.

Prior to the most recent recession, the economic impact of motorcycling was nearing $30 billion annually.  Riders on average are over 40 years old, college educated with above average household incomes.

Studies are showing that motorcycle accidents are higher for younger riders, higher for sport bikes than cruisers and most are unrelated to speed.  In my experience, the biggest danger to riding a motorcycle comes from drivers of cars and trucks who are distracted by everything from billboards to putting on make up to texting.

The respective arguments by safety officials and motorcycle organizations all make sense, but rather than obsessing with helmet laws, my overall take-away is a hope that they spend more time listening to each other and mutually prioritizing and working toward solutions that make the most sense.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New NEA Analysis – An Average Day In The Arts

The method used by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to benchmark participation in various art forms, both commercial and not-for-profit just took a huge leap forward in a report distributed this month entitled An Average Day in the Arts.

For the just-released analysis, the NEA does an excellent job of leveraging the work of other government agencies by using the intriguing American Time Use Survey (ATUS.)

The new NEA report measures participation across all arts categories from the consumer side regardless of whether they are private sector or not-for-profit related and mines to the state level but not local.

This should not be confused with studies such as the one recently released for Durham and one statewide for North Carolina which measures only the non-profit aspect of the arts using a great model developed for that purpose by Americans for the Arts.

The American Time Use Survey is conducted throughout the year with 10% of the sample allocated to each work day and 25% to each weekend day.  Rather than asking the respondent to recall 12 months of activity, it more reliably measures just the activity during the preceding 24 hour period.

This report, similar to others by the NEA, is hugely valuable tool for policy and decision makers across every sector and well worth taking time to read in depth but here are some of my take-aways:

  • The link between participation levels and the size or caliber of facilities or presenters is very week but participation is strongly linked to education and poverty levels.


  • As economists have long ago proven, people don’t spend more money on a category such as leisure just because new facilities are added; and there is little change over the years in the amount of time people devote to various forms of activity.


  • On any given day in America, there are:
    • 1.4 million people attend performing arts (not just theaters but churches and nightclubs etc.)
    • 540,000 visiting museums including art history museums and botanical gardens,
    • More than 2 million are involved with other arts and entertainment which includes historic sites, festivals, lectures, etc.
    • 3.3 million watch movies,
    • 2.6 million attend sporting events,
    • 2.7 million participate in arts and crafts,
    • 5.9 million listen to or play music,
    • 57.2 million read for personal interest,
    • 546,000 write for personal interest (such as I do with this blog,)

Read pages 18 and 25 of the report for participation in many other leisure activities.


  • Participation in various activities varies widely by state, even between adjacent states and regions of the country.


  • For example, on any given day in North Carolina, where I live, .7% of the population, age 15 and above attends some type of performing arts event or 50,000 people state-wide (mid-range) while the state has 63% of the national average for the number of performing arts organizations per 100,000 residents in that age cluster.


  • North Carolina has a slightly higher level of educational attainment than the national average but also a higher level of poverty.

Study the report for more information about participation in North Carolina and other states.

In my more than 40-years of experience in cultural and economic development in several different states and communities, far too many projects have relied on the long discredited zero-sum notion of “build it and they will come” as a strategy, typically and politically driven by powerful or special interests who are afraid of data-driven decision making.

“Thinking big” which is often used to silence any questions or observations is never a good substitute for “thinking smart.”

It is clear that this strategy is heavily reliant on visitor promotion and officials or developers must pay more heed to data that should be available from respective community-destination marketing organizations (DMOs) including a close evaluation of of a community or state’s strengths and needs areas compared to peers and of course the law of supply and demand.

Also, far too little careful consideration is given to well-proven principles of consumer behavior such as “access to opportunity” and to the reality that people allocate a certain amount of time and money for leisure.

Any private or public proposal to add more facilities should look first at how the project will shift time and money from one leisure activity or business to another and the impact the proposed project will have not only locally but on nearby communities as well as the regional cultural ecosystem in terms of not only audience but volunteers and underwriting.

Leisure vitality is proven to be crucial to the overall health and economic vitality of a community but communities can no longer afford to entertain proposals without considering trade-offs and the most significant way for local and state officials to ensure vitality is to increase educational attainment and lower poverty.

Equally important is to focus on adding value to a particular community’s or state’s unique sense of place.  Vitality is short-lived if the path sought makes a place indistinguishable from others.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Preservationist Roots of North Carolina Tourism!

Legend has it that promotion of North Carolina dates to 1937 with the creation of a state advertising division but it was actually launched more than a decade earlier when the General Assembly and Governor Angus McLean restructured the geological and economic survey in 1925 into the Department of Conservation and Development.

The mission of the restructured agency included the “active promotion of the state’s commerce and industry, as well as protection of its resources” something first proposed in 1924 by Governor Cameron Morrison who was definitely not known as being a progressive but he would be compared to a few of the people leading this state’s government today.

It is easy to contrast the genius 87 years ago of fusing economic development with environmental resource protection by comparing it to the balkanization of state government today where a General Assembly is controlled by a maniacal drive to sacrifice thousands of acres of valuable roadside trees to out-of-state outdoor billboard companies at no cost.

Now to prove that their leap backward was intentional, the General Assembly has vowed to further sacrifice not only North Carolina’s unique sense of place but also its geologic stability and water and air quality with fracking.

Yes, this is every bit as backward as it sounds and rapidly earning back a reputation this state has spent decades trying to shed.  The next time you hear anyone pontificate about how “you gotta think big” you should run for your life because their hand is not only on your pocketbook but their hubris is risking the well-being of future generations.

The genius of housing both economic development and environmental protection under one department of state government began to silo first with the formation in 1927 with a division for commerce and industry which was merged with a division of public relations in that same department in 1930 just as Governor O. Max Gardner was promoting the values of trees along roadsides.

Gardner was influenced by a survey that year revealing just how blighted North Carolina had already become by roadside billboards, putting tourism and other forms of economic development in jeopardy.

In 1937 a new division of advertising was funded within the Department of Conservation and Development fueled by a new awareness of the value of the state’s scenic character to economic development, something well understood early in the 1800s but then lost first during the devastation of the Civil War and then the almost complete deforestation during the latter part of that century.

Fortunately, despite its name, this new division created in the midst of the Great Depression was staffed for the next 33 years by Bill Sharpe, a writer, photographer and former journalist with a fondness for fine cigars and a grasp of how much more important and effective publicity can be when compared to any other element of marketing communication but especially advertising.

The division changed names many times over the years from advertising to news bureau to travel information to travel and tourism etc. but its mission has remained the same: to leverage awareness of North Carolina for visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

It wasn’t until a few years after Sharpe’s death in 1970 and after North Carolinians voted overwhelmingly in 1972 to add a conservation amendment to the state constitution “to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty,” that the responsibilities for economic development and environmental resource protection were separated into different departments in 1973.

Perhaps keeping those dots between economic development and environmental resource protection indelibly connected, especially for anyone involved in tourism, would have prevented the divide and conquer tactics we see today where business and the environment are often pitted against one another as though they are somehow zero sum.

Hopefully we’ll go back to the future before it’s too late!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Powerless To Self Regulate

In the early 1970s as I graduated from college, the average American was exposed to fewer than 500 advertisements a day with a good portion coming from those occupying 15% of each hour of television programming back then.

By 2009, just as I was retiring from a nearly 40-year career in community-destination marketing, Dr. J. Walker Smith quantified the average number of ads to which we are each exposed each day showing it had shot up to 5,000 and many project that this deluge will hit 10,000 within this decade.

It isn’t just commercial television which now fills 25% of each hour with advertising but now multiplied over 100 times more channels that is responsible.

Huge digital roadside billboards that change messages 21,000 times per day make this ad overload even more absurd while their huckster owners argue with straight-faces to passive gatekeepers that blinking that many times should not be disqualified as intermittent which is prohibited.

Studies over time show that the overall effectiveness of advertising has fallen to very near “0” or below for all but a handful of categories.  The average improvement to sales or market share generated by a 1% increase in advertising is a tiny 0.1% according to Dr. Gerard Tellis at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

The analysis also shows that throwing more advertising “weight” at the consumer is futile.

Fortunately, there are many other elements of marketing communication from which to choose that, while not as glitzy or soothing to advertiser egos, have far more credibility with consumers.

The sheer ubiquity of advertising is backfiring and not just on advertisers who still use obsolete media such as outdoor billboards that desecrate communities and roadsides.

Unfortunately, it appears that much of the advertising-industrial complex is either oblivious or, feeling powerless to self-regulate some restraint among peers, just keeps pushing like an addict at each new medium to maximize its “ad load.” 

Few acknowledge or care that there is clear evidence that many advertisers are now turning off many times more consumers than they turn on.

Worse are bottom-feeders who nip at the heels of struggling newspapers, magazines and now broadcast media, hoping to step into the void by someday leasing space and producing their own programming as some companies did at the dawn of the communications age.

Monday, June 18, 2012

An Inspiration For Scenic Preservation

In May 1997, less than three months before he would pass away, journalist and North Carolina favored son, Charles Kuralt delivered a moving speech to the nation’s scenic character preservationists.

In a way Kuralt led me to North Carolina in 1989 just as he was receiving the Bill Sharpe Award for public service to the industries involved with tourism here, coincidentally the same award given to my successor, Shelly Green, a year ago.

By the time I relocated here 23 years ago, I had already been viewing and listening to his “On The Road” segments on CBS Sunday Morning for close to a quarter of a century.

His broadcasts spanned more than 30 of my now-concluded 40 years as a community destination marketing exec charged with leveraging sense of place into economic development.  He was an inspiration and continues to be in my retirement as an activist for preservation of scenic character.

In that speech to scenic preservationists, Kuralt referenced the dramatic line of demarcation between blight and scenic character on North Carolina’s Outer Banks:

“These two environments collide at the Mobil Station at Whalebone Junction. North of the gas station, nothing but scenic discord, which depresses people. South of it, all natural harmony, which elevates people.

I think of that Mobil Station as the fulcrum upon which is balanced the worst nightmare and the best hope of all of us in this room tonight.

Two Americas meet there: the ugly one and the beautiful one. And of course, Americans of their own free will created them both.”

The outdoor billboard industry, which deployed years of persistence and copious political campaign contributions to push a bill through the legislature, a year ago yesterday, authorizing the clear cutting of thousands of acres of public roadside trees, often characterizes people such as me to the news media as “anti-billboard.”

More accurately, we’re just “pro-scenic character” and “pro-sense of place.”  It is all a question of values. Those who value stewardship, including both aesthetic and economic values, readily embrace scenic character which is held as a value by nearly 8 out of 10 North Carolinians including a majority of Republicans, Independents and Democrats.

Re-reading Kuralt’s speech during the first anniversary of that tragic give-away in the legislature made me recall a detour I took in the fall of 2010 on the return leg of a cross-country trip that included stops to visit my daughter and grandsons and my mother and sisters.

My driving companion, an English Bulldog named Mugsy, and I had left Millcreek, Washington, north of Seattle late in the afternoon thinking we’d overnight in Spokane, but we just kept driving thinking we’d stop at the next town or the next town until we found ourselves nearing Livingston, Montana just an hour or two before sunrise.

While refueling, I decided to cut down US 89 into Wyoming and across on the 67-mile Beartooth Highway -- my first time on that road --before reconnecting with I 90 east of Billings and then continuing down past the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and through the gas and oil-filled plains of Wyoming to Gillette and then across the Black Hills to Sturgis, South Dakota.

General Custer rode to his last stand to protect the gold he had discovered in the Black Hills but beginning 61 years later, the year after the Beartooth Highway opened, a huge motorcycle rally held each year has helped Sturgis and this corner of South Dakota become better known for tourism.

Back to the west of its junction with US 89, the Beartooth ultimately connects via US 20 across Yellowstone Park and the Targhee National Forest to that nook on the Idaho side of the Tetons where I was born and spent my early years.

But this would be my first traverse to the east over the actual Beartooth Highway portion of the route zigzagging back and forth along the border of Wyoming and Montana through the western portion of the Custer National Forest to Red Lodge.

Kuralt mentions the Beartooth in his speech to those scenic preservationists gathered in 1997.  Years earlier, he had identified it as the “prettiest road in America” for an essay in Family Circle magazine only to see on a later visit that someone had erected a big billboard pointing this out without a hint of the absurd irony involved.

Kuralt didn’t live long enough to see the Beartooth named as one of the first ten roads officially designated an American Scenic Byway just five years after his death.

The Beartooth Highway was constructed during the initial years of the Great Depression, about the same time the Blue Ridge Parkway was being built along the western edge of North Carolina and under which I passed on a quick trip to Boone, NC last week.

As we drove the Beartooth into a spectacular sunrise, we crested a nearly 11,000 foot pass surrounded by 20 mountain peaks over 12,000 feet.  If our Jeep had been a plane, the cabin would have been required to be pressurized. We would descend 10,582 feet by the time we reached our home again in Durham, North Carolina a few days later.

Kuralt’s speech to scenic preservationists in 1997, which was made a few months prior to his unexpected death at far too young an age, is one of hope.  He chronicles how far we’ve come in choosing the “beautiful America” over the “ugly America” and closes with inspiration for those of us who continue that pursuit:

“I am persuaded of this with all my heart, ordinary Americans want a beautiful country. We are proud of the amber waves of grain and the purple mountains majesties. And we are not powerless. We can have, we really can, the land Amadas and Barlowe had seen – the Goodliest Land Under the Cope of Heaven.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Infographic – Car Crazy Cities

If clicking doesn’t expand the infographic, click here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Infographic – What Americans Think About Community Planning

If clicking doesn’t enlarge the graphic, try clicking here.  For the full report, click here.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Origin Of Our Sense Of Place

Studies show that city parks and natural areas give children a “sense of rootedness” and “aesthetic value” and “place making” and “supports the development of sense of place and attachment.”

This may not fully explain why a few ringleaders in the current legislature seem so driven to sacrifice North Carolina’s sense of place.

But it does further illuminate what gives some communities such as Durham, where I live, such a strong sense of place and attachment which is closely linked to economic and cultural vitality and the ability to attract and retain talent and pursue visitor-centric cultural and economic development.

Experts note that if a genetic switch is not flipped in a child they evolve into adults without compassion.  Apparently nature-based outdoor activity flips the genetic switch for stewardship of sense of place.

I’m not surprised that consideration is being given to converting a larger portion of some Durham city parks, such as Rockwood which is down the hill from where I live, back to a natural state although it might be more than a bit disingenuous to neglect the turf and then when it is overtaken by weeds to presume it is no longer useful because no one plays on it.

Historic parks such as Rockwood and Forest Hills are incredibly beautiful and useful but tend to be challenging to maintain because developers typically donated the land in flood-prone lowlands as a means to slow, capture and  cleanse storm run-off.

Still before they were neglected these parks had been beautifully manicured.

My 80+ year old and still very active neighbor remembers when she and her husband bulldozed the street where I live to build their home overlooking the park in the years after World War II, the City of Durham had to be reminded that Rockwood Park was public property.

Rockwood is widely used by both neighboring residents and commuters because it is cool and heavily forested, perfect for family and group get-togethers with a great playground for small children.  But it is also popular for walking pets, exercise and reflection.

Just as I was retiring a few years ago, the head of Duke School, a private Pre-K-8 institution in Durham, Dave Michelman, penned a great blog summarizing the value of unstructured, make-believe play and discovery as a means to increase children’s “self regulation, discovery, wonder and creativity.”National Kids Survey

Over parenting, including children sucked into the adult-driven ever hyper-active world of organized sports, is no substitute for what Michelman is wrote about.

Parents today are well-advised to adopt the Marine Corps “rule of threes” as a means to ensure sufficient unstructured time.

But studies about the importance of unstructured outdoor and especially nature-based activity have been lacking a “national baseline regarding children’s time outdoors and to determine what kids are doing or not doing outside, including factors that affect children’s activity choices.”

That was the purpose of incorporating a National Kids Survey into the rolling survey of Outdoor Recreation Trends And Futures (page 82.)  It turns out that 62.5% of children spend two hours or more outside on a weekday, 78.2% on a weekend which is more than many expected.

There are disturbing differences between girls and boys and ethnic and age groups, but overall 84% are just playing or hanging out while 49.8% are playing or practicing team sports.  This study notes that concerns about the shift away from nature-based activities is warranted.

Noted are studies supporting the fact that “direct play in nature is critical for youth cognitive and social development, especially during middle school years” as well as creativity, innovation and concrete skills such as way finding and an overarching sense of place.

More accessible and forested parks with a mix of nature area, well-maintained turf and playgrounds is part of the answer as are the quasi-unstructured exhibits such as those of the spectacular Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

The hugely popular museum is opening “Into The Mist” at the end of the month, its ninth outdoor exhibit which promises a “natural landscape where you can play, explore, and interact with the powerful forces and forms of the earth.”

But there is simply no substitute for time spent just exploring in the woods.

Among the most important factors, according to the study, is not only the emphasis on the unstructured and nature-based time children spend outdoors, but that parents are willing and able to spend time outdoors with their children!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Forging Sense of Place Authenticity

Today, as it was 23 years ago this month when I first relocated to North Carolina, green is the state’s dominant color.

Thanks to a program initiated a year earlier, it is punctuated along roadsides by several thousand acres of spectacular wildflower beds, which I noted during two cross-state road trips last week, appeared to be predominantly yellow.

I didn’t realize it until the last few years but I’ve always been fond of the color yellow, especially as the background on state license plates which changed color schemes each year as I grew up.

It seemed that element of sense of place suddenly homogenized around the time of the 1976 national bicentennial celebration.

In fact a variation of yellow background with either black, dark blue or green is a common theme throughout the states in which I’ve lived for three-quarters of my life.  Idaho, where I was born, first used that combination in 1916; Washington in 1919; North Carolina, where I live now, in 1920; Alaska in 1921 (and which was fortunately in use again during the period I lived there in the 1980s) and Utah in 1926.

At one time Alaska included the name of the vehicle owner’s city of residence on plates and Idaho still has number codes for each county.  I was born in 2F for Fremont and I’ll bet it is still common during road trips for kids there to see how many of the state’s 44 counties they can identify on license plates.

Taking the prize though is the keepsake 1948 Idaho plate passed down by my family for the year I was born. For a two year period the Idaho license plates back then featured not just a potato but a foil wrapped baker topped by a slab of butter just in case someone missed the point.

North Carolina’s wildflower program is funded by a portion of the fees paid for personalized plates including the yellow version with with green lettering on my Harley that similar to the one linked here, celebrates the Blue Ridge Parkway along the far western edge of this state.

But apparently even the personalized plates are under siege in the current legislature which has already undermined sense-of-place by authorizing the clear cutting of thousands of acres of public roadside trees on behalf of out-of-state outdoor billboard companies while at the same time they’re apparently hoping to dot the countryside with thousands of mini-chemical plants for fracking.

Soon we’ll pay for highway miles driven instead of through a tax on fuel.  My bet is they will use cameras and transponders such as those used on toll roads and these devices may lead to the final purge of unique license plates and lead to the standardization of plates across the nation.

Hopefully, that won’t also mean the demise of the North Carolina Wildflower Program which is funded through personalized license plate fees. The wildflower program was inspired by a letter from Dottie Martin when her husband Jim was the two-term Republican governor of our state about the time I relocated here.

Retired state roadside environmental engineer Bill Johnson recently detailed a series of events that revealed just how hard his team worked to preserve the state’s unique sense of place even beyond the NC Scenic Byways.

Shortly after the wildflower program got off the ground, it was criticized for importing flowers so Bill and his team decided to cultivate a native wildflower with the common name tickseed or tick-seed sunflower or Bur Marigold but formally known as Bidens Aritosa.

It is yellow and blooms profusely in September.

Bill and his team asked folks at NC State University down in Raleigh to combine tickseed for two seasons in places where it was found in ditches and under power lines in the eastern Piedmont including Durham, where I live, and the western coastal plain of the state.

The NCDOT Roadside unit then bought a small, used combine and continued to harvest seeds while leveraging the assistance and expertise of the Crop Improvement Association and NC State to clean the seeds up and plant them on some unused acreage at the Forestry Farm near Goldsboro to increase the amount of seed available.

They also harvested native sunflowers in the mountains and did the same thing, eventually reseeding them along with native blue aster.

This is not only an incredible example of entrepreneurial public servants leveraging resources and expertise across agencies but it illustrates a keen understanding and commitment to authenticity and sense of place as a part of the economic vitality of North Carolina.

Rest assured that while a few today disregard and even seek to destroy sense of place, there are still people like Bill working even harder to protect and preserve it.

Keep The Faith!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Antidotes For Mega Facility/Event Addiction

Riding past the Charlotte Convention Center early Sunday morning on my return to Durham along NC 49, I didn’t realize that within 48 hours I would be reading another op-ed asking whether it is finally time to stop building convention centers?

I remember when Harvard-trained public policy professor, Dr. Heywood Sanders, asked that question in a 2005 report for the Brookings Institution, and the convention-industrial complex indignantly responded by throwing up 44 more of the monstrosities while shouting down the few voices, such as my own, who felt his alarm timely.Atlantic Cities Logo

Charlotte is a city, similar to Raleigh, long in the habit of “paying” groups far more to hold events there than the events actually bring in return to the bottom line.

Many in Charlotte may finally be questioning the wisdom of that strategy in light of the recent scandal related to the CIAA Tournament and the mega-cost of hosting the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

Numerous analyses, conducted over many decades, have soundly refuted anecdotal prophesies that mega-events are a strategy to accrue either fame or fortune to a community with the most recent analysis of political conventions confirming that any benefit is “elusive.” 

If bringing enduring publicity to Charlotte is the goal of the $37 million being raised by the local organizing committee for the Democratic National Convention, there are far less convoluted as well as far more enduring ways to leverage that amount of publicity or “earned media” as it is now known.

Lest this be misconstrued as a partisan issue, Tampa is raising $50 million to host the Republican National Convention and local fundraisers in both communities will tap into lots of corporate and special interest money.

The two parties also receive $18 million each in public funds which if you agree with New York Times columnist Gail Collins, is sufficient if the conventions were shortened to one day business meetings.

Overall conventions and meetings began a long, slow decline as a form of tourism less than half way through my now-concluded 40-year career in community-destination marketing, accounting now for just 10%.

Only 25% of convention and meetings use convention centers and as noted yesterday by associate editor Amanda Erickson in The Atlantic Cities, attendance at the 200 largest conventions peaked in the mid-1990s.

The frenzy of overbuilding was spawned nearly a hundred years ago and it has been kept on life support by combinations of “old school” destination development, hijack-economic development thinking and hubris-fueled seduction of civic and business leaders.

Once the egos are locked in, all energies become fully invested in justification and rationalization.  Only when a new mega-facilities trend comes along and the former supporters are no longer in control will the full story usually emerge.

No community is immune from this addiction but the antidote is a cocktail including:

  • Data-driven destination marketing insight
  • Embedded policies against “buying” events
  • Depoliticized economic impact analysis
  • Unwavering commitment to unique sense of place

And yet even a place such as Durham, where all four antidotes are firmly in place, can fall victim to a seductive perfect storm now and then.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Crossbones Journey Through The Uwharrie

My best friend and I rode the Harley-Davidson Crossbones tandem (with a backrest and much better passenger seat than shown) this past weekend down and back from Durham, where we live, to Charlotte to visit mutual friends.

We carved a route down through the central Piedmont region of North Carolina, taking a southern route through Uwharrie National Forest on the way down and returning along the more northerly Uwharrie Scenic Byway, a little more than 300 miles round-trip.

Uwharrie is also the name of a mountain range and we were stunned at the highest crest on that route returning north and east to see a spectacular “Blue Ridge” type view of a mountain range in the direction of Durham. Uwharrie National Forest

I think it was probably the ridges of the small Cane Creek Mountain range that runs south and west from Burlington and Graham.  I kick myself for not pulling over to take a photograph but by the time it registered we were in descent.

A little known secret in state tourism promotions which are heavily weighted toward the mountains and beaches is that not only is the central Piedmont the most visited portion of North Carolina, thanks to the draw of cities such as Durham and Charlotte, but it is also incredibly scenic if you stick to state roads and especially scenic byways rather than Interstates. 

The Uwharrie is one of four national forests in North Carolina and at 51,000 acres it is the smallest.  It is an actively managed forest but it also features a primitive area in the northern portion and recreation areas.

It is also being used to reforest 100 acres of longleaf pines each year. According to the new book American Canopy, a huge arc of longleaf forests once covered 140,000 square miles stretching through nine states from southwestern Virginia to Texas, enough to cover every inch of North Carolina three times.

Beginning in the 1880s, this vast forest was “exhausted over the course of ten to twenty years” by northern capitalists.

The devastation of that period led to the establishment of forestry schools such as the first one here in North Carolina at Biltmore near Asheville.  Graduates were eventually hired by timber companies and helped usher in an era of sustainability.

The Uwharrie was purchased by the federal government during the Great Depression and made a national forest by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.  Today, longleaf reforestation already covers 800 acres in the Uwharrie.

But North Carolina’s 1.3 million acres of national forest are about much more than sustainable forestry.  Of the 7.5 million visitors to the forests each year, 48.5% go there to view scenery and 28% drive through them for pleasure, as we did last weekend, thereby adding to the renewable return on investment from these incredible  natural resources.

North Carolina’s current legislature seems bent on sacrificing the state’s natural resources, first turning the scenic roadsides over to outdoor billboard companies for clear cutting at no charge and soon for natural gas fracking.

Hopefully before it is too late North Carolina voters will intervene.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Ironies of Sense-of-Place Desecration

If you were to ride a motorcycle, as I do from time to time, through Burlington, Graham and Mebane, North Carolina, you would know they are cool little towns. Unfortunately that isn’t the first or last impression of visitors or other people who pass through by traveling in well more than 100,000 vehicles on I 85/40 each day, about 1 for every 1.4 residents who live there.

According to a transportation planning survey, residents in that area care about their quality of place with 80% wanting to preserve natural areas, open space or farmland and improve air quality, while 90% support the planting of trees and shrubs along roadways and 100% support the preservation of historic buildings and sites.

Returning home to Durham last week from a presentation on strategic thinking to B-school grads at Appalachian State University, I counted approximately 156 huge roadside billboards (counting those that are two-sided) in just the approximately 13 miles from the western edge of Burlington to the eastern edge of Mebane or 1 every 4 seconds at the 5 miles per hour over the speed limit set on my cruise control.

Since it takes approximately 2.5 seconds at the very least to decipher a message on a billboard at all, the advertising placed on those monstrosities is a waste of money even in an attempt to reach the 1 out of 10 consumers who use them regularly according to surveys while, at the same time, the messages are sure to turn-off the 7 out of 10 who never use them and view them as a desecration.

Not exactly what those advertisers were hoping.  The desecration was just as great as I traveled further west through Greensboro cementing first and last impressions of North Carolina’s third largest city while de-greening the boro.

Making the desecration even more memorable is that there were no or relatively few billboards along the other stretches of my route.

One lonely billboard though drew an ironic smile as I neared Boone, NC where ASU is located.  It proclaimed the spectacular views from Grandfather Mountain, now a state park, while desecrating the view of the forest and mountains behind the billboard.

Unfortunately this irony is too often lost on enablers of these obsolete forms of advertising.  In Durham, where I live and where billboards have been banned since 1984, a local government agency is using one of the few billboards remaining (gratis I’m sure) to advertise the smoking ban here while enabling the desecration of oxygen-generating trees and vegetation.

That may be a double, triple or quadruple irony.

Some one who hasn’t connected the dots hoping hypocritically to connect the dots about one ban while lending credibility to the circumvention of another with a message about freeing our lungs of smoke on a structure enabled during by the last session of the legislature to clear cut huge swaths of oxygen-generating trees and vegetation.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Infographic – What Women Want


If clicking on the image doesn’t open up the entire multi-pane inforgraphic, click here.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Simply No Place For BMOCs

The issue published this week of the McKinsey Quarterly features an article with with the following five questions that senior executives should ask to maximize their marketing’s worth.

And it comes as no surprise that they all involve research.

  1. What exactly influences our consumers today?
  2. How well informed (really) is our marketing judgment?
  3. How are we managing financial risk in our marketing plans?
  4. How are we coping with added complexity in the marketing organization?
  5. What metrics should we track given our (imperfect) options?BMOC

The authors wisely note that “data remain only as useful as the expertise you bring to bear, and judgment will remain a hallmark of the best marketers.”

However, the problem with far too many marketers and the people who manage them is that they want to jump to action based only on uninformed opinions.

Failing to grasp that judgment is far more than opinion, these are the folks who denigrate any reference to research or data-based decision-making.

A new IBM survey identifies three things that separate outperformers from underperformers: 1) access to data, 2) capacity to draw insights from data and 3) ability to translate insights into action.

A caveat would be that it requires humility to be good at marketing and to have the guts to subject opinions to empirical testing and data evaluation.

There is simply no place for BMOCs.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The State of U.S. Nature-Based Participation

In the early spring of 1964 I had a lot to celebrate.  I earned Eagle Scout, got my learner’s permit to drive and inherited an old beloved 1952 hand-me-down Jeep from my grandparents.  Life was good.

So a group of us planned a week-long fly-fishing trip for that summer going up through the Bob Marshall Wilderness using pack horses.  “The Bob,” as it is known, includes a million acres along the Continental Divide just south of Glacier National Park in a part of western Montana originally intended to be part of Idaho, my native state.Outdoor Recreation Study

I didn’t realize until recently that in addition to signing my Eagle certificate in early March of that year, President Lyndon B. Johnson would be signing the Civil Rights Act the same week we headed up into “The Bob.”

A few months later the President would also sign the Wilderness Act that would create a system of places like “The Bob” after that legislation had been floor-sponsored by Senator Frank Church of Idaho.

Recreation was not the original purpose of national forests when they were first created in 1891, but by 1916 it placed at or near the top of the list for forest value in many sections according to an excellent new book entitled American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation.

From 1945, three years before I was born, through 1960 recreation visitors seeking out national forests for recreation grew by 900% to 92 million annually compared to a 35% growth in population during the same period.

A report (link takes a while to open) just published benchmarks that over the first decade of this century, annual participation in nature-based outdoor activities among Americans 16 years of age or older increased 7.1% to nearly 210 million.

Even more significant, though, is that the number of participant days in these 50 surveyed activities jumped 40% to 52 billion and the average per capita jumped 31%.

Topping the list was an 83.5% or 4.8 billion participant-day increase in viewing wildflowers/trees and a 62.6% or 4.5 billion participant-day increase in viewing natural scenery. Together they account for 88% of nature based participant days.

The rolling study conducted as part of the renewable resources assessment includes outdoor activities near home, along roadsides and in places such as parks and public forests.  Various models show that the activity of viewing nature will grow anywhere from 42% to 76% by 2060.

The outdoors as recreation, including self-renewal and self-reflection, has roots in the 1830s and before, but it took off as a form of tourism in the 1920s when nearly 60% of the 10 million cars in existence were being used for autocamping.

I lived for a couple of years in the Marina District of San Francisco.  It was at the 1915 World’s Fair held in that neighborhood and where a few of the fair’s buildings still exist that Thomas Edison famously sparked the interest of Henry Ford and Henry Firestone in the autocamping caravans they conducted for many years with their families.

No one may have been any more influential than Ford and Firestone in making this form of recreation accessible to individuals and families across the nation.

However, nature-based outdoor recreation has always been easily dismissed by some who are perhaps less introspective or self-reflective or possibly focused only on less strategic commercial development without regard to the far greater commercial significance of nature.

An obvious example that comes to mind are outdoor billboards and those who enable the companies that own them to clear-cut hundreds of thousands of acres of public roadside trees while desecrating views come to mind as an obvious example.

Roadside desecration stalked nature-based outdoor recreation almost immediately after it emerged and was hilariously depicted in 1920s editorial cartoons now archived for safekeeping in the New York Public Library.

That sparked the origin of wilderness recreation such as I enjoyed in “The Bob” during that week before I turned 16.  Bob Marshall, for whom that particular wilderness area was named, was appalled by the roadside desecration of the 1920s as he frequented the Adirondacks each summer even promoting them while earning a forestry degree at Syracuse.

He worked for the National Forest Service and was stationed in Missoula south of where his namesake wilderness area is today.  He also loved Alaska, naming the two peaks Gates of the Arctic which eventually came to be designated a national park and wilderness area too.

He died before he turned 40, after founding The Wilderness Society, and decades before his vision was signed into law which occurred a few months after my 1964 visit to “The Bob.” 

Little did I know that that fly-fishing trip wouldn’t be the last time I would cross Marshall’s path, as I went on to live for many years in Alaska during the 1980s and am now involved with Scenic North Carolina in an effort to stem and then reverse visual pollution while promoting the scenic character of my adopted home.

More southerners participate in nature-based outdoor recreation than those of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Coast combined, but we do far too little to protect it from roadside desecration such as huge, roadside billboards.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Frackfull View And Sense of Place

I hear and read a lot about fracking, but the impact is hard to visualize.

Unfortunately, by the time I cut across southwestern Pennsylvania on my most recent cross-country drive it was nightfall.  I had been curious to see the effect of fracking on rolling countryside because Durham, North Carolina, where I live, is also underlain in part by a Triassic basin.

There are many aspects to sense of place here including geology and quality air and water.  But a sense-of-place asset that Durham also leverages to draw tourism and the talent necessary for other forms of economic development is the community’s incredible natural setting among the forests, lakes, rivers and hills and dales of North Carolina.

Fortunately, thanks to Marcellus Air, hundreds of aerial views document the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the visual aspects of sense-of-place including the thousands of mini-chemical plants required.

A scroll down through the photos on the links below is informative. 

First series of aerial images

Second series of aerial images

Third series of aerial images

(Look for others, as well as updates, in the legend to the left)

It isn’t hard to understand how excited the gas industry is to deploy this natural resource or the effectiveness of their campaign contributions on permissive legislative decisions.

I also believe the people behind the technology are sincere.  The problem isn’t the theory but, as with any technology, it is with the execution which often goes to the lowest bidder.

Is it worth the risk?  Is the development based on the long-discredited linear depletion model?

It doesn’t seem based on the much more sustainable closed loop (industrial ecology) model that fully accounts for all costs in the computation of cost-benefit including the incorporation of environmental externalities.

For me, the issue isn’t just whether we are going to be “fur or agin” fracking.  The question is one of values and whether the business model ensures values such as quality of water, air and sense of place.

If it doesn’t, then it much to expensive to risk at any level of benefit.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Surprising Wisconsin Detour – A Convergence of Three Passions

I was drawn up through Wisconsin for my first visit to that state during the west-bound leg of a 6000-mile cross-country road trip last year with Mugsy, my English bulldog, as we leisurely made our way to meet up with family at a lake along the border of Washington and the Idaho panhandle.

As we drew closer to the Wisconsin-Illinois border we had a choice of two alternative routes of interest.  Satellite radio news from Wisconsin at the time, as it still is today, was all about recall elections.

I toyed with veering slightly northeast up through Governor Scott Walker’s hometown of Delavan, now with a renewed reputation as circus capital of the world, then on to see the spectacular new Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee and then five minutes further to the site of the 126-year-old historic Bay View Massacre which occurred during another misguided period of union-busting in that state.

But for several reasons related to Durham, North Carolina, where we live and began our journey, I decided instead to cut northwest up through the prairie and savannahs of the western uplands, past the four lakes of Madison (even though we would miss seeing my friend and fellow blogger Bill Geist who was also on the road) and then up through the Dells and across the valley of the 285-mile long Chippewa River.

All three reasons for selecting that route relate to passions of mine including the Civil War, the story of trees and family history .

The Civil War effectively ended at Durham with the largest surrender of the war by Confederate General Johnston to Union General Sherman (at Appomattox, Lee had surrendered only what remained of the Army of Northern Virginia.)

Several Wisconsin units had fought with Sherman through the South from Vicksburg to Chattanooga, down across Georgia, up through South Carolina ending in North Carolina and Durham including the 25th Wisconsin which was drawn from counties along the Chippewa.

The 25th was part of approximately 80,000 Wisconsinites who fought in the war against slavery and to save the union including 12,000 of whom died.

But 36 years before that war ended in Durham, as a young Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, eventual-Confederate president Jefferson Davis led a party up the Chippewa and made what newspapers reported as the first “sound of a white man’s ax heard in the pine forests of Wisconsin.”

Today, only 46% of Wisconsin is covered by forest but back what would become Wisconsin was 86% covered by forests.

As Jefferson Davis paddled his birch bark canoe, the Chippewa River Valley alone held one-sixth of all of the pine timber west of the Appalachians according to the New York Times and 34% of the pinery in what would become the Wisconsin Territory seven years later.

Davis swung that ax along the Chippewa three years before US Government-contracted surveyors began detailing the area on maps to be used by timber companies, settlers and speculators as well as portions granted to the railroads.

It was also about the year two of my ancestors, Lewis and Elizabeth Neeley migrated north to try to help settle Dane County, Wisconsin several years before Madison was founded there only to find themselves in the middle of the Black Hawk War and were driven south again after the 1832 attack on Fort Blue Mounds, leaving two children buried there.

The Neeleys relocated back to Vermillion, IL in 1833, the same year future president Abraham Lincoln volunteered to fight in the Black Hawk War.  Eventually the Sac (Sauk) Chief Black Hawk sought refuge along the river with the Chippewa Indians (Ojibwa) where he was persuaded to surrender and was escorted by Lt. Davis to Fort Crawford.

For a time, the Neeleys relocated near Vermillion, IL during the time when the Treaty of St. Peters between the U.S. and representatives from various Ojibwa bands which granted full access to exploit the Chippewa River Valley.  But the Neeleys had headed west by the time Lincoln arrived to practice law in Vermillion.

By 1850, two years after Wisconsin became a state and just as logging was ramping up along the Chippewa, my great-great-great grandfather Lewis, having lost his wife in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, was heading further west still with my great-great grandfather Armenius, up and over the Continental Divide.

Logging the Chippewa would intensify after the Civil War as the soldiers of the 25st Wisconsin returned home two years before Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series was born along that river, the inspiration for her first book Little House in the Big Woods.

The commander of the 25th Wisconsin, Jeremiah McLain Rusk went on to serve in the U.S. Congress then as the governor of Wisconsin when his order to the National Guard led to the tragedy at Bay View.

By the 1890s logging along the Chippewa had peaked after a billion feet of logs had been harvested annually through the 1880s.  Only 5% of the spectacular White Pines and 0.5% of the Hemlock trees remained.

Long before sustainable logging, people with names such as Weyerhaeuser had denuded the Chippewa of 46 billion board feet of timber and by the 1920s the timber companies were trying to sell the barren land to farmers.

But once cut over, the land remained “unrehabilitated for generations.”  Gradually by World War II the area reforested but not the way it had been.

An hour west from Eau Claire WI, where Mugsy and I crossed the Chippewa, and a half hour north off the Interstate as it nears the Wisconsin border with Minnesota is the little town of Clear Lake WI.

It is the hometown of the late U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who served two two-year terms as governor of Wisconsin beginning in 1958 before his 18 years in the Senate.

Nelson grew up at a period when the devastation left by unsustainable lumbering practices around Clear Lake had left it poor, polluted and denuded compared to what it had been when his grandparents had homesteaded there from Norway in the 1870s.

Nelson was a progressive and eventually a Democrat but in the Wisconsin before he returned home from fighting in World War II to practice law he might have easily been a Republican.

Wisconsin progressives were Republicans dating back to the legendary Robert M. La Follette, Jr. a native of Madison and a longtime Senator and candidate for President or maybe to the party’s founding in 1854 with progressive antislavery roots

But progressives were driven out of the Wisconsin Republican Party when La Follette was defeated by the now infamous Joseph McCarthy of 1950s “Red Scare” notoriety when he used extremism and unsubstantiated charges to purge political enemies not dissimilar to the tactics pursued against unions today by Tea Partiers fueling support for Governor Walker.

During the early 1960s Nelson was known as the “conservation governor” and the popularity for those initiatives catapulted him to the U.S. Senate where he helped Wisconsin regain credibility on the national stage by founding Earth Day and spearheading conservation legislation throughout the 1970s as part of his fervent advocacy on behalf of small business.

The 288 mile detour we took last summer through Wisconsin was enlightening as well as memorable and Mugs and I definitely hope to see more of that state on future trips.