Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Reality Distortion Of So-Called Balanced News

Until a recent road trip, I didn’t realize that by the War of 1812, nearly 80% of the people living in what is now the southern part of the Canadian Province of Ontario, were American immigrants.
A few were quasi-loyalists who settled there after the Revolutionary War but predominantly with American ideas such as governing as a Republic. But most were settlers lured by cheap land from New York and Pennsylvania, including Quakers and Mennonites who were promised they would not be forced into military service.

In fact, during the war, many American officials expected this fifth column to secede bringing Upper Canada, including what is now Toronto, into the United States. Of course, not only did that not happen but it bred some resentment that festers even today.

So the irony wasn’t lost when I found myself sitting one night on the trip next to someone who is an American-Canadian by marriage and had come across the border for a gathering with friends and mutual friends of friends.

It's Even Worse Than It Looks
Obviously someone who keeps up with certain information sources, this new acquaintance failed to realize that some at the event were political Independents such as me and others were progressive Democrats.

The co-guest launched into the latest right-wing assaults on President Obama, inaccurately claiming, as 34% of Conservative Republicans believe, that the President is a Muslim (up 18% since he was elected.)

Before I could testify with evidence that he is definitely a Christian, the speaker went into stories she had been told firsthand that the children of Somali immigrants to this country are refusing to assimilate in this country and working as a fifth column to superimpose their culture on Americans.

Though separated by Americans were doing the same in Canada, maybe the paranoia of this person is what is called “inversed projection", a psychological phenomenon where individuals or groups subconsciously rationalize a contradiction by painting themselves as the victim instead, a subject of some research I conducted in college.

This example of the fears some sources perpetuate is pretty subtle compared to the outlandish accusations this month by the ever entertaining Representative Bachmann but it occurred at a more personal level.
I defused my co-guest by making the observation that she certainly keeps up with the news and that it is almost criminal today that so much unsubstantiated crap is perpetuated as fact and then and managed to segue to another topic.

Purveyors of the kind of crap this person perpetuated is not new in American.  In fact there have been other spans in our history where it was worse in content if not as pervasiveness.

There is a quote from an op-ed earlier this year by the authors of a new book co-written by two think-tank scholars, one more progressive and the other more conservative,  Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute:
“We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.
Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?”
This isn’t just about journalists who are stretched or lazy or prone to recycle information even after it has been proven distorted.  Nor is it about those who won’t consider a comment by a source unless it fits a story that has been pre-written with blanks to fill in.

While extremist sources across the spectrum spew junk, the mainstream media blinds news consumers by making everything seem like it has two equally balanced and relevant sides.  Take for example a preliminary report last week by the Congressional independent, nonpartisan General Accountability Office documenting that the hostage taking by extreme Republicans last summer over raising the debt-ceiling, has already added $1.3 billion to the national debt.

It was given brief coverage (certainly nothing close to that given to the debt-ceiling maneuvers)  in the news media, mostly in blogs, as though the extra debt was because of a squabble attributable to both sides, not a deliberate tactic by one side, which is providing plenty of cover for the same group as it threatens to do it again.

It is a perfect example of what Mann and Ornstein meant when they wrote:
“…a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.”
Studies reveal just how much distortion there was in the 2010 mid-term elections.  Reality for many Americans is obviously now even more distorted and it will become even more so in the next few months with the onslaught of anonymous advertising leading up to the presidential election.
We need the mainstream media more than ever to tell it like it is.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Overcoming Recycling Cynicism

Some of the most cynical statements I hear about recycling whenever I bring up obvious gaps seem to be quips from those tasked with getting people to recycle.

It can’t be an easy job, after all, especially if you consider that we still can’t get 23% of men, many dressed in impeccable business attire (up to a third of those attending expensive sports events,) to wash their hands after using public restrooms, or 61% of Americans to do so after coughing or sneezing.  So how do we get people to sort recyclables from trash?Library Containers

The 2012 National Geographic Greendex Survey reveals that 47% of Americans say they always recycle vs. 22% who often recycle.

That is 9 percentage points more than the worldwide average but far less than the 64% of Canadians who always recycle and 19% who often recycle.

Applying the differential in the survey of those who believe they are green vs. their perceptions of others, the percentage of Americans who always recycle may be closer to 32% compared to Canadians at 37% so maybe some cynicism among those tasked with increasing participation is justified.

Here are more than a half dozen suggestions that can possibly help fuel greater recycling:

  • Anyone selected to champion recycling should already have ample passion and determination along with a strong sense of mission along with a strong growth-orientation.  It will be essential to success and experts find it is almost impossible to instill these attributes in people once they are adults.


That is most likely the same proportion who can’t be troubled to be diligent about placing items in the right container or give a damn that we’re rapidly running out of landfill.



  • A clear answer has never been forthcoming but no one seems to know how many Durham schools, public, private and charter have separate receptacles for trash and recycling similar to those shown at the library.  How can this value be embedded in adults if it isn’t abundantly clear and available to young people?


  • Stop being timid about enforcement.  A Republican official and friend of mine believes the fixation his party has with regulations is paradoxically driven by the fact that so few are energetically enforced which leads to over tightening.



  • Promote stores that have recycling bins, especially those that collect items not yet eligible for curbside, e.g. small batteries at the American Tobacco Complex and plastic bags at Regency Cleaners and Target.

I’ve become an avid recycler and part of the motivation has been a game I’ve played for years to see how small I can get my trash footprint each week compared to the amount in my recycling cart which is picked up every other week.  Now it has become a reflex.

The same could be done for a community by regularly reporting a simple scorecard showing the proportions of trash and recyclables on a per capita basis compared to past performance and goals.  The EPA has even developed a calculator that could be used to compute the energy savings.

For example, few residents in Durham, NC, where I live, seem aware that the per capita trash disposed has declined 14% over the past 10 years, far more than the state average and far better than the 45% increase in the average of averages for other urban counties.

Still we can learn from and be challenged by neighbors who are doing better including some in the Durham metro such as the record-setting Orange County.

I am sure there is a similar 10 year benchmark for recyclable recovery but I can’t put my hands on it.  Last year, Durham ranked just 28th out of 100 counties, up from 33rd the year prior at 121.12 lbs. and far short of the 300+ goal assigned by the state.

Boiling these out into monthly numbers and giving the entire community simple reports of how much we are transferring from trash to recycling seems to be an idea with merit.

Recycling is important but it can be fun and rewarding.  Analysis shows that a 75% diversion of trash and debris, such as that created by construction, by 2030 from municipal landfills, would create 2.3 million jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to shutting down about 72 coal power plants and significantly improve our ecosystem.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Infographic – Attitudes Toward London Games

Attitudes Related To London Games

To view a news release about the Research Now study and a larger infographic, click here.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Infographic – Ice Cream Cities And States

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Role Of Strategic Thinking In Leadership

Recently I was asked to lecture at the Walker College of Business at ASU on strategic thinking, an ability with which I was often credited during my now-concluded 40-year career as a community-destination marketing exec.

The presentation went well, but being a strategic thinker and explaining what a strategic thinker is are very different.  I know from the Clifton StrengthsFinder that strategic thinking is one of four sets of talents used in leadership including other groupings for executing, influencing and relationship building.

Strategic thinking includes the talent for being analytical (challenging), using context (understanding the present by curating the past), being futuristic (having visions of what could be), ideation (ability to find connections between disparate phenomena), input (ability to deal with conflict), intellection (muscular brains), learner (continuously and never-ending improvement) and well, being strategic (ability to spot patterns and issues to create alternative ways to proceed).

Those tempted to cherry pick among these and 26 other areas of talent for a self-description, should really take the StrenghtsFinder survey for an objective assessment of their personal mix of talents.  Having genuine “chops” is more than just who you say or think you are in your own wonderful self.The Strategist

Another good resource on the role of strategic thinking in leadership is the new book by Harvard Business School professor Cynthia Montgomery published in May and entitled The Strategist – Be The Leader Your Business Needs excerpts of which were adapted for a paper just issued by McKinsey.

Montgomery, the Timken Professor of Business Administration at Harvard and an excellent researcher and writer, summarizes the unique value strategic leaders bring to organizations including:

  • The strategist as meaning maker – “It is the leader – the strategist as meaning maker – who must make the vital choices that determine a company’s very identity.”


  • The strategist as voice of reason – “A leader must serve as a voice of reason when a bold strategy to reshape an industry’s forces actually reflects indifference to them.”


  • The strategist as operator – “A great strategy, in short, is not a dream or lofty idea, but rather a bridge between the economics of the market, the ideas at the core of a business, and action…the bridge must rest on a foundation of clarity and realism [data]…strategy or execution is a false dichotomy…”

Oh, by the way, if you know or have worked with me, you’re not surprised that three of my five more prominent talents according to StrengthFinder are in the areas of strategic thinking and one each in the areas of executing and influencing:


Create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.


A great desire to learn and to continuously improve.


Able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.


Can make things happen by turning thoughts into action.


Great deal of stamina and work hard…great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

StrenghFinder reports go into much more depth including how to mitigate or finesse the impact of these strengths on people in your presence.

I’ve compared that back with an analysis Dr. Clifton conducted on me in 1986 as a young community-destination marketing exec when he was in the early stages of building a database of strengths necessary for various occupations.  He reminded me of the results of that assessment in a letter of congratulations when I was recruited three years later to Durham, NC, where I still live in retirement, to jump-start the community’s destination marketing organization.

The terms he used had evolved by the time he developed StrengthsFinder twelve years later when the database had reached 100,000.  But his 1986 assessment is very consistent with this later analysis using a database well past 10 million.

Dr. Clifton passed away nearly 10 years ago but his legacy continues to grow as does my appreciation for my time as an early beneficiary of his brilliant research which continues to help individuals identify their talents so that they’re able to find areas of endeavor where they are able to excel.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Early Lessons On Acceptance

In the early 1960s, as I was working toward achieving Eagle Scout, Dad’s best friend at the time, a person he befriended at work, was gay.  He was also close to my mom and visited the house frequently, went with us on family lake outings and I worked for him the summer before high school grade to scrape and paint huge Victorian homes, a business he had on the side.

My father, who passed away suddenly two weeks after 9/11, was no paragon of tolerance.  In fact, as with many in that “Greatest Generation,” he could often sound pretty intolerant in reference to groups but when it came to individuals, he was paradoxically very accepting of people of different ethnicities and orientations.

A new appreciation for my dad came to me only recently as I discovered a lengthy note from his friend on an opening page in a Bible he had given Dad in which he expressed “appreciation for all the happiness, understanding, love and guidance…so generously given” to him.

I spent several decades of my early life protecting the world from my father’s views, but it strikes me that his acceptance of his friend may have inspired me to befriend and defend an openly gay classmate in 1970 at Brigham Young University.

Today, while that university is far more conservative than when I attended, there are now more than 1,800 gay and lesbian students there but it may not be any easier for them than it was for my friend.

I wonder how Dad would have reacted to the just-renewed ban on gays serving as leaders by the Boy Scouts of America?  Even as an ultra-conservative, he must have realized 50 years ago as he entrusted his friend with his teenage son that gays are no more likely to be a threat to that organization or to young people than heterosexuals.

Even though Dad was not a Boy Scout growing up and had his fill of camping as a 3rd Army tanker at the end of World War II, he encouraged me and even volunteered at the Council level during the time I was becoming one of the first half million (430,00 then still living) to achieve Eagle Scout since Arthur Rose Eldred had become the first to do so nearly 52 years earlier to the month from my doing so.

The Eagle rank has been achieved by 2% of those who have participated in scouting since 1911, including 27,000 the year I did.  I had no idea at the time that it was rare, or that I would be among 8% of Eagle Scouts who would go on be inducted into Order of the Arrow, one of 2,000 that year in the nation.

The Order is a sort of service-related honor society, making the odds extremely low that I would come to work side by side a few years ago with another member from Durham, when I was CEO of this community’s destination marketing organization before retiring three years ago.

Without Dad’s quiet encouragement, I’m not sure that becoming Eagle and Order of the Arrow would have been able to successfully compete with my greater passions for cars, girls and sports as well as a part-time job at that age.

A 2010 survey by Gallup in conjunction with analysis by researchers at Baylor University reveals that the training necessary to achieve Eagle Scout may have played a part in my career and values as an adult because those who have achieved this honor are far more likely as adults to:

  • Be in a leadership position at their place of employment or local community
  • Report having closer relationships with family and friends
  • Volunteer for religious and nonreligious organizations
  • Donate money to charitable groups
  • Work with others to improve their neighborhoods

The study also reveals that “Eagle Scouts are 89 percent more likely than other Scouts and 92 percent more likely than non-Scouts to
be active in a group that works to protect the environment,” passions of mine even in retirement.

While my attendance lapsed entirely more than 40 years ago, I was raised a Mormon, the church that sponsored my Boy Scout Troop, and as you may know from recent posts, my roots on both sides of my family go back to two men who preceded by several days the first 148 pioneers who arrived to settle the Intermountain West 165 years ago this week.

I still respect and honor that heritage and a legacy that has historically been far more tolerant and socially accepting than is portrayed by active members of what is today the most conservative of all faiths including other Christian denominations.

Today the 65% of Boy Scout troops sponsored by religious organizations include 20% sponsored by the Mormon Church including 150,000 current Scouts which comprise about 15% of the total.

Together with other Christian denominations such as Catholics, the hierarchy of the Mormon Church opposes homosexuality and that may explain why BSA continues to do so.

But recent articles reveal that Mormon acceptance of gays may be broadening among members and even some leaders while some denominations such as Unitarians actually began to withdraw BSA sponsorship over the exclusion of gays more than 20 years ago.

I’m not about to burn my Eagle ribbon or Order of the Arrow sash or resign my lifetime membership in the 180,000-member National Eagle Scout Association, but I believe that current BSA leaders are being hypocritical to the code it established to embed in young people.

Permitting gays and lesbians to serve where desired without requiring it in areas where sponsors oppose it seems a good middle ground, although I’m not one who believes an organization’s overarching values should ever be for sale in exchange for sponsorship dollars, especially if the price of doing so is bigotry.

I agree with another but much younger communications executive, Adele Gambardella-Cehrs who blogged this week that the small committee entrenched in this archaic position missed a perfect opportunity to conduct an anonymous survey of its leaders, staff and members (and I would add former members of distinction) to simply ask “In your opinion, should BSA allow openly gay members and leaders?”

It would be interesting if the same anonymous survey could help quantify how many former scouts and scout leaders are gay today.

It would be particularly enlightening to view the results from the 50,000 Scouts who will earn Eagle this year and who come from a generation that appears from surveys to be much more accepting.

I am almost certain the results would inform a far more enlightened and contemporary position for the organization but regardless, it would be a better way to make a decision than an anonymous group of eleven individuals.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Continuing Passion For Curation

The first task for any community-destination marketing organization (DMO) has always been the on-going responsibility to curate a community, which essentially means to “pull together, sift through and organize,” in other words to give visitors (including 80% of newcomers and relocating entrepreneurs and execs) the context from which to explore and hopefully be transformed by sense of place.

This most elemental and essential responsibility of a DMO is not new, although curation has become something of a buzz word recently, especially in social media circles. This is because, while the Internet puts more and more sources of data at our fingertips, this has only renewed understanding of the pivotal need to have that data authenticated and curated.

Curation can be as simple as authenticating with context complete and searchable list of accommodations and restaurants and venues for entertainment or enrichment, to but stop there will result in only the most superficial and routine form of tourism as a sort of long distance shopping trip that reveals more of how a community is the same than how it is distinct and worthy of exploration.

A pivotal part of curating a community for visitor-centric economic and cultural development is the distillation and interpretation of a community’s distinct personality including its most temporal values and traits often termed as its brand.

This element of curation is the core of a community’s genuine story and the essence of any further communication with prospective visitors such as other elements of marketing.

Curation also includes comprehensive, community-wide wayfinding signage that provide a coherent means of moving from neighborhood to neighborhood and visitor feature to visitor feature without prior knowledge, including pointing the way back home.

Any community that stops with wayfinding only its downtown area is merely a tease.

Paradoxically, curation makes it more not less feasible for visitors to plumb the true potential of the freedom to travel including tourism as a means to search and explore and illuminate.  By facilitating the tactical elements of a visit, it empowers a search of mysteries.

If a community seeks to inspire its community-destination marketing organization or if a DMO is seeking to better illustrate its relevance, there are no better references than this seven-page essay by Dr. Scott Russell Sanders of Indiana University or by extension this more recent, two-and-one-half page op-ed co-authored by Dr. Ilan Stavans of Amherst College and journalist Joshua Ellison.

As I set out on my next 6,000+ mile cross-country venture with Mugsey, my English Bulldog, I will be at the mercy of those responsible for providing context and authenticated curation including a navigation system hopefully authenticated by DMOs, wayfinding along the National Highway System including exit logo signs, and apps for exits such as “Find It On The Road Ahead” and  “Find Pet Friendly Hotels.”

My journey is one of self-discovery and communion with my roots, curated both by my own family history research, the journal kept by one of my great-great-great grandfathers as well as the National Park Service’s Historic Trails.

During a layover west of the Continental Divide to collect my daughter and grandsons, I will fulfill a promise to show them the curated monuments honoring four sets of their great-grandparents x 5, three on a plaque placed in 1900 while they were still alive and another near the Utah State Capitol honoring the members of the Mormon Battalion before we head north through Idaho for time at a lake in the Pacific Northwest.

In part I guess you could say that I will be doing a little curating of my own on their behalf, as my grandparents on both sides so patiently did for me beginning with my early years on the Idaho ranch they had homesteaded along side my great-grandparents and in whose abandoned house I often played, including on an old buggy, on a roundup chuck wagon (mini-covered wagon) and along a hillside used for refuse which was littered with very cool antique bottles and other artifacts.

It could be said, and I like to think that curation was my profession during my now-concluded, nearly-40-year and extremely fulfilling career in community-destination marketing and that I am still curating now in retirement with this blog.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Convergence Of My Roots

In the 1830s, four sets of great-great-great grandparents, two paternal and two maternal converged along the western edge of Illinois along various points of the Mississippi River and eventually met up in Hancock County, across from that little, 30-mile jag in the southeast corner of the just-created Iowa Territory created as a result of militias facing off in the Honey War with Missouri.

They had been drawn for different reasons to various parts of Illinois from their homes in south central Massachusetts, west central New York, south eastern Pennsylvania, and south central Virginia, but they and their families eventually all converged for the same reason in Hancock County, they had become among the several thousand people to join the 10-year-old Christian faith nicknamed Mormons.

Although forefathers of these ancestors of mine had fought and often died for this country including causes such as the right to religious freedom, some as early as the conflicts of the late 1600s and many others in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, these four families were soon forced by mobs to flee across the river on a four month slog across southern Iowa during a very wet and muddy Spring to Council Bluffs which overlooks the Missouri River and Nebraska where they were delayed a full year before continuing west into the safety of what was then Mexico.

Charles Shumway had been the first among 3,000 to cross the Mississippi into Iowa and he and Charles Harper would be in the vanguard wagon train to the west and among the first few wagons into the valley of Salt Lake, serving together on a committee of three to make preparations for the others just less than a hundred years before two of heir descendants, my parents, would meet and marry.

They were followed by Lewis Neeley three years later but ironically, my fourth ancestor, Sebert Shelton, who was born in an area of Virginia just an hour north of where I now live in Durham, North Carolina, took a more circuitous route.

He was among 500 who volunteered at the ironic request of the American Army to fight in the war with Mexico and eventually with the rank of quartermaster sergeant, headed toward Santa Fe, taking his family with him.  In further irony, he was later asked to help lead a detachment of sick soldiers to winter in Pueblo, CO, among Mormons who were wintering there on their way west from Mississippi.

All would then venture north to the trail being blazed by the vanguard group including three of my ancestors, following them by just a week into the valley of the Salt Lake where in a final bit of irony, what was then Mexico would soon became part of America because of that war and eventually the territory and then state of Utah.

Sebert Shelton’s name isn’t as prominent as my other ancestors among the first pioneers, possibly because within a year or two, he headed across Nevada, first into the California Gold Rush at El Dorado and then eventually settling in western Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, where he is buried near famed Highway 101.

In another bit of irony, taking Northern California had been the mission given then Sargent Shelton’s Mormon Battalion by the President of the United States in the 1846 war with Mexico.

On upcoming cross country trips to see family including my daughter and grandsons, I’ll be closely following the routes these ancestors took up and over the Continental Divide to what became my origins in the far reaches of the Teton-Yellowstone nook of Idaho.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Managing Forests On 17 Million Acres Of Roadside

When I set out again with Mugsy, my English Bulldog, for an annual rendezvous with family at a lake along the border of Washington and Northern Idaho, for a special reason we’ll head up I 77 across the very southwestern tip of Virginia.

Just as we pass through/under Walker Mountain via an incredible 4,200-foot tunnel that was completed 17 years before I relocated in 1989 to Durham, NC, where we live, I want to view the Blue Ridge valley running along the north side of the mountain, where my maternal great-grandparents x 5 settled and appear on late 1700s property records.

That stretch is part of 163,000 miles in the National Highway System (NHS.)  While comprising only 4% of the nation’s roads, the system carries more than 40% of all highway traffic, 75% of heavy truck traffic and 90% of tourist traffic which our trip will be.

Interstates such as I 77 represent only 1.1% of the nation’s roads but carry 24% of all highway travel.  The system is named for President Eisenhower under whom it was launched back when I was 8 years old, the age of my oldest grandson now.

However, planning for the Interstates began in the late 1930s and early 1940s under President Franklin Roosevelt and under whom then-General Eisenhower served as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces In Europe during World War II, but it could be argued that the idea for the system dates to an 1808 report prepared for President Thomas Jefferson.

But overall the national highway system is also in the forestry management business with 68% of the right of way unpaved, about 5 million of the 17 million acres managed by highway agencies overall across the nation.

Only 11% of the NHS roadside is covered by trees which by policy are to be cleared back approximately 40 feet from the pavement edge, 30 feet if behind a guardrail and undulating up to 50 feet only under special circumstances to create a safety zone established over the years based on the study of accidents.

These trees are far more than aesthetic, even in states such as my adopted home of North Carolina where they cover more than 14% of the 91,000 acres along Interstates here and reinforce a critical part of the state’s sense of place and appeal for tourism and to expanding or relocating businesses.

Careful management of roadside trees is far more important than just aesthetics, although that is critical to economic development such as tourism.  Assuming each tree lives 50 years and isn’t scarified for outdoor billboards, it will exhale 6,000 pounds of oxygen in its life, or about 120 pounds per year.

The trees along roadsides also hold, cleanse and slowly release storm runoff, mitigating the hazards created by the impervious surface of the roadways such as pollution and soil erosion.

Trees along the National Highway System also block particulates and along with other vegetation currently sequester 91 million metric tons of carbon, moderating climate change.  They currently capture another 3.6 million metric tons of carbon each year or the equivalent of emissions by 2.6 million passenger cars.

Like it or not, those who steward these publicly-owned roadsides are in the forestry management business.  Because trees age out and reach a maximum for the carbon they can hold, it is important that roadside maintenance includes effective, on-going reforestation and afforestation of areas where trees do not exist.

This is why Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush (the first President Bush for you youngsters) announced the creation of the America The Beautiful program to plant a billion trees a year including many along roadsides during a State of the Union address delivered just a few months after I moved to North Carolina:

“This year's budget provides… a new initiative I call America the Beautiful to… plant a billion trees a year.”

The plan was for 30 million of those billion trees to be planted in urban areas.  I can’t find a report on the results of the program which isn’t a good sign.  Recent administrations, including this one, have seemed to waiver from being disengaged to surrendering our roadsides to blight, as legislators and the Governor have done in this state.

Trees are an imperfect solution because they release carbon once they die or are cut, but we need every solution we can get to help us deal with the threats we face across so many fronts.

Hopefully the agencies responsible for managing roadsides both at the federal and state levels as well as those managing urban forests will become re-energized from what has seemed to be a malaise and lack of passion over the last decade.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Infographic – Distraction During TV Commercials


Friday, July 20, 2012

Decision By Anecdote

A legislator representing Raleigh was guilty recently of what a friend of mine calls "decision by anecdote" when he called into question the well-proven fact that roadside billboards cause much harm, not just in terms of blight but soil erosion and water quality.

For him, his position rested solely on the premise that his favorite restaurant chain is one of a of a handful of corporations keeping this obsolete form of advertising on life support.

His comment illustrates a condition all too common in representative bodies of any size including boards of directors: a failure understand or grasp context.

This condition becomes especially damaging when the board or committee is so large (experts believe that 7-11 is optimal) that meetings primarily consist of a series of isolated comments with little or no opportunity for anyone to ask questions or get clarification or to consider context.

The problem is then compounded by impatient list-checkers irritated by discussion or worse, and this is especially true in legislatures today, by members who don't read, study or recall background materials and rely instead on "who's asking," "who's making the motion," or merely a glance around the room to read the eyes or body language of friends and associates or worse a pre-arranged cabal or powerful self-interest.

These are all good reasons for small and extremely diverse governance boards.  If a board is too large, the more vulnerable it is to manipulation.  If it is too small it is vulnerable to corruption.

Context is the ability or propensity to process the present and future by looking back at the past, back through data and research to gather a complete picture, back to a blueprint, back to the unintended consequences of past actions, back to scans of strengths, weakness, advantages and threats, back to strategic plans and intent.

Lack of context at best leads to a tragic failure to see or anticipate repercussions and at worst it fosters corruption, abuse of authority and unethical behavior.

Context is one of the 34 basic talents (natural way of thinking, feeling and behaving) distilled by a group of scientists assembled in 1998 by the late Dr. Donald O. Clifton with whom I had the honor of working in the late 1980s.

These 34 talents were initially distilled from a database of 100,000 individuals, including me, that studies showed had traits that were most suitable for various occupations.  Clifton’s process has proven itself now with over 10 million participants.

Longitudinal studies conducted over a 23 year period, in part by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have shown that a propensity for traits such as these manifest as young as age 3 and change little if at all by age 26.

Scientists have shown that if an individuals has a propensity for context or any of the other 34 talents it will become a strength when fueled with knowledge, skill and practice.  If it hasn't manifest in a person's makeup by the time he or she is 14-16 years old, education professionals have learned that it probably never will.

The ability to make decisions based on context rather than anecdotes or opinions should, in my opinion, be a prerequisite for running for or holding elected office or holding a seat on a governing board at any level.  It should also be an indispensible attribute of anyone given the responsibility of chief executive officer for an organization.

In fact, without talents for seeing things in context and strategic thinking, those having other talents found in chief executives, such as command or achievement or activation, often become bullies.

Especially in politics, with its propensity to make things personal rather than logical, lack of context leads to decisions informed by little more than the push and shove of strong, anecdotal opinions, fueled by lobbyists and special interests.

Lack of context is how otherwise intelligent and well-meaning individuals become the pawns of powerful special interests, partisanship and demagoguery.

Unfortunately context appears to be a talent held by only 7% of the population.  If a representative body is lucky, it has at least one individual with this gift, to whom it can turn when in danger of decision by anecdote.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Economics Of Biophilia

Absurdly, nearly 80 years ago, the outdoor billboard industry argued that nature, including trees, should be sacrificed on its behalf along public roadsides because the billboards served as a much better way for the public to see art than in galleries or museums.

Failing to see the irony, outdoor billboard enthusiasts today argue that the huge, roadside structures are not distracting which to marketers should indicate that they are then worthless or obsolete compared to the other 3.6 million ads we each see per year in America.4f5e06e3bd2e4

Equally ironic, one billboard, as shown in this blog, warns that the distraction of texting while driving kills and then encourages drivers to text for more driving tips. Uhhh!

But the desire by the nearly 8 of 10 North Carolinians, including me, who find outdoor billboards a desecration are concerned not about the billboards per se but about the much more valuable commodities being sacrificed along public roadsides so billboards can try to be distracting.

It isn’t just the fact that roadside vegetation, beyond the safety clear zone of 30 to 40 feet is valuable in sequestering carbon or holding and then slowly releasing storm water or generating oxygen or increasing appeal to visitors and relocating or expanding businesses etc.

Numerous scientific studies are showing that exposure to nature, even if it’s simulated, sharpens attention, improves productivity and satisfaction, increases rates of learning, reduces stress and violence, enhances well-being, increases property values and even accelerates healing.

Those are the same reasons that office buildings, retail outlets, hotels, restaurants, homes and hospitals are using products such as those manufactured in southeast Iowa by Sky Factory to replicate skies and mountain vistas where they are not otherwise available.

The term Biophilia was coined in 1984 by Harvard researcher and sociobiologist Dr. Edward O. Wilson to describe the innate, primal connection we all have with nature.  He argued that humans hold a biological need for connection with nature.

It has been validated by neuroscientists studying the relationship of nature to stimulation of the parts of the brain related to pleasure and positive outlook.  Exposure to nature has even been linked to increased retail sales far greater than any generated by advertising.  Views of trees and landscape have also been linked with a 10% reduction in absenteeism.

Unrelated, I’m sure, to being one of the largest recipients of campaign contributions from the outdoor billboard industry, the current democratic candidate for governor of North Carolina recently wrote that he understood “the value of outdoor advertising to our economy.”

I’m not a lawyer like he or a politician but I do have 40 years of experience in economic development including the study of economic impact and advertising; and with all due respect, there is no credible  evidence or model showing that billboards have any net economic value to the state.

But there is plenty of clear and compelling evidence that nature, including trees and vegetation along roadsides, has a huge economic, social and public health value not only along roadsides but in any way it can be manifest.

An overview of this evidence has just been published in an excellent 43-page white paper, authored by Terrapin Bright Green, development practitioners and thought-leaders in what they term a transformation to a restorative economy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Walking The Ethical Tightrope

Everyone inadvertently has brushes with ethical issues, but it isn’t uncommon to come across people, even friends, who seem to walk that line like a tightrope.  They stand out because they are never, ever going to admit they are wrong and rather than become self-reflective when challenged they get indignant and self-righteous.

Their vehement protests remind me of a quote by Ken Blanchard in the book entitled The Power of Ethical Management that he co-wrote with Norman Vincent Peale and published 24 years ago, a year before I was recruited to Durham:

“There is never a right way to do the wrong thing.”

Dr. Rushworth Kidder, who founded the Institute for Global Ethics in 1990 a few months after I arrived in Durham to jumpstart the community’s destination marketing organization passed away earlier this year.

He was an inspiration as my colleagues and I assembled what became a “best practice” code of ethics to guide the staff and board of that highly accredited community start-up and I often used a quote he penned and eventually used in his book entitled How Good People Make Tough Choices that defined ethics as “obedience to the unenforceable.”

It is too bad so much time is spent covering corporate slime balls, especially some of those in today’s financial sector, where a recent poll revealed that 1 in 4 believe they may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct to be successful.

The real news is that there are so many other incredible examples of corporate responsibility.

A leader in corporate responsibility is Tim Mohin (pictured in this blog) who received his Master’s Degree of Environmental Management here in Durham in 1984, the same year that my friend Mike Schoenfeld also graduated from Duke and, coincidentally,  a very forward thinking Durham City Council banned roadside billboards.

Mohin heads CR for AMD as he had done in the past for Intel and Apple and just wrote a book entitled Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Tree-Hugger's Guide to Working in Corporations

Two months ago Mr. Mohin returned to Durham to speak to graduates of Duke’s School of the Environment, and I’m sure he was impressed by the university’s Sustainability Policy, adopted in 2005 which continues to be integrated with the community’s values by Schoenfeld who returned to Durham four years ago to serve as Duke’s a vice president over public affairs and government relations.

Ethics and sustainability go hand-in-hand as Mohin explains in his book because corporate responsibility is “an aggregation of environmental, social, ethics, communications and other disciplines” and measured by the “triple bottom line of economic, environmental and social performance.”

Many today still try to exempt corporations from ethics even as they insist they should have free speech and freedom from transparency.  But corporate thought leaders such as Timothy Mohin may agree more with business consultant Hardin Tibbs who wrote recently in FutureProof that:

“the global industrial economy will collapse within 20 years if we don’t reinvent it to work on different technological principles.”

Or as Dr. Kidder once wrote: “We will not survive the 21st century with the ethic of the 20th Century.”

Even small community organizations such as the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) where I was CEO until retiring several years ago, followed by associations such as the Durham Chamber have committed to triple-bottom-line corporate responsibility signified by achieving Green Plus Certification.

But certifications such as these are far more than a mere accolade or something to check off a to-do list.  They provide an on-going diagnostic through which to filter and evaluate an organization’s past and future policies and activities.

I smiled a week ago when, during a live concert here in Durham, the band Crosby, Stills & Nash kept a classic for last.  Unfortunately, the late Jerry Garcia wasn’t there to repose the incredible steel guitar intro on the 1970 recording but who can forget a part of that first stanza:

“You who are on the road

Must have a code that you can live by

And so become yourself”

All of this may be lost on those who ethically tightrope.  They tend to live on a one-way street where any means justifies the end of checking something off the list.

But the best advice should you ever catch them when they are receptive, maybe even reflective is to offer in friendship one of the several tips in Blanchard’s book:

“A combination of pride and humility (thinking about yourself less and others more) helps you focus on the right priorities.”

They may not immediately come down off the tightrope but hopefully they will see that, when it comes to ethics, we can all trip up on occasion.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Recovery For Penn’s Woods

As I drove recently for the first time up through central and northeast  Pennsylvania, from near Gettysburg up past the Great Bend, I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it is nor how unusual its mountains are.

They rise sharply, each in solitude, from pastoral valleys as short, narrow, very even and individual tree-laden sandstone ridges, some as high as 2,300 feet, around which the broad, pre-existing forks of the Susquehanna River meander through softer limestone and shale as they are replenished from streams issuing from the ridges.

One near Frackville offered a bit of “energy” irony with a row of sustainable energy windmills along its top surrounding what looked like a fossil fuel fracking tower (the town’s name pre-dates that technology.)

It would have looked much different a 111 years ago as President Theodore Roosevelt cut across the path I took, as he rode the train in 1901 carrying the body of the just-assassinated President McKinley from Buffalo NY back to Washington, DC.

The young Republican President described seeing seas forested by nothing but stumps and more stumps, the aftermath of another era of unsustainable resource plunder and failed public stewardship that saw two-thirds of the deforestation of the last 400 years in this country take place over just a 60 year period, eroding soil, flooding commerce and polluting rivers.

Were Roosevelt not already an ardent conservationist, that sobering trip may have become his epiphany.  Thanks in part to his inspiration the state literally named Penn’s Woods would be much different today.

With the exception of where fracking has been enabled even in state forests, 60% of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth is covered by 17 million acres of quality hardwood forest, an increase of 30% from its historic low, anchored by 26% that is owned and managed in the public interest, including watersheds, by state, federal and municipal governments and 70% of which is controlled by private forest owners.

On our return to Durham, North Carolina, we carved a route through the scenic Delaware Water Gap where, from its source at Mt. Jefferson in New York, the Delaware River cuts a dramatic gap through the Blue Mountains of the Appalachians as it courses along the entire border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey before emptying into the Atlantic through Delaware Bay below Wilmington forming the border between the states of Delaware and New Jersey.

Prior to road trips I’ve taken over the last couple of years, my only impressions of Pennsylvania were limited to flying into Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on business trips .

Several of my ancestors spent their first years as Americans in that state, including those with names such as Arbuckle, Buzby, Bowman, Evans, Harper, Longworthy, Livezey, Messersmith and McCrory, so the trip this summer definitely will not have been my last.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hub Is Historic First Step To Filling A Cultural Gap

On July 20th, activists in Durham, NC, where I live, are taking another significant step in filling a gap in the community’s otherwise rich non-profit arts and cultural sector that has long been identified by public opinion polls and master plans.

From 6 pm to 10 pm an open house will celebrate the up-fitting of a former bus transfer station in the center of downtown Durham to a History Hub, a work-in-progress  demonstration of what the real Museum of Durham History will hopefully become.

Below are 12 imperatives gleaned from a recent study forecasting the long-term relevance of museums such as the Museum of Durham History plans to become:

  • Far into the future, “museums will be places of cultural exchange in their communities…They will be one of the most powerful agents in helping all children understand the future and ensuring they are prepared to take leadership roles.”
  • “With educational attainment becoming a more visible tool of social mobility than ever, museums provide more opportunities than ever for [those] from less-educated families to gain exposure to topics that drive academic interest…As important players in the formal and informal education system, museums will…meet the rising expectations highly educated moms have for their children.”
  • In a world undergoing incredible change, “museums will educate the public on how past societies coped and adapted to tectonic shifts in their resources.  They will help society learn from history as we cope with a new era of expensive energy, lower consumptions, carbon constraint and climate change.”
  • “Museums are stable oases in the mist of turmoil…museums play an even greater role in sustaining the well-being of their communities during a prolonged downturn. Whether for the retiree managing lower post-retirement income than anticipated, or for schools with fewer enrichment opportunities for students, museums are there for their communities.”
  • “Museums play an important role in helping communities…reinvent themselves in the new knowledge-based economy. Responding to society's need for greater global awareness…promote dialog and understanding about other cultures and our place…”
  • “Museums are among the few institutions that bring together people of all economic classes…valued for their ability to redistribute wealth in the form of access to scientific, cultural and artistic resources, mitigating the cultural gap that arises from income disparities.”
  • “the fundamental human condition responds to a variant of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: The prevalence of the digital, virtual world raises public awareness of the increasingly rare world of non-digital assets that help tell the story of how humans got where we are.  Museums play  a more critical role than ever as purveyors of the authentic, addressing a human desire for the real as the wonders of technology march us towards the opposite path.”
  • “…Museums provide common experiences for diverse audiences, serving as safe public spaces for civic dialogue. As one of the most trusted sources of information, museums help people navigate the vast new world of information by filtering and validating credible content.”
  • “Museums…play a vital role in nurturing, documenting, organizing, interpreting and making accessible…creative output…They are repositories of knowledge about traditional craft, sources of inspiration for new designs and processes, and through their collections and exhibitions” they are “validators of new.”
  • “museums provide unique opportunities for today’s youth to exercise their gaming skills and satisfy their expectations for immersive narrative.  This increases their engagement with museums but also the community and the world, providing levels of social and global awareness they might not otherwise absorb while sitting in front of a screen.”
  • “Museums will be oases of the real in an increasingly virtual world.  Along with the outdoors and places of worship, museums represent the best opportunity for getting away from it all.”

It was clear to me from a now concluded four-decade career focused on marketing communities to visitors, including newcomers and relocating or start-up executives, that local history museums uniquely provide a place where existing residents, visitors and newcomers can explore the soul of a community and appreciate and perpetuate the temporal values and traits that make a community unique and distinct.

They are essential to place-making.  They engage all five modes of cultural involvement including inventive participation, interpretive participation, curatorial participation, observational participation and ambient participation.

Congratulations to my friends on the Museum of Durham History Board and to its first full-time director, Katie Spencer on this historic step.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Infographic – 75 Years Of Hot Doughnuts

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Infographic – Who Eats What?

Who Eats What

If the full graphic doesn’t open by clicking on it, try clicking here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why The War of 1812 Is Personal For Me

It was two hundred years ago this year that my great-grandfather X 4, John Neeley, and 49 others volunteered in a rifle company of the New York State Militia which was organized southeast of his home in the Seneca County village of Ovid, in Urbana to fight in the War of 1812.

On our recent nine-day 2400-mile road trip, my first through that state outside of New York City, we briefly detoured west at one point  along the southern shore of Lake Ontario to my friend’s ancestral farm just north of the village of Red Creek (pronounced “Crick” just as we do in my native state of Idaho.)Cayuga Lake and Vineyards

But I had no idea until I was back home that at that very point we were less than 50 miles north of Ovid which sits along a high ridge sloping 4 to 5 miles to the east and west to the shores of two of the largest of the eleven Finger Lakes, Seneca and Cayuga in the valleys below.

It is impossible to travel through western, central or upstate New York without constant reminders of the War of 1812 and I want to devote a second trip solely to learning more about what is often called America’s “second war of Independence.”

After volunteering in his 30th year of age, John Neeley was marched back to his birthplace on the Niagara Frontier formed by the 35-mile river running across the strait between Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, where he fought at the Battle of Queenstown Heights under Lt. Col Hugh Dobbins, also from Seneca County, as part of the American 7th Brigade, 1st Division, 18th Regiment, Urbana Rifle Company (aka Captain Brundage’s.)

After extremely heavy fighting and casualties, John Neeley, a paternal ancestor on my grandmother Adah Neeley’s side, died a month later on a frigid mid-November day in 1812, reportedly as a prisoner of war in or near Fort Schlosser, possibly on a converted vessel called a schoolar, often suitable as privateers.

Ironically, John Neeley had been born in Niagara just as the American Revolutionary War victoriously ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  His father Peter had immigrated from the parish of Tamlaght Finlagan, in the barony of Keenaght, near the shores of Lough Foyle in west County Londonderry, in the northern province of Ulster.

Shortly after John’s birth, the family relocated 139 miles east to the village of Ovid, New York on that ridge high above the Finger Lakes, possibly to claim a land grant there in the Central New York Military Tract had Peter fought in the Revolutionary War with the Continental Army.

John married Jane Kaiser and raised a family including Lewis Neeley who was just five when his father died in the war.  Lewis grew up along the slopes of Ovid, which are covered today with vineyards.

With his wife Elizabeth Miller, Lewis was among the first to join a new Christian denomination nicknamed Mormons when it was founded less than ten miles north of Ovid in the Seneca County village of Fayette during the intense decades of religious revival and fervor that followed the War of 1812.

After the American Revolution, there were fewer church members in this country than any other land, dropping to an all-time  low of 7% of the population by 1800.  Some today claim that America’s founding was divinely inspired, but clearly ordinary Americans at the time were not inspired to belong to or attend church.

Lewis and Elizabeth, along with his mother, eventually headed west, settling for a time in Ohio, Indiana and then Illinois, following the way path blazed by “Johnny Appleseed.”

Then after Elizabeth died in Florence, Nebraska, Lewis and his son Arminius caught a train of 104 wagons on a four month journey up and over the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains to help settle the west.

I was able to connect with the origins of five other ancestors on the trip and I’ll blog about them in the future.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why Centers of Creativity Need Place-based Tourism

Seeing the four-county-metro area anchored by Durham, NC, where I live, ranked number one in the nation for the proportion of creative class jobs at 48.4% reminded me that the “talent” measure is only one ingredient of the statistical index Dr. Richard Florida generates at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank at the University of Toronto.

Actually, while the Durham metro is the only one in North Carolina to make the top 20, it ranks just 8th in the index overall coming in 40th for tolerance (Durham itself ranks much higher) and 8th for technology.  The Bohemian measure has been dropped from the index because it is not feasible to collect from current Census data.

Still 48.4% is very impressive and another support to Durham’s overarching story as a place where great things happen. “Nationwide, workers in areas of science, technology, design, architecture, arts, entertainment, healthcare, law, management and education” make up a third of the total workforce and are closely linked to economic vitality.Revisited

Reading about the new rankings brought back several related memories:

  • While Dr. Florida is no fan of touristy places which typically score very low, his research on what appeals to the creative class is filled with community attributes that rely on strong organically-focused “visitor-centric economic and cultural development.”

Places like Durham with highly successful tourism-related marketing and development that carefully fosters and preserves authentic and genuine place-based assets and attributes are sustaining the things most appealing to the creative class, while balancing the job mix.

  • The current Census grouping of cities, towns and counties into metropolitan areas is far more relevant and useful today than it was in the 1990s when Dr. Richard Florida’s team began to analyze knowledge workers (aka The Creative Class,) especially for places such as Durham NC.

Prior to these far more useful groupings adopted in the 2000s, Durham was lumped with a huge polycentric area that made it impossible to truly zero in on strengths and growth areas.  While they probably still won’t admit it, the interests that opposed Durham’s emergence back then are ironically today some of the biggest beneficiaries.

  • A decade ago, I assembled a collaboration that funded an analysis of Durham County by Dr. Kevin Stolarick and Florida’s team when they were based at Carnegie Mellon.  At that time, Durham’s proportion of creative class talent benchmarked at 40.1% and the community is obviously doing the right things to grow this proportion.

Then as now, it is important to note that appealing to the creative class isn’t about population size or being “major league” or having mainstream entertainment.  It is about being real and having a sense of place.

  • Another concern for Durham and other metros that rank high in the new analysis of creative centers is wage and income equality.  The Durham metro ranks 5th on the wage equality index (Raleigh-Cary ranks 14th) but neither makes the list for income inequality.

Being a magnate for the creative class is important to economic vitality’ but to be sustainable it is my opinion that Durham must take a broader view and work both toward a “living wage” and reestablishing its once thriving working class economy.b

There is much more in Dr. Florida’s just-released book and analysis entitled The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited and when you read it you’ll learn why it is no mistake that the link I provided in this blog is to Independent Bookstores.

Newly revealed are metro breakdowns by creative job type, e.g. Meds & Eds, Science & Tech, Business Professionals and Arts, Culture & Media.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Time When Infrastructure Was Bipartisan

During my first five years of grade school in the 1950s, even out west, construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway seemed to dominate each issue of the Weekly Reader with news about how it would enable huge cargo ships to transit to and from the Atlantic Ocean as far as 2,500 miles inland via the Great Lakes during nine months of the year.

During my recent visit along the eastern shoreline of 7,300-square-mile Lake Ontario and up through the 1000 Island Region where the Saint Lawrence River spills out of that lake as it straddles the US border with Canada, I spent plenty of time on the water with friends but we were still an hour or so below the six huge locks on the up-river end of the Seaway.

Unlike today, Republicans during the 1950s seemed to be inspired by President Eisenhower to make huge infrastructure projects such as the Seaway and the Interstate Highway System, bi-partisan in nature.

Actually there are actually nearly 1900 islands in the lake-like-archipelago that dots the fifty mile stretch as the Saint Lawrence River emerges from Lake Ontario, under the Great Depression-era-150’-high bridge from the US to Canada and heads northeast toward the Seaway locks.

Officially, “the number of islands was determined using the criteria that any island must be above water level all year round, have an area greater than 1 square foot, and support at least one living tree,” and several are populated with late 19th century mansions such as Boldt Castle, operated as public attractions by the bridge authority.

On the trip back home, we couldn’t resist cutting east first through the “green” infrastructure of Adirondack State Park, which encompasses nearly 20.2% of the land area of the State of New York, nearly the size of Connecticut and larger than several national parks combined.

The purpose of our drive a few days ago was recreation but that is only a by-product of the primary purpose of the park.  In fact, the Adirondack was created and then preserved forever by a popular vote of the people of that state as infrastructure to prevent soil erosion, control flooding and preserve watershed and water quality.

My great-great grandfathers x 7 understood the importance of this infrastructure when they settled in the early 1600s just 30 to 40 miles downstream from the southern edge of what is today Adirondack Park.  Skilled at lowland farming, one family settled an island in the middle of the Hudson that was sensitive to flooding.

Shortly after their takeover two decades later, the English began to aggressively deforest the Adirondacks and this accelerated after the American Revolution when New York sold off lands owned by the Crown for pennies an acre to pay off war debt.

By 1850, New Yorkers became alarmed at the huge price of deforestation in terms of soil erosion, flooding and water pollution.  It took another 35 years for the state to begin protecting the sustainability of what became more than 6 million acres including 57% that are privately owned and 1% owned by towns and hamlets.

The Adirondack is truly spectacular, with 3,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of streams and rivers, 2,000 miles of hiking trails and 46 mountain peaks that are more than 4,000 feet above sea level.

But parkland infrastructure such as this is ultimately far more crucial to commerce and water quality as well as prevention of soil erosion and flooding.  Frankly, it is nearly impossible to imagine elected bodies today being that strategic.

Those we elect to safeguard and maintain infrastructure of all types are negligent, if not criminal, when they dismiss infrastructure as mere recreation and then starve it instead of providing much-needed maintenance and upgrades.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Maybe We North Carolinians Have Become Too Smug

On a just-completed 2,400 mile road trip up from Durham, NC, where I live, to the 1000 Island Region of the Saint Lawrence River and back, it occurred to me just how spectacular the roadside views are along vast stretches of Interstates 81, 84, 85, 90 and 95 -- lush, clean and free of billboard blight.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the impression given drivers and passengers riding in nearly a million out-of-state vehicles (not counting trucks) that pass or stop each year along the 182 miles of I 95 as it slices through eastern North Carolina between the borders with Virginia and South Carolina as well as serving as the primary north-south gateway for cities such as this state’s capital Raleigh.

While North Carolinians sit snug in our self-impressions of our state’s visual beauty, travelers speeding along I 95 as it cuts diagonally between the State’s piedmont and coastal plain regions are treated to forests of 4,000 outdoor billboards, 200 through Lumberton alone.

No one is quite sure what was running through the mind of a powerful coastal state senator as he pushed through legislation that now permits the out-of-state companies owning these billboards to collectively clear-cut up to 400 miles of publicly-owned North Carolina roadside trees and vegetation along both sides of I 95, making it, save for brief stretches, one of the most blighted in the nation.

Whatever the motive, this inexplicable give-away (wiping away any requirement to reimburse the public for the $28 million value of the trees along this stretch in just pulp value alone or any obligation to reforest) has the effect of throwing the state’s vaunted sense-of-place and its $18.4 billion tourism sector under the proverbial bus.

Shared experiences as Eagle Scouts and Rotary Club presidents with backgrounds in marketing have obviously given this senator and I a much different appreciation for and interpretation of both a scout’s vow of environmental resource stewardship and the Rotarian Four-Way Test but hopefully they may also lead to mutual understanding and better outcomes in the future.

It is always important to ask, “why would an otherwise reasonable person do such a thing.”

But maybe it is just that we North Carolinians have become too smug in our self-image of this great state, assuming incorrectly that this blight must be even worse in other states; or maybe our years of attracting not only visitors but relocating or expanding businesses from other states have made us arrogant and complacent.

What else could explain why chambers of commerce such as the one where I live signed on as enablers of this sacrifice of sense of place, trumping the objections of their community, its neighborhood organizations and its destination marketing organization and sense-of-place guardian.

Or maybe we North Carolinians just find it incredulous that those we elect to steward the state’s marketability would support those who sacrifice it instead.

As North Carolinians study the future of I 95, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss tolls as a way to spread the cost for upgrades to include out-of-state vehicles and the 22% that are trucks.  Those stretches of unspoiled Interstates on my just-concluded trip, all seemed to have one thing in common.

And that’s the fact that they are nearly all toll roads.