Friday, September 28, 2012

1976-2006 NC Growth in Perspective

When I noted recently that development in Durham County, NC, where I live, outpaced population growth by 8 to 1 between 1976 and 2006, I probably should have put that into perspective. 

While adjacent Wake County (Raleigh etc.) has nearly three times the land area, development there over a similar period outpaced population by only 4 to 1, but before anyone goes “all Raleigh” on me, let me add that impervious surface there expanded by 670% or 7.6 acres per day compared to Durham’s rate of 513% or 2.5 acres per day.

Friends in Raleigh told me that before the current recession Wake County was burning an acre of development an hour.  While that is a “horse race” you don’t want to win, in proportion to land area, the two counties were apparently growing at roughly the same rate.

To the west of Durham, Orange County (Chapel Hill etc.) has twice the land area but its development outpaced population by 16 to 1, double the rate in Durham.  Imperious surface grew by 1,190% or about .85 acres per day.

By comparison, in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) development outpaced population by only 3 to 1 over that period and impervious surface grew by 355% but that translated into an astounding 13.36 acres per day.

In the mountains, Buncombe (Asheville) development outpaced population during the period by 8 to 1, the same as Durham, and impervious surface expanded by 350% or 2.75 acres per day and because it is mountainous, this expansion is even more visible.

But by comparison, Watauga (Boone,) at the northeast end of the Blue Ridge, saw development outpace population by 18 to 1 and an increase in impervious surface by 813% but at an average of just 1.1 acres per day.

The RENCI folks who are based at UNC Charlotte are doing an amazing job of mapping all counties and regions across the state as part of their Regional Growth Mapping and Forecasting urban studies project. RENCI stands for Renaissance Computing Institute, a statewide network of researchers head quartered in Chapel Hill.

The work they are doing is an incredible aid to elected officials and administrators at both the state and local level.  It provides a context in which to make more informed decisions and hopefully preserve the North Carolina’s incredible sense-of-place.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Trees and Class Warfare

I was delighted a week ago when Jeff Horwich, a reporter and interim host for Marketplace Morning Report conducted an interview with Tim De Chant, whose blog entitled Per Square Mile I regularly read.

Back in May, De Chant delved into a 2008 study that very tightly correlated urban trees and neighborhood per capita income where he wrote:Marketplace Report

“…they found that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent.  But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent.”

That’s a serious issue, especially in thriving, growing, highly acclaimed communities such as where I live in Durham, NC, where there is also a high rate of poverty.  No, this isn’t about class warfare, but it also isn’t just about aesthetics.

Trees in urban areas improve property values, lower cooling costs, detoxify air and water and correlate with lower crime rates including domestic abuse; yet far too many local elected officials and government administrators appear to view them as a luxury rather than, as scientists do, as a form of critical infrastructure.

Thanks to recent state legislation, outdoor billboard companies with existing structures along roadways in Durham, where any new ones have been banned since 1984, are being permitted to clear-cut more than ten trees, nearly all in poor neighborhoods, for every one tree local elected officials have authorized urban foresters to reforest. 

While Durham as a whole has a 3 to 1 ratio of trees to impervious surface acreage such as parking lots, sidewalks, streets, billboards etc., it is projected that an average of 4 acres per day will be converted by development from trees to impervious surface between now and 2040.

The situation is even more critical within the city limits where the ratio of remaining trees to impervious surface is now only 1.4 to 1.  The ratio of trees in low income neighborhoods fell far into negative numbers decades ago.

It is well overdue for reforestation to win its rightful place in the mix of infrastructure that local government funds as part of sustaining a vibrant community and economy; and they should require an overarching, strategic interagency alliance of stormwater services, urban forestry, public works, planning, economic development, open space, general services and more.

To treat trees as a luxury is indeed a form of class warfare or discrimination.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chasing Down My Surname

In January 1946 several American soldiers jumped in a Jeep to drive up into the Swiss Alps on leave for 7 days of snow skiing.  It was to be a welcome break from mop-up patrols assigned to dismounted tankers to intercept Nazi war criminals along the border of recently occupied southern Germany in the months following the end of WWII.01786_p_aaeuyfyqe1597

Little did one of the soldiers, my father, know that the trip would take them past Zimmerberg on the shores of Lake Zurich as they wound their way to the slopes of Mt. Arosa and St. Moritz or that this lake shore was the ancestral homeland of those from which he inherited his last name, Bowman, which was Anglicized from the 17th-century Bauman, a derivation of the 14th-century Buman.

Dad passed away a few weeks after the events of 9/11 and the mystery of his Bowman origins were not unraveled until a few weeks ago when they were resolved by a research breakthrough and DNA results.

However, he may have had a reflection of his Swiss Amish roots when he and I were forced to bale hay at barely an idle with modern Farmall equipment in the 1950s, while his father insisted on raking it ahead of us, the old fashioned way, behind a team of prized draft horses named Duke and Bally.

Dad was never much into history.  His reason for heading to Mt. Arosa was probably that it was the homeland of a boy-hood hero, Walter Prager who had won the first-ever downhill ski race and then had become world champion in the downhill in 1931 when my dad was only 8 years old. During Dad’s teenage years, Prager came to America as coach of the noted Dartmouth Ski Team.

Ironically, two years after my dad and his army buddies skied St. Moritz on leave and in the months before I was born, that area would host the Winter Olympics with Prager as coach for the U.S. men’s and women’s teams.

Even though he never seemed very reflective, I believe the juxtaposition of beautiful St. Moritz and the horror of Dachau stayed with my father for the rest of his life.

Passing through Zimmerberg that day on their drive up into the Swiss Alps, Dad was unaware that his 16th great-grandfather on the Bowman side had been born and lived his entire life in view of the medieval Hapsburg castle at Rapperswil which juts out on a peninsula across Lake Zurich there at its narrowest point.

In 1709, as a 22-year-old, my 7th great-grandparents and eight other Amish families migrated to America where they helped establish a settlement called Pequea (pronounced Peckway) on the banks above the Susquehanna River about 14 miles south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

But their path to America began nearly two hundred years earlier when my 13th and 14th great-grandfathers became Anabaptists who were then known as the Swiss Brethren, a Christian belief that formed around Zurich shortly before or right after Martin Luther brought the endorsement of magistrates to what had been a far more Radical Reformation.

Ironically, this only resulted in Anabaptists being persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants, and generations of my family migrated first to an area just south of Bern and then to Thun on the shores of Thunersee with the view of another medieval castle, the Zähringer.

It is here that Jakob Amman lived  -- a tailor and preacher who led a schism that distinguished the even more conservative Amish from what would then be known as Mennonites.

A clue that my family was Amish at that point is not only that they lived around Thun where Amman preached but that they followed him down, along a portion of the route my father drove on leave, into the Alsace region of what is now France but has also been German over the centuries.  At that time Mennonites tended to avoid persecution by moving down into the German Palatinate.

Evading persecution, a clue that my ancestors followed Amann down into the Alsace region was the death of one of my ancestors there.  Another clue that they fled further up the Rhine to Holland due to persecution by the King of France and probably dismayed by the instability in the region, was that another ancestor died there.

Passenger manifests and land surveys confirm when and where my Bowman ancestors first settled in America.  The English here quickly Anglicized the name and confused by the derivation of their aid in Holland deemed them Mennonites the name used by their Anabaptist cousins.

In fact, that may also be the derivation of Pennsylvania Dutch, most of whom were German and Swiss.Summer '12

Ironically, I had no inking of this part of my heritage when I visited the area around Lancaster during the return-leg of a road-trip to upstate New York this summer when I snapped the second photo shown in this blog.

My great-great grandfather Hyrum Webster Bowman was notoriously vague and tight-lipped about his origins, often switching out Pennsylvania with New Jersey or Delaware.

There were clues in census and other records, but the solution to the puzzle dawned on me one day when I realized that people often think I lived in Idaho Falls because I was born there.  Actually, when I was born my parents lived 50 miles north in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho.  “IF” was just the location of the nearest hospital.

Hyrum was born 40 miles south of where they lived in New Holland, PA near Wilmington, Delaware, probably so his mother could be near her mother while she carried him and for delivery.  But Hyrum’s parents returned to the New Holland area shortly after.  In the days since this epiphany, a lot of other background has fallen into place.

By the time my great-great grandfather Hyrum headed west, apparently for reasons that made him hide his past, my ancestors had probably joined less stringent religions in that area including Lutheran. Still being excommunicated or “shunned” could have been a factor.

He made his way to a small town south of Burlington, Iowa and settled there around 1840, where Mormons, having fled persecution themselves, were concentrating.  He married but his wife and child died during childbirth.

Soon he met and married my great-great-grandmother Hannah, a single mother who had also lost a spouse.  She had migrated from England after joining the Mormon faith and soon Hyrum was baptized as well.  By 1855, they were awaiting a wagon train west in Council Bluffs and by 1856 they settled in West Jordan, Utah, just in time for drought, food rationing and another plague of swarming grasshoppers.

Here Hyrum was excommunicated, probably during a church crackdown on working on the Sabbath and then re-baptized which is ironic because the meaning of Anabaptist is “rebaptizers” or the less reverent term, “dunkers.”

In the months after my great-grandfather was born, the family moved north, just as the Civil War broke out, to colonize Richmond, Utah where Cherry Creek flows out of the Bear River Mountains, near the border with Idaho.  There they started a sawmill and molasses factory.

Hyrum became a polygamist and my great-great-grandmother Hannah left him.

I don’t mean to make too much of the Swiss heritage because I am a mix of so many backgrounds including Welsh, French, Dutch, Irish, German, English, Scots-Irish and even a little Viking, but it is clearly fun and rewarding to solve these riddles.

And if you’ve ever been to Cache Valley, Utah in the winter, you might just believe that my old great-great grandpa Hyrum’s Swiss roots were calling him there.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Horse Whisperer Leadership

I’d never thought of him as a leader until recently.  My paternal grandfather was a noted horse whisperer as was my great-grandfather.  Other ranchers frequently sought their help and expertise with horses.

As the only son of his only son who was also a horseman, I was good with horses but too impatient, and the gift of my ancestors leapfrogged over my generation into my only niece, the daughter of my younger sister.

I don’t think of myself as a transformational leader but I believe that being a leader from an early age transformed me – although some of my former co-workers before I retired several years ago would argue that it was not enough!

More appreciation for my grandfather’s latent leadership ability came to me as I read a recent article about Vista Caballo, located near Dove Creek, Colorado, which my English Bulldog Mugsy and I passed on the second of our now-four 6,000-mile cross-country ventures along various routes in the last 30 months, when we cut across the Rockies of southwestern Colorado making our way from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the arches canyon lands of Moab, Utah on a sparkling February afternoon.

Vista Caballo is a leadership retreat of sorts with a very unique and highly effective approach using horses that has been celebrated in a white paper by John Marshall Roberts, an applied behavioral scientist and business consultant who blogs at

Though he only had a couple of years of education, my grandfather could have easily been a professor at Vista Caballo which isn’t far from Alamosa in south-central Colorado to which we traveled from our ranch up in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho from time to time to trade horses.

Horses teach us humility, but they also teach us to be a good follower.  A year before I retired, I read a fascinating paper that took an evolutionary psychological approach to leadership entitled Leadership, Followership and Evolution- Some Lessons From the Past written by Mark Van Vugt, Robert Hogan and Robert Kaiser.

They argue that any understanding of leadership must be complemented by a thorough understanding of followership.  In his book The Righteous Mind, Dr. Jon Haidt, an ethics researcher at the NYU Stern School of Business, uses an analogy on this subject that resonated with me when he writes that “focusing on leadership alone is like trying to understand clapping by studying only the left hand.”

Horses definitely teach followership and leadership.  So do English Bulldogs (smile.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Grasping for Coolness and Authenticity

There is a thin line between gritty and neglect.  There is an even thinner line between “cool” and “bobo-land” – a term David Brooks coined for “bourgeois bohemians” in his hilarious book published a few years ago.  Downtown Asheville is worried about this; downtown Durham should be too.

This occurred to me recently as I walked the streets of City Center during the resurrected Centerfest, which used to be the longest-running street arts fair in North Carolina, until it took a year’s hiatus.  Now it has returned to the geography of its roots to start anew after having been banished a few years ago to a much-condensed location due to a street amenities make-over.

The word “cool” is frequently overused to describe far too many places, but I think it fits downtown Durham which was self-proclaimed as the place to find it by advocates a few years ago, a description that nosed under the umbrella of Durham’s successful overarching brand which was distilled to stretch over the entire community including not only downtown but Research Triangle Park, the universities and its distinct neighborhoods.

But the important question for downtown may be: For how long?  “Cool” by definition really can’t be choreographed, but it is fragile and can oh so easily be lost.

Dr. Richard Greenwald, a Dean and a professor of sociology and history at St. Joseph’s College in New York summed it up perfectly when he wrote for The Atlantic Cities – Place Matters about neighborhoods that:

“the shifts in cool are a ceaseless urban effort to grasp at authenticity.”

Of course, he wasn’t referring to just buildings.  Actually, downtown Durham’s eclectic architecture including old tobacco factories has always been “cool” and always will be.

The “cool” and authenticity Greenwald is describing is about the socio-economic mix of people and businesses and try as they may, advocates, developers and building managers have a hard time sustaining that mix.

Not everyone has the sensibility of a Bob Chapman to what is required. Chapman, a Duke grad, is helping to rehabilitate the NoCo District (NOrth of COrporation) along the far north fringe of downtown.  He and his wife Vicky Patton, also a Duke grad are friends and I owe them an apology for my glaring oversight of them on my list of Durham’s Definitive 1970s Brain-Gain.

Sustaining authenticity is the trickiest part of neighborhood revitalization.  “Authenticity” as Greenwald writes, is “a defining cultural talisman.  Knowing what is real and true, in a mass-produced world, gives one status, or cultural capital.”

Most people know it when they see it, but preserving it is the hardest part.

No entity deserves more credit for the progress of downtown than Downtown Durham Inc., unless it is the developers who have taken the risks and City and County officials who provided infrastructure and back-end incentives.

But it is also the sustained awareness that began much earlier such as that generated by organizations such as the Durham Arts Council’s Centerfest and the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau which began driving external media and resident awareness as well as copious amounts of visitor traffic before any of the other progress took hold.

It has definitely been a broad partnership and it required many decades of perseverance by all involved.

But in addition to sustaining the momentum, what should have begun to keep all of these entities “up at night” over the last several years now is how they can ensure that they don’t go too far…how they can sustain just the right mix of people that will keep downtown Durham “real” and “gritty” and “cool” and “authentic.”

Visitors and BOBOs are an important part of the mix, but if not balanced with equal amounts of socio-economic diversity, downtown Durham won’t be “cool” for long.

The threat in this challenge won’t come from other communities but from the by-products of downtown’s success.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Durham Project to Make Bill Proud

In the 1970s and and 1980s, a classic 1968 illustration of mid-century architecture in downtown Durham became affectionately known by locals as the “Jetsons” building, after the long-running, futuristic television cartoon-show.

Now three friends of mine here in Durham, where I live, are preparing to adapt that building which was originally the headquarters of the Home Savings & Loan and most recently Mutual Savings and Loan into a 54-room, full-service boutique hotel and adjoining restaurant.

The developers are following the well-proven formula devised in the mid-1980s by the late Bill Kimpton.  Kimpton, whom I came to know, always included a separate-entrance soon-to-be acclaimed restaurant in his designs.Boutique Hotel

Ironically, according to the encyclopedic OpenDurham, the building is on the site of one of Durham’s first hotels, the circa-1907 Corcoran which later served as a hospital and a business school before being replaced by a theater and then eventually this building.

Predating McKinney’s move from Raleigh to downtown Durham by nearly 20 years, in 1985, a good friend, Don Pausback and his partner Bill West relocated their advertising practice from San Antonio, Texas to Durham and settled for a time in the “Jetsons” building while space was prepared for the firm in the newly-repurposed Brighteaf Square, the template for Durham’s now legendary adaptive-reuse of historic buildings.

By the time I was recruited to Durham in 1989 to jump-start the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB), West, Pausback and Vaughn was headquartered once again on Chapel Hill Street, but this time in a converted remnant of the old Corcoran, which is sandwiched between the “Jetsons” building and the old post office and had served as the original headquarters of Home Savings & Loan before the building was erected that will soon be the boutique hotel.

Eventually Don went out on his own with Pausback Advertising and helped pioneer adaptive reuse of Main Street lofts in the mid-1990s.  West and Vaughn is now part of Raleigh-based French, West and Vaughn.  But The Republik, the agency headed by Robert Shaw West, Bill’s nephew, is located just around the corner from the proposed boutique giving new purpose to another repurposed building from the 1940s.

The Gentian Group’s boutique hotel/restaurant project is perfect for Durham and downtown.  Chains have tried to copy Bill Kimpton, a Midwesterner and former IBM typewriter salesman turned very successful investment banker and then hotel innovator, but their attempts never quite work.

Kimpton first pioneered the boutique hotel/restaurant concept in San Francisco.  He understood what my friends at Gentian do, that the concept clicks best when old buildings are converted to boutique hotels in neighborhoods with what Locopops founder and DCVB board member, Summer Bicknell calls “good bones.”

A central feature is always a good restaurant run by a good, soon-to-be great chef, always with a separate entrance and identity from the hotel.

Hotels harvest interest that is generated or spearheaded for Durham overall by DCVB community-destination marketing.  But there is a sizable niche of travelers who will select the downtown City Center district specifically because of this property once it is developed.

It will also fill a niche for delegates drawn to meetings in the Durham Convention Center but who prefer the intimacy of a boutique as well as those who need just-off-site venues for quiet gatherings away from the large events in the Center.

The developers already have an operator and they plan to shape promotions that will persuade more of the attendees to Durham’s many festivals and theaters to extend day trips into overnights and business trips into weekends etc.

Durham will soon have nearly 9,000 guest rooms in more than 70 different properties, double the number that existed when community-destination marketing got underway and net those that closed along the way due to obsolescence.

Downtown will soon have 7 or 8 of these 70 properties and they will each have a unique character and appeal.  And, perhaps more significantly, visitors will have helped five or six of these properties breathe new life into historic structures!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Unfortunate Byproduct of City “Big Game Hunting”

The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB), where I worked until a few years ago, has always been very conservative with economic impact calculations.

Frequently, when I would explain to friends of mine why we were so careful to net out leakage, resident spending and displacement, one or two would inevitably ask: “why would we do that?”  Unfortunately there are also still some feasibility consultants around, many disreputable, who don’t grasp why and should.

A quick glance at some unfortunate, recent headlines in Charlotte sheds light on the reason it is important to be very careful and conservative with economic impact estimates as written about in a post last week on this blog entitled, Reputational Risk – The Foundation of Ethical Society.

I haven’t spoken to friends at DCVB’s counterpart, the visitors authority in Charlotte, but I am almost certain the newspaper there failed to connect the dots to the real underlying cause of this type of problem.  It all begins with what another friend and former elected official calls “big game hunting.”

The term describes communities where powerful politicians and/or business leaders in a particular community become addicted to the fallacy that the only way for them to build their city’s reputation is to compete to become less distinct and more similar to other cities by building huge facilities to lure, usually with subsidies, extremely expensive mega-events.

To justify the extravagance, pressure is applied to those who crunch economic impact numbers, and if they don’t add up to be high enough, they find some schmo who will give them what they want.  There is no excuse for what the community-destination marketing organization (DMO) purportedly did in Charlotte, but believe me the pattern didn’t surface in a vacuum and it isn’t unique to Charlotte, even in this state.

This ego-fueled cycle is enabled by unvigilant news coverage and/or when attempted investigative journalism settles for answers for “what” and not “why” and any exploration of “who” usually stops short of exploring “who” when sated just enough by throwing some scapegoat or organization under the bus.

“Big game hunting” in my experience is a symptom of what happens when a community has a fragile sense-of-self.  But just as self-esteem in an individual is about so much more than receiving adulation, a community’s self worth or status in the eyes of others cannot be generated by huge facilities and events.

In a 1997 essay for Time Magazine entitled Sweet Home, Minnesota, Garrison Keillor gets at the bones of the type of fragile community sense-of-self that leads to “big game hunting” when he took the then-governor to task for telling folks there, as he argued for a new stadium, that “without major league sports,” Minneapolis and St. Paul “would be like Des Moines.”

Keillor goes on to explain that “Des Moinesity (or Omahaness) is a bigger issue in Minneapolis than in St. Paul” and then goes on to hilariously describe how some cities are unpretentious while others go what my friend calls “big game hunting.”

He ends the essay by writing “I personally favor building a golden stadium in Minneapolis encrusted with precious gems, but only for our own amusement, not to make us major league, which we’re not and don’t want to be.  We’ve seen major league places, and that’s one reason we live here instead.”

I’m saddened about what apparently happened at the Charlotte DMO.  They had good research staff and they knew better than to use raw national averages for a local event without calibrating them to local specifics or without netting them out for displacement and leakages, even if it would make that city seem less major league.

But I truly do understand the pressures both from within the community or often from nearby that often fuel such a scenario. “Big game hunting” is addictive and addicts get mean.

While fortunate during my career to always be selected by and serve communities which were averse to “big game hunting” I came close enough to the flame to be singed a time or two.

Whenever something like this happens my reaction is “There but for the grace of God, go I”, to use a phrase coined by English reformer John Bradford in 1555 before he was also burned at the stake in London and whose image is shown in this blog.

And no, for anyone as unfamiliar as I was, the phrase goes back much further than the 1966 adaptation by Simon & Garfunkel in Kathy’s Song.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Market Recovery Dilemma of Trash

What I am about to write, reminds me of something a friend whispered in my ear many years ago during a public meeting here in Durham, where I live, as the then-Mayor of another city took a personal “cheap shot” at me:

“Some people seem to think there is only room for one person at a time to stand on principle.”

Those of us who believe in the free market, as I do, and this usually includes other moderates, liberals and conservatives, but especially anyone who also denigrates government, must admit that as miraculous as the market is, it fails to account for many costs that are passed on to the public at large.

In fact, if the market did absorb what economists call externalities, we’d pay even less in taxes than we currently do, but we’d also pay much more for products and services and would most likely reap less in stock dividends.

Consider all that stuff we buy.  In fact, lets just take the 3% to 5% of waste created by that stuff, the portion that makes it into the world’s municipal waste stream and put aside industrial and hazardous waste such as what an aluminum company dumped into Badin Lake here in North Carolina (image shown in this blog) or the asbestos tailings used as fill under residential homes in Libby, Montana. Just two diverse examples.

For those of us who live in urban areas in the United States “that stuff” generates 4.43 pounds of municipal solid waste per person per year, according to data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s a full ton every 15 months.

That’s also 65% more per person than in 1960 when I made the seventh grade football practice squad for the famed Green Acres JH Cubs and 49% more than when I worked as a summer replacement on the back of a garbage truck one summer before college.  It is also 36% more than when I graduated from college in the early 1970s, but it is 3% less that when I moved to Durham in mid-1989 and 6% less than the fist year of this millennium.

According to Worldwatch Institute, a quarter of the world’s urban solid waste is now being “diverted into recycling, composting or digestion.”  In the US, recycling reached 34.1% in 2010, up more than 500% over 1960 and up 200% since the time I moved to Durham at the end of the 1980s.  Interestingly and coincidentally, 34% is about the same amount of Americans who recycle.

Today in the US, local governments are rerouting 85.1 million tons of trash back into the marketplace through recycling, including 96.2% of auto batteries, 71.6% of newspapers, 67% of steel cans, 57.5% of yard trimmings, 49.6% of aluminum beer and soda cans, 35.5% of tires, 33.4% of glass containers, 29.2% of plastic bottles.

This is a remarkable transformation, but in the US we still discard 54.2% of urban waste into landfills, many times more per capita than some other western, developed countries and we recycle far less than countries such as Switzerland.

Recycling is not only hampered by those who do not yet connect the dots.  It is hampered by the intermittent reliability of that same free market to accept back the waste it failed to account for in the beginning.

To learn more about the worldwide solid waste dilemma, click here for a report by the World Bank but remember that these stats are metric.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Does Harley Kill The Things Riders Love?

As many people are aware, I ride a Harley-Davidson Cross Bones and fall is the perfect time of year to take extended excursions.  There are many reasons people ride motorcycles including the fact that bikes such as mine get 45 miles to the gallon, but none more important than the rider’s proximity to scenery and nature.

There are 25 million motorcyclists in the US including 6 million women as of 2008.  According to a new study released last month 9.7% of the nation’s adult population use motorcycles to take 244.6 million trips along roadways (not including off-road) solely for outdoor recreation, predominantly scenery.

So why is it that Harley-Davidson’s 635 full-service dealers across the nation are among the most frequent users of roadside billboards that desecrate the very reasons people take these trips? It seems to me that their primarily is just to signal they are available to provide services if needed.

Motorcyclists were among the earliest adopters of navigation systems such as one that is glove-friendly by Garmin that comes pre-loaded with the locations of Harley dealerships.  Far more motorcyclists have adopted Smartphone apps for the same purpose (my fav is CoPilot) which make it possible to similarly access directions and business locations via Bluetooth connections and hear them through speakers in the rider’s helmet.

So is this just a rare instance in which the otherwise incredibly disciplined Harley-Davidson has fallen out of step?  Statistics show that these roadside monstrosities are now used by just 1 in 12 consumers over the course of an entire year, but even at that the fact remains that deliberate distractions are something no motorcyclist needs.

Or is it just that, like so many other organizations, Harley’s sustainable business strategy, which was so highly touted this spring, or its environmental policy, or perhaps both, have failed to dictate the use of only advertising media that doesn’t harm the planet by destroying trees and vegetation so critical to cleaning the air and storm water along roadsides.

Outdoor cruising by motorcycle is a huge business now.  For this purpose alone, riders and passengers spend $14.3 billion on bikes and accessories and another $52.6 billion on trip-related expenditures.

Direct spending alone generates an economic contribution which includes 410,972 jobs, $20.8 billion in personal income and $5.5 billion in tax revenue - $2.6 billion of which funds state and local services.

There have to be far less destructive ways to reap a share of this economic impact.  Other motorcycle manufacturers have found a way to do this without bringing harm to their riders who are the life-blood of their business.

Maybe these other manufacturers are aware of polls such as one taken in North Carolina, where I live, which show that 78% of Independent voters, 70% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans hold the view that billboards detract from the appearance of their communities and more than 80% oppose removing more trees so billboards can be seen from even long distances.

Do the math.  Isn’t it high time for Harley-Davidson to update its marketing practices?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Time To Get Serious

I live on the top of a forested ridge just over a mile down a valley that runs southwest and perpendicular to another ridge straddled by downtown Durham, one that also divides the community into two distinct watersheds with streams and rivers flowing either north and east or south and east.

This gives me great access to five of the dining districts that make Durham so foodie-friendly.  It also gives me a great view of a challenge faced by the City of Durham.

Durham seems incredibly green but in the City there are now just 1.4 acres of trees remaining for every 1 acre of impervious surface compared to a ratio of 3 to 1 County-wide, and in each jurisdiction the two stats are moving in opposite directions.

The number of trees required to cleanse storm water just isn’t keeping pace with the growth of impervious surface such as roadways, sidewalks, parking lots and buildings, especially given the fact that the City is reforesting only a few hundred trees each year, net those it removes and without counting the vastly greater but untracked number surrendered to any one development.

County-wide, between 1976 and 2005, total impervious surface increased 512%, at a rate of 2.5 acres per day, outpacing population growth by 8 to 1.  It is forecast that, unabated, development will average 3.91 acres per day between now and 2040.

Overall, Durham is planting far less than an acre of trees per year, while development is subsuming nearly 4 acres per day or 1,427 acres per year.  Let me give an example for why, in my opinion, this negative 1,427 to 1 ratio matters so much.

Below a steep drop down the hill directly to the west of my house is an area where four ravines intersect and where my still-extremely active and 84-year-old neighbor tells me there have been severe drainage problems for the nearly 60 years she has lived on my street, according to her almost encyclopedia-like memory, predating when it was annexed into the City.

Down where the ravines meet, there is now a Thai restaurant and other shops where a grocery store was originally.  Thanks to one of Durham’s celebrated local chefs, a former creamery, an old service station and a mostly single-story office building have been transformed into three very different restaurants that anchor one end of Rockwood which has evolved into one of Durham’s many thriving dining districts.

But the patchwork of storm drain culverts through that area, including one that channels a branch of Third Fork Creek under one of the buildings after it drains storm runoff from 228 acres, is causing a big problem for the City because the water funnels through a crumbling concrete culvert under one of the state-owned (NCDOT) roads crisscrossing those ravines just before it flows into Rockwood Park.

This situation has already cost chef Scott Howell dearly.  He owns two of the restaurants in that area and helped inspire another and has already had to encase the culvert at great expense where it runs between two buildings he owns.

I became friends with Scott more than 20 years ago as I was jumpstarting the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) and he was young pioneer working to create Nana’s, one of the signature establishments on Durham’s food scene today, which is located near one end of the crumbling culvert.

Back then he even came to my house to cook-out one night for a group of other friends, but as it turned out he was detained due to work on the new restaurant and wasn’t able to arrive until I had gone to bed, because I too, was working equally long hour (but at the other end of the clock) to get DCVB up to full steam.  Of course, he understood and carried on with the cook-out on my deck which was enjoyed by the group who remained.

Scott also went on to co-create Pop’s restaurant with two other friends of mine, Ben and Karen Barker, nationally-acclaimed chefs who only recently retired and closed the stellar Magnolia Grill in Durham, where Scott had studied as sous chef before striking out on his own.

Pop’s continues to thrive under two other current owner-chefs who are also friends, John Vandergrift and Chris Stinnett.

I also have friends on all sides of the struggle of what to do about the flow of storm water, much of it generated from impervious surface, under a collapsing culvert in the ravines below where I live in Rockwood.  I know how frustrating it must be for everyone involved.  I also have recent personal experience with how flippant a few NCDOT officials can seem about local concerns.

A few there act as though state roads and their right-of-ways are like some kind of exempt state reservation where they run through communities.  That is just bone-headed and the kind of thinking that is leading to problems similar to what we see along Erwin Creek in Charlotte where the state is permitting actions by out-of-state billboard companies that greatly exacerbate storm runoff issues.

The state recognizes local authority such as anti-litter laws and traffic enforcement along its right-of-ways.  One would also think that it can see its way clear to recognize and respect local concerns about billboards, erosion and storm runoff and preservation of the vegetation so important to slowing and cleansing it, to name only two benefits.

Nearly 60 years is a long time for a problem to persist but the parties involved in this case, especially local and state governments, need to understand that they aren’t doing a favor for private interests, they are fulfilling a responsibility to the people of Durham.

Similarly, Durham needs to get serious about urban forestation.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Dismaying Seaplane Flight

I was looking forward to stopping along the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho with my daughter and two grandsons last month during our annual migration to visit family at another lake a few miles away on the Idaho-Washington border.

This was my daughter’s idea.  She knows there is family heritage there, mostly gleaned from old photos and glints of pre-school memory.  My parents had a home along the shores of Windy Bay which is formed by an elbow in the lake and where I docked a nifty Neptune 16 sailboat. Prior to building their own her grandparents rented a cabin for a couple of weeks each summer while they explored various part of the lake.01130_s_aaeuyfyqe0062

After stopping for burgers at the iconic, counter-only 105-year-old Hudson’s, which is deliciously famous for its minimalist menu, we strolled a block along the public beach to Independence Point and took a seaplane excursion aboard a Brooks de Havilland Beaver around the huge lake which brought back a flood of memories.

First flown in 1948, the year I was born, Beavers were a common site and experience during my stint in Anchorage, Alaska where the Lake Hood Seaplane Base, the largest in the world, rests along side the Anchorage International Airport on a peninsula jutting out into Cook Inlet from the Chugach Range, mid way across town.

If you haven’t flown in a Beaver, click here to see and hear a take-off and click here to see the view a news crew took with Brooks a few days after our flight.08012901-cda-lake-aerial

As we flew above Lake Coeur d’Alene that day(photo in this blog courtesy of 29k Productions) on our way to where Windy Bay forms an elbow, I was listening to the crackle in the earphones as the pilot pointed out the homes of famous people along the way such as Dennis Franzen, Wayne Gretsky, John Elway and many more, but my eyes were on the hilltops that dot the shores of the lake.

Most had been denuded of all trees, which are a signature reason why people have long chosen to settle along the lake, in preparation for planned communities including golf courses while facilitating erosion and run off into the lake below.

Such devastation is needless.  Developers used to carefully preserve trees which add property value and so much more, but few do now.  It is another example of what economists call externalities of the marketplace, where, in this case, negative costs and ramifications from this massive amount of clear-cutting are passed to others who aren’t even involved while the individuals or companies responsible reap all of the profits.

For me, it just scarred a once pristine memory.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Study Benchmarks Tree Cover and Impervious Surface

The more than 50 large trees along the banks of sensitive Erwin Creek which were clear-cut this summer by an out-of-state billboard company included large cherry, elm, maple, cedar, pear and myrtle varieties.

They had been capturing, slowing and cleaning not only storm water from the impervious surface of I-77 but along the opposite bank from over and under a site long-identified as toxic.

Caring nothing about the costs they were passing along to the citizens of Charlotte, the billboard company was only interested in becoming even more visible the now-just 1 in 12 people who in the course of a year might buy something due to the messages on the huge board while avoiding the costs it was passing along to the citizens of Charlotte.

Should the outrage of Charlotteans demanding replantingErwin Creek Cuts along the banks of the creek ever be given consideration, hopefully it will be more than just plopping down some twigs or saplings from a home improvement store.

Ecolotree, based in North Liberty, Iowa is doing some amazing things with phytoremediation using hybrid poplars and willows such as that being done along hog lagoons and elsewhere.

Ecolotree’s CEO notes in a recently published book by Jim Robbins that “one willow can process fifteen gallons of waste a day, and a field of a thousand trees on an acre can treat ten gallons of toxic water per minute.”

The impervious surfaces of the highway and the parking lot which covers the toxic spill which embrace each side of Erwin Creek have long been proven to create run-off that is hazardous to human health and that is why the trees were preserved when the highway was built.

A newly released study by scientists David Nowak and Eric Greenfield, based in Syracuse, NY for the National Forest Service, has quantified both the amount of tree cover and the amount of impervious surface in each state of the United States as well as in urban and community areas.

Tree cover over the conterminous US, or what we called the “lower 48” when I was in Alaska, is now estimated at 659 million acres or 34.2% of the total acreage.  When Alaska and Hawaii are included, tree cover nationwide in urban/community areas is estimated at 35.8% or 43.7 million acres.

Tree cover in North Carolina is now estimated at only 62.6%, less than New York, South Carolina and Virginia but more than Tennessee and we’re needlessly surrendering our signature asset at no cost to things such as billboards.  North Carolina’s urban and community areas are covered with urban forest canopy by 48.2% and 50.3% respectively, about 8% of the overall statewide tree cover.

By comparison, in Durham, where I live, the county as a whole has just 51% of its tree canopy remaining and only 40% remaining in the city where urban foresters are funded to plant a net increase of only 150 trees annually, after removals for disease etc., and this amount is futile in the face of the uncounted thousands clear-cut for any single development.

Impervious surface, including roads, parking lots, buildings etc., in the lower 48 is now estimated at 45.5 million acres or 2.4%.  In urban/community areas alone it is estimated at 18 million acres or nearly 15%.

While only 4.9% of North Carolina is covered with impervious surface, more than 32% of that is in urban/community areas such as that embracing Erwin Creek along I-77 in Charlotte.  Urban and community areas in North Carolina average 18.5% and 17.3% respectively.

That average is on the low side compared to many other states but for comparison, within the city limits of Durham, the fourth most populous in the state, there are 19,176 acres of impervious surface which is 27.6% of the overall land area, a proportion more typical of the average for urban areas in about half of the other states, according to the study.

Durham is the only city in a very compact county which doesn’t track impervious surface so the comparison may not be “apples to apples.” But it is clear that in a city where only 27,780 of tree cover remain to help scrub the runoff from 19,176 acres of impervious surface, a ratio of 1.4 to 1, we must do much more to fuel urban forestry than a net 150 trees a year.

Taken statewide, the ratio of trees to impervious surface is 3.3 to 1, making it even more tragic that the new legislation that legalized the atrocity along Erwin Creek does not protect trees in communities such as Charlotte or Durham contrary to what its chief sponsor verbally assured the General Assembly from the floor.

In North Carolina the percentage of tree cover is 12.7 points less in urban/community areas while and impervious surface 12 points more in urban/community areas than in rural areas.  This tells me that compared to other states in the report, we may also be deforesting and paving over rural areas.

Interestingly, in many states such as Iowa, through which I traveled on a cross country road trip last month, the urban and community areas are forested by 24% and 18.8% respectively while the state as a whole is only 10.4%.

But even in small towns, Iowans are careful to make sure they have tree canopy, as are many farmers and ranchers around their homes and barns and equipment sheds.  One huge spread I spotted along I-80 as I returned from my trip had very deliberately planted a tree every few feet around the entire border as well as mini forests along ravines.

That is why I blogged a few months ago that maybe some in our state, which has been blessed with naturally occurring hardwood and evergreen forests, have become a bit too smug.  We take our trees and the fact that we’re aided by regeneration far too much for granted.

To sustain our state’s urban growth and still retain the scenic character and quality of life (and health) so central to our state’s economic vitality, including tourism, we need to look more seriously at a more intense and holistic approach to forest management including:

  • Reforestation and afforestation of not only urban areas but also rural areas.
  • Higher state and community standards for tree cover in and around parking lots and along roadways.
  • Manifestation by the NC Department of Transportation that it is as much in the business of managing forests for ecosystem services on behalf of the public as it is focusing attention on highways.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reputational Risk – The Foundation of Ethical Society

A noted researcher on business ethics argues that the only sure-fire way to ensure ethical behavior is what we’ve all come to call transparency, a word so overused it is almost useless.

His description in a new book entitled The Righteous Mind is much more powerful:

“…the most important principle for designing ethical society is to make sure everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences.”

For that nugget, the author, Jonathan Haidt goes back to 4th century BC and commentary by Plato’s older brother Glaucon.  For all of the codes of ethics, protestations, centers, seminars, books and workshops devoted to ethics, all that really needs to be done is to ensure “reputation is on the line all the time.”

In my experience, the more indignant a reaction is to questions about or suggestions of unethical conduct, the more likely it is that an individual or group of individuals is hiding something shady to protect their personal or associated reputations.

Reciprocity can be a positive outcome of groupishness but all to often it is an enabler of unethical conduct.

There is a reason that investigative reporting is so expensive and now so increasingly rare.  It takes a lot of time to get to the bottom of even the most seemingly transparent issue.  If you ever read one of those nonsensical, “he said - she said” news reports and wonder WTF, there is always more to the story and it usually relates to ethics.

While exploring the scores of different surveys on the website that Haidt helped create, my eye was caught by one designed to score where a person stands on various business-related ethical issues.

It drills down on aspects such as usurping credit, taking favors, playing games, concealing misconduct by others and taking advantage of others.   In this one, the higher the bar, the more accepting you are of those behaviors.  It will be revealing even to someone tempted to try and game the survey.

The results (shown as an image in this blog) provide an individual score first (in green,) followed by the average for thousands and thousands of males (brown) and females (orange) who have taken the survey.  It even gives a result (not shown) about the perception one has of how accepting others are of unethical behaviors.

Both males and females who were accepting of those unethical behaviors on the survey believe that others are even more likely to be unethical.

I was always grateful that the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB), where I worked the latter half of my now-concluded career was created under state statute as a public authority with a governing board appointed by local elected officials according to a balanced set of categories.  Many such organizations and non-profits self-appoint all or most of their governing boards.

As a public authority, DCVB is not only subject to independent scrutiny such as annual audits but to the standards, requirements and additional scrutiny of the North Carolina Local Government Commission.  In addition, the organization undergoes regular in-depth diagnostics for aspects such as accreditation.

The Commission was created in 1931 in the depths of the Great Depression and it is the singular reason so many local governments and local authorities have such stellar ratings from independent agencies.

Unfortunately this isn’t always true of other DMOs or especially non-profits, even those contracted by local governments.  The Commission has made mistakes, usually under political pressure, but I would support efforts to involve it even more deeply and definitely more broadly in oversight of any public or non-profit responsible for the use of public funds.

As blogger Tom Fishburne humorously blogs today, trust today is very rare and he supports the concept that businesses and organizations should be required to earn trust before telling their stories.

To me, earning that trust begins with “making sure everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

“Pressure vs. Persuasion”

One of the joys of cross country road trips such as the one Mugsy, my English bulldog, and I completed last month is time for reflection.  It is also a great opportunity each night to catch up on reading.

Overnighting in Missoula, Montana near a visitor center for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation reminded me to read a white paper passed along to me by Ryke Longest, a friend who teaches and directs the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke Law School.

The paper, entitled Pressure vs. Persuasion was conceived and co-written by C.B. Pearson, a Senior VP for D.C-based M+R Strategic Services who graduated from the University of Montana in Missoula, which lost by the way on Saturday to North Carolina’s Appalachian State University.Pressure vs. Persuasion

Pearson heads one of the company’s offices nestled in the Northern Rocky Mountains where I grew up and worked before migrating to North Carolina nearly 25 years ago.

But he migrated the opposite direction, growing up in rural Fauquier County, Virginia about five hours up the Jefferson Davis Highway from where I live in Durham and an hour and a half north of Charlottesville in an area bordering the Blue Ridge Mountains along trails crisscrossed during the Civil War by famed Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and near the border with Maryland.

While always known as passionate during my now-concluded nearly-40-year career in community-destination marketing, I always tried to go about my business in a “ready-aim-fire” kind of way and with my decisions and strategy nearly always informed by research and data.

But Pearson’s white paper explains why I am often credited with success and also why I wasn’t very successful at other times, at least in my opinion.  The organizations I led during my career which spanned three different communities were in the “advocacy business” which involved not only promoting but sticking up for the communities I represented.

Especially on behalf of Durham, this meant using a mix of what Pearson calls persuasion tactics and “building power through pressure.”   Presenting factual, awareness-building arguments to overcome and reverse the condescension among residents in neighboring counties that was undermining and repressing Durham was only half the battle. 

The real change occurred when the persuasive information ignited the passion and community pride latent in Durham residents, empowering thousands to not only speak up in newsrooms, around water coolers and in co-owned regional venues such as the airport but then then to persist because these proactive Durham Image Watchers also had the facts on their side.

Pearson and his San Francisco-based co-author Aaron Eske suggest that it is the ratio that matters.  They recommend that for “every effort at persuasion, you build in three to four pressure tactics to compliment it.”

Often some pretty influential people in those surrounding counties would privately try to get me fired, or ridicule me and the organization I led in public meetings or even get some of my friends so worried for my safety that they would try to get me to back off, including a board member or two.

They mistakenly assumed that what cultural and moral psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt and public policy researcher Robert Putnam term “bonding capital” or trust within a group such as a community has to be zero sum with “bridging capital” or the trust between groups in a region, for example.

Like persuasion and pressure, it is both/and, not either/or that works best.  They also failed to see that what economist Adam Smith noted and what many dismiss as parochialism, such as that between communities, is a good thing because as Haidt summarizes, it leads “people to exert themselves to improve.”

These critics failed to comprehend the points that Pearson makes in his white paper which indicate that creating change requires a mix of persuasion and pressure, and one or two didn’t even want me to use persuasion.  I wasn’t always sure where the line was either until we began to see results.

Where I failed though was when internal stakeholders such as local officials were involved.  Because the organization I led was an independent public authority formed by state legislation and inter-local agreement, our policy dictated that it was inappropriate to go beyond informing decisions with facts and to get involved with “lobbying” or in the “push and shove” of politics.

But politics is personal, not logical and pressure always trumps persuasion.

The negative externalities spawned by some of those decisions which dismissed the facts will not be felt for many years and by then it will be much too late to reverse them.  But I can already sense their impact and wish we had somehow found a way to do more without crossing that important line.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The 1980s - Durham’s Pivotal Sense-of-Place Decade

In 1984 then-Durham Chamber of Commerce exec Bob Booth was inspired to hire Jeff Downin, who had just earned a Master’s degree from Duke Divinity School, to head up a new Chamber division, then called government affairs.

The roster of those who went on to head public policy for this business-advocacy organization in Durham, NC, where I live, is stellar and none more so than John White, who currently holds that post.

Maybe it was divine influence or maybe it was the timely board leadership of the legendary Travis Porter, a friend whose image is shown in this blog and who passed away a few years before I retired after having served as an ex-officio on the Chamber’s board for nearly two decades.

Together in 1984, Porter, Booth and Downin, who would move on a couple of years later, can be credited with the Chamber’s wise assent to Durham’s decision nearly thirty years ago to ban and remove billboards along its roadsides in defense of the community’s scenic character and I believe, in an effort to preserve the sanctity of its signature trees.

W. Travis PorterPorter was a gravel-voiced lawyer, a tough former Marine and a practical, old-school North Carolina progressive who blended business community concerns with larger-community concerns.  He understood that a chamber’s role is as much to advocate on behalf of the community to businesses, many owned or managed by non-residents, as it is to advocate on behalf of those businesses to the community.

Forward-thinking chambers back then were already eschewing the antiquated notion that nothing noteworthy happened in their communities unless the chamber was a convener.  Instead they had begun to grasp that is far better to focus on being included at the table as equals with other strategic partners in the community.

These were also the days before so many chambers began to be neutralized by billboard representatives (or their surrogates) who began, as well documented by internal correspondence, to strategically infiltrate committees and even boards of directors banking on the hope that cronyism could protect them from revealing conflict of interest and serve to divide chambers from the best interests of their communities.

Also in 1984, the Durham Chamber nodded approval as community leaders germinated two other actions that have proven equally pivotal to fostering and promoting Durham’s sense-of-place.  One of these was the formation of a committee charged with shaping community consensus for a zoning overlay to protect I-40 along its path through this community which including prohibition of billboards as well as a wide range of actions to preserve and plant trees along that roadway.

Durham also laid the groundwork back then for the 1986 passage of state legislation including a provision for formation of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) as the community’s official destination marketing organization, envisioned, in part, as the “defender of Durham’s image and brand and guardian of its unique sense of place” and the start-up of which brought me to Durham in 1989.

Coupled with the 1981 and 1985 emergence of Durham’s first adaptive reuse of historic, brick factory buildings, this troika of 1980s initiatives signal the genesis of the bedrock of sense-of-place into the reinvention of a community which has evolved to its resurgence today as one of the most highly ranked communities in the nation across a wide and diverse number of benchmarks, earning the signature “where great things happen.”

Booth continued to make inspired choices to guide the Chamber’s public policy and government affairs efforts.  When Downin moved on he was replaced by Frank Smiley, a native returning to North Carolina after serving a career as a city manager in the Great Lakes region.

Smiley, who past away down east the year I retired, made certain with the leadership of Wayne Hays, then head of the Chamber board, that DCVB, the organization I was recruited to jump-start in 1989, would be formed as an independent organization and that its mission and resources would be safeguarded and not siphoned off as they often had been in prior decades by some chambers or local governments in other parts of the country.

As the 1990s emerged, Booth also tapped another inspired choice when Smiley moved on.  Nick Tennyson, another Duke grad and a former developer headed that Chamber division for a several years before moving on to head of the homebuilders association that represents three of the four counties that make up the Durham metro area and serving two terms to end the decade as the Mayor of Durham.

No one deserves more credit than Tennyson for paving the way for the massive American Tobacco Campus, one of many successful projects which ride on the shoulders of those 1980s adaptive use pioneers including West Village, Peabody Place, the campus of Measurement Inc., Golden Belt and now several adaptive reuse projects in the City Center such as 21C and a few more in the organic but unofficial NoCo district, each fostering the “built aspect of Durham’s sense of place.

But It is important to never forget that the path for these successes along with the preservation and promotion of far more temporal aspects of Durham’s sense of place was laid in that pivotal decade of the 1980s.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Exploring My Moral Matrix

Friends who know I haven’t been inclined toward organized religion since the early 1970s rib me about my religious zeal when it came to standing up for the communities I represented during my now-concluded career which is now evident in my defense of the sanctity of trees and the environment.

I descend from ancestors who immigrated to this country as Swiss Mennonites, Welsh Quakers, Palatine Lutherans, French Huguenots, Dutch Remonstrants, Scots-Irish Presbyterians and Mormons to escape severe persecution and I’ve always been curious about how I came to my own blend of values, ethics and morals.

Many more traits are to varying degrees more heritable than we once thought, especially when innate is viewed a “first draft, revised by experience” and that “morality can be innate (as a set of evolved intuitions) and learned (as children learn to apply intuitions within a particular culture.)”

Dr. Jonathan Haidt is an expert in moral psychology now teaching and researching at the NYU Stern School of Business.  It is reassuring that he holds the Thomas Cooley Chair of Ethical Leadership and he is also a popular TED presenter.

He is also the author of a must-read book, published in March, entitled The Righteous MindWhy Good People are Divided over Politics and Religion from which the earlier quotes were taken.

Haidt substantiates in the book that morals are more intuition than reason and that “we’re born righteous, but we have to learn what exactly, people like us should be righteous about.”

He describes six areas of moral beliefs including ethics and values that we each personalize much as we slide the channels on a music equalizer mixer such as the one we used to have on stereos and now have on smartphones.

Along with a friend, I took a brief quiz on, a website developed by Haidt and others, and received my results (green bar) shown in the image in this blog.  The higher the bar the stronger that element is manifest.

My mix is compared to the averages of more than 132,000 others shown for proclaimed liberals in blue and conservatives in red.  The labels only show one of the words used to describe each moral foundation and the sixth is so recent it hasn’t been added to the assessment I guess.

The full names the six moral foundations are:

  1. Care/harm
  2. Fairness/cheating
  3. Loyalty/betrayal
  4. Authority/subversion
  5. Sanctity/degradation, and
  6. Liberty/oppression.

It is well worth reading the book to understand how these were defined, what they mean and how they influence various groups and how misinterpretations can lead to divides.

Haidt provides compelling evidence that instead of demonizing each other, liberals and conservatives are “Yin and Yang,” “seemingly opposed forces that are in fact complementary and interdependent. Night and day are not enemies, nor are hot and cold, summer and winter, male and female.  We need both, often in shifting or alternating balance.”

The book also provides scientific proof of why we are at our best as a nation when we have a strong, moderate center regardless of party affiliation or un-affiliation.  Lost on news coverage and partisan bickering is that nearly 40% of Americans are politically Independent (37%) and/or moderate (36%.)  Moderates may also be the moral center.

The book is an insightful and funny blend of a research, psychology, anthropology, neurology, public policy and mixed with excellent story telling.  It also reminds us that “morality binds and blinds.”

It is fast and entertaining to read but every sentence offers up a nugget so don’t plan on skimming.  Anyone trolling for cocktail nuggets will be surely busted.  Haidt takes the reader through the evolution of his own learning and thinking and just when you think you have it all figured out, a new dimension is introduced.

Easily one of the most interesting and useful books I’ve ever read.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Hoof Beats Of Obsolescence

Last month, while I was traveling cross-country and back, I read one night, as I was catching up on news, that the proportion of Americans with smartphones zoomed past 44% and is projected to approach 60% in just a few months, up from 31% last year.

More remarkable, 74% are already using the hand helds to access location-based information in real time including a majority who use them for GPS navigation from a car or vehicle, further fueling the futile desperation by companies owning roadside billboards and their determined efforts to scrape and clear-cut more and more valuable roadside vegetation even though independent surveys now show that the ads place on these hulks now influence fewer than 1 in 10 consumers (8%) to purchase anything in a given year.

As much as we disagree on the sanctity or value of trees vs. the needlessness of roadside billboards, I can empathize with the fear these technologies create for those whose lives and careers have been centered around something that is fast becoming extinct.

Billboard companies are just the most visible form of media to hear the ominous technological hoof beats of obsolescence.  A new study shows that 21% of TV subscribers have moved to cord-cutting or cord-shaving in just the past year.  This also applies to local television for those who access it through subscription. 

More than 60% of consumers now use time-shifting such as video on-demand weekly and 60% use social media while watching television, up 18 points from just last year.

At the same time 58% of smartphone owners and 38% of all cell phone owners use the device to “keep themselves occupied during commercials,” prompting forecasts that online ad revenue will eclipse television within just four to five years.

Technology, as well as the decline in trust for advertising in traditional media (nearly 25% in three years) along with the over-exposure individuals feel at being bombarded with 10,000 advertising messages a day, is fueling the substitution of earned media such as news articles and much more trusted and curated content on organizational websites such as the one at this link for Durham NC, where I live.

It is also spawning formation of new media such as “digital placed-based advertising” (e.g. the video ads shown inside stores etc.) that are threatening to cannibalize more intrusive and destructive media by sucking as much as 64.2% of their revenue away from outdoor advertising such as billboards and 41% away from television. 

This is only the beginning of a massive and rapid sea-change and elected officials and other policy-makers need to be wary of desperate lobbyists and other economic rent-seekers, such as those who pushed through a bill in North Carolina to sacrifice 70,000 publically-owned roadside trees, worth more than $11 billion in just ecosystem services alone (over a 50-year lifetime had they been saved.)

This is a huge sacrifice of the “common good” just so the 8% of consumers shown to use messages posted on outdoor billboards over the course of a year can be even more sure to see them.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Remembering The Sand Creek Elk

A herd of elk and moose that wintered along the back of our ranch as I was the age of my grandsons now suddenly emerged from my memories as my daughter and I traveled a southbound-return stretch of my cross-country trip last month.

After ascending the narrow, green, tree-lined Beaverhead River Valley that morning as it contours around sage covered mountains, we had stopped for breakfast in one of those ma and pa diners for which we’ve always shared an affection, at a ranch town called Lima, Montana, population 220, one of several across the country to pronounce it “Leema.”

My elk reverie occurred to me as we continued up through a pass between two mountain ranges that form the Continental Divide along the border with my native state of Idaho because just after the crest, if one turns east through the mountains instead of dropping down into Spencer and follows the route along the southern edge of the Centennial Mountains for a total of 50 miles or so you reach a cutoff to the backside of the ranch homesteaded and assembled by my great-grandparents and grandparents.00369_p_10aeuyf6sw0502_b

The route follows a stretch of Old Highway 22 past the Camas Meadows formed by a creek where less than thirty years before they homesteaded, Nez Perce Indians had defeated three companies of pursuing US Cavalry.

Here, a few miles before the path to the ranch cuts southeast toward Bishop Mountain is where my grandfather and I would occasionally search for arrowheads and other artifacts.

There the route arches around Big Bend Ridge, a thousand feet below where it cradles the lava of the Aspen-covered Yellowstone caldera, past where creeks named “Sand”, “Cold Spring” and “Snow” spill briefly out through the grassland and sagebrush steppes before the waters find their way down into the Henry’s Fork and then the Snake River Plain another thousand feet below.

Legend also marks this stretch as the site of a climatic battle between the encroaching bands of the Blackfoot confederation from across the mountains to the north and east and linguistically-related Shoshone and Bannock bands of Native Americans.

The far eastern part of our ranch embraced a bend in Snow Creek, a mile west of the Henry’s Fork and stretched west almost to where Sand Creek passes through Lemon Lake along a 17 mile stretch of public lands cobbled together for wildlife management after a small herd of elk was discovered to winter there the year between when my father returned from WWII and I was born.01568_s_aaeuyfyqe0229

There are now 3,000 elk, 1,500 mule deer and 400 high desert moose wintering there before migrating back nearly 30 miles east across ranchland - such as that of my youth, where we ranched as many as 500-head of cattle - circumventing tiny settlements such as Ashton, Marysville and Warm River, to summer in areas such as the Bechler Meadows in the southwest corner of Yellowstone Park and where a pack of grey wolves have since been reintroduced.

According to recent reports, the elk leave behind, in their winter home, animals such as beaver, mink, marten and muskrat along along with grouse and shorebirds such as loons, western grebes, trumpeter swans, snowy egrets, sandhill cranes, willets and long-billed curlews as well as the occasional osprey or bald eagle.

The wetlands where the elk summer form below the steep forested cliffs of a 70,000-year-old lava flow, Yellowstone’s most recent, known as the Pitchstone Plateau which stretches southeast from Old Faithful Geyser and Shoshone Lake.  The elk’s lush summer habitat is fed by spectacular 250-foot waterfalls that plunge, cascade or horsetail down into this relatively remote Idaho corner of Yellowstone.

My great grandparents, Hyrum and Margaret Bowman purchased 360 acres more than 105 years ago between Snow and Spring Creeks in that Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho so their six sons, including my grandfather, and three daughters could have an opportunity to surrounding homestead ranches.

One April their family caravan left their mid-Cache Valley spread along the Uinta Mountains near the Utah border with Idaho, taking horses, including three teams of four each to pull three iron-wheeled wagons and a buggy, along with saddle horses to guide the starter herd of 100 head of cattle.

It took them 15 days to make the 200 mile trip.  The first image shown in this blog shows the family, including my grandfather in the hay wagon, taken around my great-grandparents’ home.

Though three miles from the ranch house in which I spent my early years along Snow Creek, the house in the image, then deserted, was the site for days of solitary exploration that not only fueled my imagination but forever embedded a respect for my roots.

On a return visit while I was in law school, I snapped the second image shown in this blog from one of the window frames as a reminder of what that old house meant to me and what it still means to me nearly 60 years later, even though satellite images confirm it is long since gone.

After collectively “proving up” on or assembling approximately 2,000 acres of ranchland including spaces to grow crops of hay and grain to feed the livestock, everyone except my grandparents and great-grandparents eventually departed for other pursuits including jobs on the railroad or in the city or on farms further south.

My grandfather reassembled nearly all of the ranch after it was dissembled in the wake of my great-grandfather’s death without a will, complicated by his re-marriage after my great-grandmother died in the 1918 pandemic flu that killed tens of millions worldwide.

My Bowman great-grandparents are both buried in a very small county cemetery carved from the ranch on a hill above the Snow Creek house.

The homes on the various homestead parcels were recycled.  One was moved to Saint Anthony when my grandparents retired there after the war giving my father and mother the opportunity to run the ranch.

Several decades before my grandparents had moved into the sawed-log house on Snow Creek that my great-uncle George had built.  That is the house where my father was born and in which I lived my boyhood.  As singer-songwriter Neil Young writes, “all my changes were there,” or at least many of them.

For most of my adult life I’ve been a moderate Independent but possibly not that far from my the rock-ribbed, ultra-conservative Republican upbringing, evidence of how extremely far to the right that party has shifted.

As partisan as my parents and grandparents always seemed, they never dismissed the indispensible role that government played in my family’s emergence into the middle-class.

Things such as the elk preserve along the back of the ranch and the homestead act that enabled it and the incentivized dams and electrical cooperatives that brought it power, are all emblematic of many things made possible by a country that understood the “common good.”