Friday, February 28, 2014

A Testament to the Economic Significance of Sense of Place

Durham, North Carolina is undergoing another wave of hotel development in response to increased visitation spearheaded by community destination marketing.

Of the 10 or so currently in various stages of development, half of this wave is downtown where they are needed most and where some of the projects are especially intriguing.  One is incorporating a beloved historic façade, another is a classic adaptive reuse boutique that was able to secure Hotel Durham as a name.

But none is more confirming of Durham’s overarching strategy for visitor-centric economic and cultural development over the last 25 years than 21c, a boutique hotel chain founded on sense of place.

The founders are a couple of art collectors and preservationists, one of whom is an heiress to generations of Kentucky bourbon distillers originating from George Garvin Brown in 1870, which produces iconic brands such as Jim Beam and the small-batch premium Woodford Reserve, a personal favorite.

The couple founded 21c in 2007 as a means of preserving five historic tobacco and bourbon warehouses in Louisville, Kentucky.  It’s interesting to note that their hotels are galleries for their 1600+ piece modern art collection that just happen to have hotels and conference space attached.

Adaptive reuse of the historic CCB bank building in downtown Durham will open as their fourth hotel with a fifth following soon after in Lexington, Kentucky.

Beyond historic preservation, the founders also once described the ambience of a 21c to a journalist as the “union of genuine southern hospitality, thoughtful design and culinary creativity anchored by world class art.”

Fittingly, George Watts Hill the Durham native who built CCB into a formidable force (now a part of SunTrust) is also famous for having collected thousands of pieces of art both as a means of both decorating his branches and helping emerging artists.

Like Hill did in northern Durham, the founders of 21c started their preservation efforts by saving famous farms and breeds surrounding Louisville before making their now famous connection between historic preservation of historic buildings and culinary and visual art.

21c is aiming to have 15 hotels within ten years, each contributing to the preservation of the sense of place of the communities in which they are located.  The public areas of each hotel, including conference rooms when they are not rented, are open to the public as art galleries.

Adaptive reuse of the buildings themselves into hotels stands as a testament to the economic significance of historic preservation and fostering unique sense of place.

While sense of place is the overarching strategy at the center of its remarkably successful community destination marketing arm, Durham officials have a spotty record over the years, often seeming to either take sense of place for granted or selling out in fear of losing a project.

They seemingly fail to understand that the spark that ignited downtown revitalization was struck by historic preservationists taking a valiant stand in the mid-to-late 1970s.

Hopefully, we take a cue from 21c.  Experts refer to visitor-centric economic development as “demand-driven” because visitor-related facilities are built in response and to harvest - not as a speculative means to create - visitation.

But without a “there-there” it becomes just another form of shopping as it is in so many communities that have sold their soul.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Millennials Are Transforming Marketing Itself

I was feeling pretty impressed with myself after reading a new report detailing the digital platform habits of various age cohorts.  I am closer to Millennials (ages 18-34) than I am to Baby Boomers, my age group.

Then I looked at a map of the recording artists who are most popular in each state and realized that I was only familiar with a dozen or so.

From the song at this link, an R&B throwback, I can see why Miguel is most popular in North Carolina where I live.  I can also see why Tegan and Sara are popular in my native Idaho, but I obviously need to get out from behind this blog more.

It is among the 77 million Millennials, which, with 24% of population are already generating $1.3 trillion in direct spending each year, that you can most clearly see the death knell for advertising, an element of marketing.

In fact, according to the formidable Boston Consulting Group, Millennials are transforming marketing as much as they are altering consumer behavior.

They have expectations of reciprocity.  They are repulsed by desecration marketing such as roadside billboards as well as thinly veiled retro Jim Crow laws promoted in some states against Gays, people of color and young people.

According to Nielsen, nearly 4-in-10 Millennials are not US-born.  The same proportion have become bilingual.  Only half as many are married as Baby Boomers were by that point, but nearly twice that percentage of Millennial women have children. Marketing to Millennials

Millennials now make up 1-in-5 same-sex couples and a greater percentage have graduated from college than other generations.

A Pew report shows that a greater share Millennials live both in suburbs and central cities than either Boomers or the Silent generation did at that point.

This may also mean the suburbs aren’t dead and that rejuvenated downtowns across the country may eventually see another bust cycle as this generation ages.

A new report by comScore shows just how much more likely Millennials are to skips ads altogether on television including 90% while watching recorded TV.  Their shift to online news is driving a dramatic decline in audience for local television news, where ad revenues have typically made up 48% station revenue.

They lean heavily toward digital channels and marketers simply have to take another approach to reach this generation.

Nielson reports that those still advertising on television are rapidly shifting from 30-second spots to 15-second spots.  Partially, the thinking is that because Millennials have a strong preference for video that the challenge is mastering ads as short-form video.

Even that isn’t likely to be enough but they could go a lot shorter.  Research shows that even for those who watch television ads, the typical viewer pays attention for only 6.5 seconds.

The problem isn’t the length of the ads or how compelling they may or may not be.  The inherent problem with advertising is that even in story form, it is a form of yelling, the advertiser yelling about themselves.

Because this especially turns them off, Millennials prefer to seek information on other platforms but it is just with this generation that an overall shift is most apparent.

Businesses that rely on advertising in any form have so inundated the marketplace that the average person is bombarded with 10,000 messages a day.  People have just tuned out, thank you.

Worse, advertising has become so ubiquitous that not only do studies show it with a negative return on investment but that it also dulls our sense of empathy.

Millennials, in particular, have discovered many more effective ways to glean information including content marketing and old-fashioned earned media, otherwise known as news stories.

Of course, advertising is a huge industrial complex that knows only one behavior: more, more, more.  The reports I’ve cited in this blog are meant to be reassuring about the future of advertising but the sense of desperation is clear.

Even if things do come full circle as this paper suggests by showing us how the Internet could eventually make media physical again, it isn’t clear that the advertising industry can ever learn restraint.

More convincing are webinars and related downloads regarding the massive shift to content marketing, such as the one at this link by Adobe with six steps to building a content marketing strategy.  The speaker makes it clear “that it is no longer about more.”

Nearly 9-in-10 marketers have shifted to branded content for marketing to consumers, slightly more use it for business to business marketing and more than 7-in-10 think it is more effective than advertising.

Content marketing can involve as many as 16 different tactics with 12 being the average.  Content marketing isn’t new, but just referred to now by an overarching terminology.

The organizations I previously led were utilizing ten or more of these tactics throughout much of my now concluded, four-decade career in community marketing.

The prominence of content marketing began as early as 1984 as the effectiveness of advertising slipped into its long slow decline.  It accelerated as advertising fell to a negative return on investment overall a few years ago.

Unfortunately, many marketers were slow to make the shift, as noted in the white paper entitled, “Turbulent Times for the CMO.”  Content marketing, according to analyst Robert Rose, is no longer about acting like a media company but becoming a media company.

It is also about not yelling.  It’s not about more.  It’s about authenticity.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ripple Effect of Dog Poop as A Keystone Strategy

Instead of an overarching strategy, many communities chase after every grant possible, discarding workable programs spawned by one grant to chase after yet another grant.

This is far more common than you might think, including in my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina.

It is what happens when strategy-making is inside out vs. outside in and defined by resource limitations rather than being revenue or results driven.

So I smiled when news articles picked up that struggling Naples, Italy announced what some would call a “keystone” strategy by taking DNA samples to aggressively crack down on pet owners who let their dog poop all over sidewalks and other public places there without bothering to pick it up.

Why would a community with major problems focus on dog poop?

It is really another take on the counterintuitive “broken windows” theory, a “keystone” strategy at the heart of crime reduction in many cities.

It is based on the observations by social scientists that people, not just criminals “take cues from their surroundings and calibrate their behavior.”  Some places, such as New York almost immediately seized upon this as a powerful “overarching” or “keystone strategy.

Many others have wasted the subsequent decades arguing against it, essentially settling for having no “overarching” strategy at all.

Identifying a “keystone” strategy is also how Paul O’Neill, a nearly life-long bureaucrat famously turned Alcoa around while CEO, by making safety the giant company’s focus.

Many experts thought O’Neill was nuts but safety turned the company around.  It is because “keystone” or “overarching” strategies have a ripple effect.  In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg calls them transformational.

O’Neill had picked up the importance of “keystone” strategy by studying what made some government agencies so much more effective than others.

It is the same reason that something as simple as fastidious community attention to appearance and upkeep can ripple throughout other areas because it is linked to reducing littering and crime in general, reducing domestic violence, improving general public health, increasing property values, stimulating economic development, encouraging volunteerism and philanthropy as well as enhancing community pride.

In nature, changes that have immense ripple effect are called “trophic cascades,” an ecological process that ripples through the ecology.  An example of this is the reintroduction of wolves after 70 years into Yellowstone Park, which cuts into my native nook of Idaho.

Described in this incredible video clip by columnist George Monbiot based on his fascinating book entitled, Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, the reintroduction of wolves in this area even changed its physical geography.

Closer to home, urban reforestation if practiced holistically and with gusto, can also have a cascading or ripple effect.

Local and state governments try to be strategic.  But they fail for two basic reasons.  They let available resources suffocate strategy-making, resulting in an addiction to grants and a revolving door of programs that are never given the capacity to be scalable.

The other reason these strategic plans fail is that they neglect to identify an “overarching” strategy, one that can synergize multiple goals into a concentrated focus and create disruptive change.

It really is that simple.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Ticking Clock on A Community’s Sense of Place

I noticed in a report last month that the recently opened History Hub, a kind of avatar or alter ego for a proposed Museum of Durham (North Carolina) History was already drawing 75% of its attendance from outside Durham with the majority between the ages of 18 and 49, younger than many expected.

Fortunately, the facility is tracking statistics such as these because they run counter to comments by detractors over the years, even though the proposed museum has been overwhelmingly favored by Durham residents in public opinion polls over more than two decades.

The facility also surfaced as the top priority in a cultural master plan and in a gap analysis of facilities needed to optimize visitor-centric economic and cultural development for Durham.

Another interesting metric at the Hub shows that more than 6-in-10 attendees at the museum would like to see more artifacts and photos.  This may be surprising to some advocates who have pushed for a more technological approach instead.

Unfortunately, those who have blocked the project over the past two decades, usually by means of leapfrogging it with other cultural facilities, probably are unaware that during the delay hundreds of thousands of historical Durham artifacts have been discarded.

Often children and grandchildren, as they clean out belongings after the passing of ancestors, fail to understand the importance of these items if not as keepsakes, then certainly to the communities they symbolize.

A few end up in yard or estate sales and are picked up by collectors but the vast majority of these items end up in landfills. 

One of my favorite blogs is Permanent Record, which is authored by a journalist, Paul Lukas.  The blog features artifacts of immense value that are retrieved by strangers from yard or estate sales and often returned to the families of those to which they belonged or given to unrelated or tangential museums.

At the pace local officials are moving, a future Museum of Durham History will be made to rely on this means of retrieving valuable symbols of its past or forced to go to the expense of deploying teams  of “pickers” across the land in search of Durham’s heritage.

True visionaries are those who understand the imperatives accrued by a local history museum or the clock ticking on sense of place.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Privatization of Regulations & Sustainability

According to a new report on sustainability trends by the network 2degrees, the primary aim by companies and organizations for taking a sustainable business approach is cost savings 53%, followed by regulatory compliance 46%, reputation 39% and branding 38%.

But of those businesses and organizations that put sustainability as a central, strategic focus, brand and reputation also leapfrog compliance, a signal that sustainability is considered first and foremost, just good business.

Some, as I will share below, are even privatizing regulations to establish higher standards.

This movement also leaves the “whiner economy” more transparent.  These are the special business interest lobbies who are bottom feeders.  These are the interests that feel their only way to create value is to undermine government and sustainability.

By this, I mean they hammer public servants into submission and open their wallets wider and wider to influence election campaigns as a means to secure favorable legislation at the expense of the public interest.  This includes lowering the bar as every opportunity.

Of those businesses and organizations focused on cost savings as the reason to be sustainable, 57% put energy efficiency as the top priority, 50% put reducing waste at the top and 25% want to reduce or improve water usage.

Among businesses and organizations of various types, retail is leading the way with sustainability as a central focus (41%,) ahead of telecoms/media (39%,) utilities, heavy industries and even government (37%,) and far above finance (15%,) and logistics (13%.)

Engaging management and co-workers remains the biggest hurdle to sustainability efforts including, as there is with local governments in Durham, North Carolina where I live, a huge disconnect between sustainability goals and budgets to reach them.

This is a strategic failure.

A long-time friend of mine was an executive at a major router manufacturer for many years and involved in the company’s first cross-functional teams responsible for making packaging more sustainable.

He jokes to me that when they did their first assessment, it seemed as though those responsible had set out to make the company’s product packaging as environmentally unfriendly as possible.

It made me take a close look at the environmental performance reviews and reports that Apple, now #6 on the Fortune 500, provides on each of its products including the one at this link for the iPhone 5s.

Even more telling is the company’s newest Supplier Responsibility Report.  It covers not only the environment but health and safety performance, education and empowerment of workers, labor and human rights, business ethics and most interesting, accountability and performance audit results.

In addition to the results of 451 annual audits at all levels of its supply chain, Apple released for the first time 100 pages of its comprehensive requirements for suppliers.  In other words, Apple has set up its own system of regulations as well as compliance transparency.

At the very time that the “whiner economy” is fast at work in states like North Carolina seeking to undermine regulations, high-value, global concerns like Apple are not only practicing sustainability as good business but raising the bar for the businesses in its huge, global supplier network by raising the bar with its own, tougher regulations.

Elected officials and public servants at every level who are obsessed with deregulation need to read this best practice report.  They are going in the wrong direction.  But they know that.  For many, it is purposeful.

Elected officials and regulators should also take a look at the ethics practices and systems requirements Apple requires of its suppliers including audits of business integrity, disclosure, handling of complaints and protection of intellectual property.

I suspect those with interests in roadside billboards who pushed through a sacrifice of publicly owned roadside forests would fail the test to be a supplier for Apple products such as smartphones and tablets.

Unfortunately, it is this cozy relationship with special interests that will undermine any reaction to the tragic chemical and toxic sludge spills recently in West Virginia and North Carolina.

Maybe until democracy is restored and decisions made in the public rather than private interest, we’d all be far better off under Apple management.

Just sayin’.

Friday, February 21, 2014


The secret to having motivated employees is to hire motivated employees.  As a friend who had a long career in education told me, “people don’t really change much after they are 16.”

Even an award-winning workplace such as they have at DCVB, where I worked until retirement many years ago, is not really the place for social engineering, especially if a worker is among the 20% nationwide who are “actively disengaged (which is on purpose.)”

If you are giving employees slack or the benefit of the doubt along with some counseling regarding counterproductive behaviors,  you’re probably missing the point that these behaviors are plaguing other employees, who are fully engaged and productive, to a degree exponentially greater than you are ever detecting.

The rest of your workforce won’t give you points for being flexible or tolerant or caring when it comes to disengaged employees.  They just think you don’t get it, or worse, don’t care.

For every employee we were able to turn around or who needed time to fit in, there were many more who exacted too heavy a toll on those around them before moving on.

Lesson #1, put your time and focus into your truly engaged employees. This includes protecting their work environment from co-workers who aren’t engaged.

As I learned far too late in my career from a consultant named David Camner, “hire slow, fire fast.”  That was after he dramatically transformed our selection process.

My blind spot was probably that I had briefly worked in a couple of places where I wasn’t engaged and I’m as engaged as workers get.

Unfortunately, what I took away from those experiences was a blind spot for leniency instead of, as I was in those two instances, that some people just aren’t the right fit for the pace and work they are doing and no amount of leniency or retraining will pay off.

In the 1980s, when I was marketing Anchorage, Alaska, we won the bid over Salt Lake City as America’s choice to host the 1992 Winter Olympics. The games were eventually awarded to a non-US destination, Albertville, France.

When I learned in 2002 that O.C. Tanner had designed the medals for the Winter Games when they were finally held in and around Salt Lake City, it struck me that we had denied the company’s founder, Obert  Clark Tanner, the opportunity to see the Olympics in 1992, the year before he died at age 89.

As a teen he had begun selling jewelry out of his trunk and founded O.C. Tanner while an undergraduate at the University of Utah.  He kept the company going while earning a masters at Stanford and a law degree at Utah.

O.C Tanner specializes in jewelry such as they made for the Olympics and motivational items for corporations but they have also always funded research, including a study I used when I was working, that documented the five employee skills that result in “great work.”

Later confirmed by Forbes in a 360 survey, the skills include the ability to ask the right questions, to see the changes or improvements that would be loved by co-workers and customers, to explore solutions outside their team, to continually improve the mix by experimenting with ideas and persistence to see the work through to the desired result.

Last year, O.C. Tanner published a study on the impact of performance recognition, which is summarized at this link in Slideshare.  It is clear that recognition can accelerate drive and determination, increase organizational connection, enhance work relationships and personal understanding and improve organization-wide innovation.

But it probably can’t light a fire in someone who is disengaged or worse actively disengaged and it has little effect if the employee won’t allow themselves to actually hear and accept the recognition when given, which is much more common than thought.

Recognition can fuel engagement.  It isn’t clear if it can create engagement or that it can reverse active disengagement.  For example, moving from weak recognition to strong recognition makes only a 6 point difference in drive and determination.

In my experience, no amount of recognition can turn work that is a bad fit into a good fit.  Research by Dr. Carol Dweck has identified mindset in youth as a critical component to achievement.  Her finding show that people have either a “fixed” mindset or a “growth” mindset, often instilled or cultivated by their parents.

Praise alone can be tricky, especially if an employee has a fixed mindset.  The praise must focus on the effort, not the results.  Otherwise, those with a fixed mindset can respond even to success by getting stuck.

Worse are leaders and managers who have a “fixed” mindset, categorizing themselves and others as either having what it takes or not.  These individuals are particularly egotistical and become wedded to their goals and beliefs as though they were possessions.

They are bullies at their worst, or manipulators at their best.  They are the reason 50% of the U.S. workforce believes their senior leaders are not effective even though many of them are held in high esteem by officials or the news media.

Counter intuitively, low turnover is also often an indicator of fixed vs. growth mindsets in leadership.  A growth mindset focuses on “grow and go” because there often isn’t space to accommodate them.

These fixed mindset leaders are unable to see alternatives or adapt to new information.  They see the world in terms of winners or losers. Underlying the bravado of fixed mindset leaders is a desperation when it comes to facing uncertainty.

Sometimes I realize just how much of my success has been luck or due to the growth mindset fostered by my genes.  I now realize how little I knew and understood about leadership even though I was a CEO practically all of my career.

I hope young people just starting out come to realize quickly just how much their success relies on intangibles.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Anxiety Inherent In True Strategy-Making

A day late, because snow had closed RDU, I dashed out to the Pacific Northwest and back again over the long weekend to rendezvous with family and toast my mom’s 85th birthday, which occurred  a couple of weeks ago.

I takes nine to ten hours each way including waiting at the gate and a layover, this time at Chicago’s O’Hare.  With noise cancelling headphones, I can use the time for what Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, calls “deep reading.”

Even when highly focused like I was then, “a reader’s mind typically wanders anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time according to one of the books I read en route entitled, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, by Daniel Goleman.

Gallup’s State Of The American Workplace shows that only 30% of the workforce in the United States is truly engaged.

Goleman cites researchers at Harvard and Stanford who found that that these employees experience “flow,” which is keyed “when we align what we do with what we enjoy.” But even then only 20% of people have these moments “at least once a day” and 15% less often.

Aligning these studies, it appears that a large number of workers are daydreaming during the day, a state that when not over-indulged can incubate “creative discovery.”

The 20% who are actively disengaged may be “stuck in the state neurobiologists call ‘frazzle’…where their attention fixates on their worries, not their jobs.”

In fact, half of our thoughts are daydreams.  During the half day I spent with just my two sisters in the time between my departure and that of my daughter and grandsons, they shared something they had learned recently.

Our decisions are ruled either by fear or by love.  I suspect those preoccupied by their worries are ruled by the former.

As you can tell from reading this blog, I have a rich memory of events that occurred between the ages of three and eight, memories my sisters often say they don’t have from that span in their lives.

According to a new study published in the Journal Memory in November by researchers at Emory, this was probably because my parents let me repeat unaided recall of memories, only connecting them to the age I was at the time the events occurred.

They may have become too busy to be that patient as their family grew.  The researchers found that at the ages of 5, 6 and 7, kids were able to remember 63 to 72 percent of the events they had at age 3.

Following ages 8 or 9, that recall falls to 35% and the “narratives were less complete.  This is because our lives also become more complex at those ages.

Apparently as we get older, if we do happen to remember these events, they have more details, but for many childhood amnesia prevails.

On the return leg of my trip I re-read an article I had skimmed last month by Roger Martin in the current issue of Harvard Business Review entitled, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning.

It reminded me of a book I read in the early 1990s while I was shaping a strategic blueprint for Durham, North Carolina’s visitor-centric economic and cultural development.  It was an elaboration on a paper I read as I was headed to Anchorage, Alaska in a similar capacity in 1978.

A key takeaway from both the paper and the book entitled, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, was “emergent strategy,” the ultimate objective of a strategic plan.

The author, Dr. Henry Mintzberg of McGill University, argues that strategy cannot be planned because planning is about analysis and strategy is about synthesis.

Far too many executives, in fear of uncertainty, hardwire a strategic plan down to nothing more than a tactical plan.  As Martin notes, today the term emergent strategy has been perverted into nothing more than being a “fast follower” of competitor’s choices.

These executives restrain the process with a cost-focus when according to Martin, strategic planning is about revenue, not cost.  Obsession with cost destroys strategy-making by forcing it to be too perfect.

Martin, who is the former dean and now academic director of the Martin Prosperity Institute (centers of creativity) at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, argues that demands for certainty in strategy-making turns them into mere “plans stead of strategy.”

I’ve blogged before about “strategic intuition,” which involves freeing yourself from goals and objectives.  A strategic plan should not be an excuse to turn off strategic thinking.

Strategy-making relies on the recall some have of events before we were 5 or 7 because from that retrospection springs a curiosity to see the future through the lens of the past.

Maybe being strategic requires being comfortable with uncertainty and the ability to make decisions not from fear but from love.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Failure to Acknowledge The Role of Luck

I noticed on a recent infographic comparing the habits of wealthy people to poor people, that 88% of wealthy people read at least 30 minutes a day compared to 2% of those in poverty.

Reading has also been one of my lifelong habits (30 or more minutes each day since I was 18.)   It didn't make me wealthy, but it continues to enrich my life.

Liking the book, The Antidote, about which I blogged recently, Jay Zenner, a long time friend, fellow Stoic and author of a book and blog on the evolution of real estate marketing, recommended a book by Max Gunter that was first published in 1986 and now out as an eBook entitled How To Get Lucky.

Not that kind of lucky.  Stay with me for a minute.

While debunking various myths by “successful” people on how they achieved their success, it reveals something else Bill Gates and I have in common.

As Gates often notes, he was lucky:

“Luck played an immense role. Some of it came after I entered the business world, but my lucky streak started much earlier than that.

I was fortunate to have family and teachers who encouraged me. Children often thrive when they get that kind of attention.”

But as a 2011 New York Times op-ed by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen noted, based on their study and book entitled, Great By Choice, for Gates and others, luck was just the spark.

Collins and Hansen define a “luck event” as one that meets three tests:

“First, some significant aspect of the event occurs largely or entirely independent of the actions of the enterprise’s main actors.

Second, the event has a potentially significant consequence — good or bad

And, third, it has some element of unpredictability.”

While Great By Choice is a good read and includes some interesting background about successful people, I too am drawn more to the “13 techniques” in How To Get Lucky, “for discovering and taking advantage of life’s good breaks.

One of Jay’s favorites of the 13 techniques is #11, “accepting an unfair universe.”  Gunter quotes Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote the fascinating book When Bad Things Happen To Good People, as saying that “fairness is a human concept.”

Gunter makes the case counter intuitively, that “while the universe isn’t fair and never has been…By accepting that truth instead of arguing with it, you take one more step on the road to becoming consistently lucky.”

While often misattributed to Bill Gates, I suspect he might agree with Rule #1 in an 1996 op-ed by Charles J. Sykes about things we don’t learn in school – “Life is not fair.  Get used to it.”

One of my favorite techniques in How To Get Lucky is #1, “making the luck/planning distinction.”  He concludes this chapter with the profound statement that “the first step in controlling your luck is to recognize that it exists.”  This, I presume, is when it is most likely to be a spark.

Many who are unwilling to acknowledge the role of luck in their success fail to understand that its recognition is a position of strength.  Failing to accept and recognize the role of luck in our lives is a weakness.

In the words of the late Rabbi David Hartman, another favorite author of mine, “strength invites discussion, weakness invites manipulation.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Devolving To Local Government by Delegation, By Neglect

Many people, rather than insist that local governments do the jobs for which they were created and are best suited, seem to harken instead back to the late 1700s.

Back then, rather than handling general upkeep, local governments would issue ordinances obliging each person in the city to clean or repair that portion of the street abutting their house or shop.

Researchers call this period “government by delegation” or “government committed to a policy of externalizing the costs of action.”

That all changed after the American Revolution but it seems that local administrators in communities such as Durham, North Carolina where I live are trying to return to the era of “government by delegation” by neglecting community upkeep while pushing it off on volunteers.

In 1800, near the end of George Washington’s two terms as the first president of the United States, there were still only “thirty-three towns with a population of 2,500 or more, and only six of these urban areas had populations of 10,000.  Only 5% of Americans lived in cities.”

“By 1820, the number with over 2,500 had increased to sixty-one, but only five had populations over 25,000 and 7% of Americans lived in cities, while a third of England did with a comparative population.

Within that span, New York City had also exchanged its Royal Charter to transform as a municipality under the authority granted by the state legislature.  It had also set up a public work force to clean its streets and wharves.

Rather than relying on the inconsistent efforts of residents by eternalizing those responsibilities, NYC had “become an institution financed primarily by public taxation to handle public concerns,” beginning with community upkeep.

By 1805, it had done the same with public health.

In short, following the Revolution, cities and towns moved from externalizing “shoulds” upon residents to implementing scalable, consistent solutions in the public interest.

Today, there are 89,004 local governments in the U.S. including 3,031 counties (down since 2007) and 19,522 municipalities (up since 2007) and 12,884 school districts (down since 2007.)  The majority are special-purpose districts such as fire, water etc.

Local government concern for overall community upkeep upon which these institutions were originally anchored more than two hundred years ago, may have peaked following a spike of renewed emphasis during the Progressive Era, which also gave us city manager forms of government, planning, beautification and urban forestry efforts etc.

Today, local governments seem more likely to neglect community upkeep or to leave it to elected officials as a one-off add on or hope that residents who cite it as a high or very high priority overall in scientific polls will become fed-up and try to fill the void.

Local governments have devolved back two hundred years into “government by delegation,” forgetting the lessons of their origin and the American Revolution.

Rather than fall back to well-meaning efforts by volunteers to fill this void which, while cathartic, are never adequate or scalable enough, maybe we need another Revolution.

Or maybe we need historical exhibits like one in San Francisco right now entitled Urban Olfactory which recreates the smells of neglect in cities past to remind us of the gaps local governments must fill.

One of the major reasons for this current state of neglect is that local government accounting never connects the dots between sources of revenue and areas of expense.

This is why periodic reports are so inconsistent and incomplete when they report that various public facilities have or have not resulted in a deficit.  They only rarely incorporate tax revenues generated by facilities beyond their doors.

Blinded the news media fails to dig down into the numbers.

Durham local governments are again pinching down efforts at community upkeep this year due to a problem that is self-inflicted.

Ostensibly, the reason is to avoid tax increases even for items of neglect.  This way of thinking resulted in bonds to repave streets recently at many times the cost to taxpayers that periodic tax increases would have meant.

Those of us who have worked to pass bonds over the years, did so based on computations of the miniscule increases they would mean to our taxes.  But this is where the problems plaguing local governments today begin.

Instead of immediately increasing taxes after a popular vote, local administrators and elected officials cross their fingers hoping that economic growth will absorb the costs instead, which it sometimes does.

But instead of levying the increases when voters approval was given and then issuing a refund if and when the revenues aren’t needed, local officials walk themselves into a trap when growth in the economy is not sufficient to hide the costs.

Plagued by looming debt service, they don’t want to explain to tax payers that the cost of bonds weren’t levied after each favorable vote and now need to be levied years later when memories have dimmed.

So instead, they double down the squeeze on things they think we won’t notice such as community upkeep.

Only we do notice.  And left no explanation other than ineptitude, we are left mumbling to ourselves that local officials just don’t get it or they lack political will or they fail to connect the dots between community upkeep and curb appeal to economic development and increased valuation.

Only they do get it.  They are just mired in a trap of their own creation, one that is inscrutable to residents.  Rather than fix this paradigm, they say things like, “if it matters enough, people will get angry and let us know.”

And that is the stuff of revolutions.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Rocks of My Ages

Just west of Rawlins, Wyoming is where most modern day travelers first cross the Continental Divide which stretches from Alaska’s Bering Strait in the Arctic Ocean to the Straits of Magellan off the southern tip of South America.

It is a hydrological designation, where water flows west on one side and east on the other.

Geologists believe rock outcroppings west of Rawlins cover a greater spread of time than any other between the two coasts, well over half the existence of the earth.  This translates to twenty-six hundred years, ten times older than those exposed in the Grand Canyon.

These outcroppings break like waves from the end of the Wind River Range, where all but one of my sixteen great-great grandparents banked southeast through a break in the Rockies on wagon trains in the late 1840s and early 1850s.

Several were among the first Mormons along that route but by then 2,500 others had preceded them in what would become the western migration of some 300,000 who would follow.

What distinguished my ancestors is that they stopped along the trail to make it easier for those who followed by building ferry crossings and supply depots.

Half of my great-grandparents colonized settlements along mountains, framing each side of the Salt Lake and Utah valleys as well as west-central Nevada and northern and central Arizona.

The other half turned north to settle Cache Valley where it straddles what is now the Utah and Idaho border before eventually migrating north to homestead and ranch the upper reaches of the Henry’s Fork along the Idaho side of the Tetons in a nook between Montana and Wyoming.

The northern branches could have saved a lot of time if they had cut 200 miles northwest along the Wind River Range to Jackson Hole and then over the Tetons.  Both areas were shown on maps and in pamphlets published by Congress a few years earlier to share the results of expeditions led by John C. Frémont.

Frémont’s route up the Wind River Range and then across the Tetons to my homeland is one of my favorite drives.  The iconic Tetons are only 40 miles long and less than ten miles wide.

This is only 13 miles longer than the distance from my long-time home of Durham, North Carolina southeast to Raleigh and a width similar to the distance from Durham southwest to Chapel Hill.

Yet the Tetons are not only the backdrop to my origins but by far the most frequently used image to symbolize the west.  They are used more than any other backdrop, often shown on the horizon of movie depictions of the 1,500 mile route my ancestors took west as the great migration began.

Several ancestors, I have learned doing family history research, became interpreters to various nations of Native Americans along the route, including the Shoshone, who are believed to have evolved from solitary family units to bands when they moved to horseback by 1700.

Having traded with Spanish explorers for their mounts, by 1700 they were trading with the Comanche near those ancient outcroppings.  Then the Shoshone traded horses to other Shoshone in Cache Valley and north with the Bannock, a Paiute-speaking nation living among the Shoshone in what is now eastern Idaho.

The Shoshone had also traded horses to the Blackfeet nation in Montana by 1751, a tribe that then used their mounts to drive the Shoshone back over the mountains framing the place of my birth in that nook of Idaho.

By the time, my ancestors moved among the Shoshone as interpreters, the horse-mounted bands had extinguished vast Buffalo herds in eastern Idaho from that Teton nook down to Cache Valley.

Trappers from the east often used the term “hole” to refer to a valley rimmed by mountains, e.g. Jackson Hole, Henry’s Hole and Pierre’s Hole.  The term was picked up by outlaws, cattlemen and homesteaders.

The forty-mile valleys on each side of the Tetons are remarkably flat in contrast to the explosive 7,000 foot sheerness of that range rising abruptly on each side from the valley floors, which are already a mile above sea level.

On the Idaho side, the valley was leveled out by volcanic lava flows.  On the Wyoming side, the valley was scoured flat by a glacier a half a mile thick.  On the Idaho side, springs feed the North Fork of the Snake River.  On the Wyoming side, they feed the South Fork.

Together the two forks join downstream to form the powerful Snake River near Idaho Falls.

Geologists, according to John McPhee in his book Rising from the Plains, believe that the Teton landscape provides not only the most complete geologic history in North America but the most complex.

For me, they symbolize my roots.  Along with Mt. McKinley, which I could view from my office in Anchorage, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon, the Tetons are known as America’s scenic climax.

To me, they symbolize my beginning.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Greater Is Always Ultimately Lesser

Lumping several communities together in pursuit of visitor-centric or demand-driven economic development never works in regions that are polycentric with no dominant center.  Marketing individual destinations will always give the region more “bites” of the tourism apple.

What isn’t widely known is that lumping doesn’t work even when towns and cities are arranged concentrically around a dominant city.  The idea of surrendering identity to a “greater” somewhere is based on the “table crumbs” approach; e.g., surrendering identity to the center in hopes that a few crumbs of tourism will fall your way.

I was approached more than a decade ago by an organization using a “greater” approach that dated to the pre-1970s when it was assumed community marketing was generic from place to place so the objective became to maximize revenue, especially where it relied on memberships.

A survey there had shown that even with 57% of the sample coming from within the dominant city in that county, only 1-in-5 liked the “greater” reference and only 7% liked a metro reference. 

Outside of the dominant city forming the “greater” jurisdiction, only 1-in-10 were okay with that moniker.

Why does it matter what residents think of the “greater” idea?

It is pivotal to community destination marketing, because ultimately, residents have to deliver on their community’s brand to visitors.

Any discord between the way an area is marketed and resident perceptions will create a drag on visitation and related spending.

Having started community destination marketing agencies in three different communities by that time, each of which quickly leapfrogged more established destinations, especially those using the “greater” approach, I was asked for advice.

As I would today, I suggested dropping the “greater” moniker, which is very hard to do once entrenched.

After 1970, it became well proven that leveraging a community’s distinct story was the secret to rapid visitor growth.  Lumping them together made this almost impossible to do, diluting the brand of the beneficiary of the “greater,” while diminishing the stories of communities that were subsumed.

Part of the reason “greater” doesn’t work is that visitors rarely travel more than seven miles from the core purpose of their trip and then only with resident escorts, due to a consumer behavior called cognitive distance friction.

It is much more productive, even where there are several cities and towns in the same county, to find a way to celebrate and showcase their individual stories and identities.  That could be done in any number of ways, including distinct website home pages or guides, while showing proximity to nearby places for return visits.

Even when a community is located in a simplified geographic area, it will payoff during start up to begin as quickly as feasible to give neighborhoods, crossroads and small commercial districts their own distinct identity and story.

Visitor-centric economic and cultural development is optimized by going smaller and smaller, not “greater.”

My first two destinations were places where nearby destination asked us to take a “greater” approach, but I quickly learned that the outcomes were far greater by helping these other places develop and showcase their own individual identities.

There are many reasons the term “greater” is still superimposed.  It doesn’t take as much work.  Often the community at the center is uncomfortable in its own skin and prone to overreaching to appear bigger than it is.

Sometimes hegemony is at play and of course a few old schoolers still live in those pre-1970 days when optimizing your organization’s budget was more important than optimizing results.

But my advice to any community, large or small, polycentric or centric, is to build community marketing around genuine identities and stories.  Those begin with towns not because they are jurisdictions but because jurisdictions followed development of a “there-there,” a distinct cultural identity.

At essence, leveraging visitor-centric economic development must be predicated on that genuine core.

Don’t settle for “greater.”  It will be better for the communities involved, more in synch with internal stakeholders and I guarantee you, far more productive in outcomes.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Form Of Ignorance, I Suppose

A lead-in on NPR prior to the Super Bowl proclaimed that devotion to football just keeps growing.

Actually, public opinion polls show that the percentage of Americans who are football fans peaked eight years ago and has been slipping ever since. Yes, the numbers may have grown, but the percentages haven’t.

Even among the percentage watching the Super Bowl, which peaked two decades ago, only about 35% cite watching the game as a priority.

The average number of fans attending regular season games over the last two or more decades also peaked in 2007.  It’s a very popular sport but “devotion” has definitely not gotten stronger.

The news media may be far more fragmented today than it was in 1990 but that means it has become even more a victim of its own hyperbole.  I am a lifelong football fan, but I idealistically refuse to believe this has anything to do with selling advertising.

A form of ignorance, I suppose.

A nationwide poll of shoppers last October showed that the effectiveness of advertising in general has taken another hit.  Already a negative return on investment since the 1980s, only 4% of consumers rated it most important out of five different influences on the image of a brand.

Nearly 2-in-3 rated it fourth or fifth in importance and 1-in-3 as the least important.  By far, personal experience is the most important influence, 16 times more powerful than advertising.

Another survey last year by Harris found that irrelevant pop-up ads, the oldest form being roadside spam popping up on sticks in roadside forests and the newest of which now pop up on the Internet, are the most annoying to Americans.

More than 7-in-10 are just annoyed.  More significantly for advertisers, 9-in-10 of those who are annoyed take action against the advertiser or medium.  Advertising in general not only has a negative return on investment now but it involves significant reputational downside.

Advertising is plagued by several systemic drawbacks:

  • It is you “yelling” about yourself so it lacks credibility
  • Subjected to 10,000 ads or messages each day, audiences have tuned out
  • The industry is powerless to eliminate obsolete mediums such as roadside billboards
  • Advertisers fail to grasp turn-off ratios and not just for desecration mediums such as billboards
  • In-house marketers seem detached from the sustainability goals of their organizations

This failure of self-control or self-governance exacts a heavy price on society.  Except for billboards, advertising is the model that has supported the creation of a vast amounts of news, sports and entertainment.

It is kept on life-support now by ignorance such as a community recently that spent its entire budget on roadside billboards as a perversion of the concept of wayfinding, enabled, I suspect, by someone crossing the line ethically.

Entrusted with safeguarding their community’s brand, destination marketing organizations that use this form of advertising are instead scarring first and last impressions.  This is the epitome of what has destroyed advertising.

It is a perfect example of the difference between being ignorant and being uninformed as blogged by Seth Godwin yesterday:

“Uninformed is a temporary condition, fixed more easily than ever.

Ignorant, on the other hand, is the dangerous situation where someone making a decision is uninformed and either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about his lack of knowledge…

‘Ignorant’ used to be a fairly vague epithet…Today, because it represents a choice, the intentional act of not knowing, I think it carries more weight…”

We must all be on guard against our own ignorance.  For advertisers deploying what once was a useful marketing tool, it is unfortunately much too late.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Revolution Behind Our Revolution

Ideologies evolve.  In a documentary aired a few months ago, a North Carolina conservative spokesman dismissed the participants in Moral Mondays by claiming comparisons with the civil rights movement were laughable.

More sincerely and without revealing any sense of irony, he questioned “those who equate it with the 60s and 50s and some of the great struggles in history,” movements that were opposed by conservatives at the time.

To an Independent like me, it seems ideologies on the right or left tend to make progress in a circular, two steps forward and one step back but usually moving forward.

Two books that I read in 1991 and 1992, shortly after moving to Durham, seem even more relevant today.  One was entitled The United States of Ambition: Politicians, Power, and the Pursuit of Office by journalist Alan Ehrenhalt.

It traced a number of localities as case studies where a relatively few members of an ideology - both on the right and left – were out of step with the general local electorate at the time, but still able to assume power and execute change.

His latest book, The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City, is a particularly good read in light of recent efforts in the North General Assembly to override this progress, including a new effort this week by a powerful state senator to strip away tree ordinances.

The other book I read in the early 1990s is entitled, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, by Dr. Gordon S. Brown.

Packed with citations and statistics, the book makes the argument that what we view as the American Revolution in the narrow sense was really the culmination of more than two decades of social and cultural disruption here.

In fact, the war was in opposition to a conservative effort to turn back those changes.  Following Independence, the founders made a concerted effort to evolve a new, more modern set of social and cultural adhesives to hold the new society together.

Conservative resistance to social and cultural change may go back at least to two thousand BC and the requirement for people to have last names, something more broadly but gradually implemented in the English-speaking world after the Norman invasion of William The Conqueror.

But this was nothing like the reaction to the wholesale changes in the American colonies leading up to the Revolution.  There was a breakdown in vertical social strata among classes.  Wealth was no longer viewed as trickle down.

Land ownership and working for a living became the standard across classes along with rampant land speculation.  The patriarchal family devolved including introduction of divorce laws and inheritance changes.  Hundreds of evangelical religions surfaced.

The population, which doubled in 25 years (six-fold in North Carolina,) included hundreds of thousands of immigrants.  Manners gave way to defiance of authority.  People no longer stayed in place and transience and poverty increased.  No longer did “everyone belong somewhere.”

People began to run for office regardless of their station in life and voting increased.  Entrepreneurism took hold and people began to produce surplus for trade rather than subsistence.  Contracts replaced handshakes.

Gone was the notion held by social conservatives that “only poverty and starvation would induce common people to work.” Hierarchal structure was eaten away or transformed by classical style republicanism which became used as a pejorative much as the label “liberal” has been made today.

In general, there was a radical, two-decade long, counter-cultural desacralization in America that makes the 1960s seem very tame by comparison.

Conservatives responded back then by desperately trying to make it hard to move, harder to vote and run for office and advocating a general return to cultural norms.

This was the period from around 1750 until 1775, a time of great anxiety and change like none other witnessed before or since in such a concentrated span.

As a society we seem to work best when those reluctant about change serve as a soft brake on the pace of change rather than a dogmatic regression.  The genius of the American Revolution set the stage for eventual emancipation and the full extension of equal rights.

The founders did not limit their development of social and cultural adhesives to just government institutions.  They set about through promotion of a liberal arts education to socially re-engineer America, including using utensils to eat, brushing your teeth and not talking loudly in public to name a few.

By the second decade of the 1800s, Americans were “already referring to themselves as a society dominated by the ‘middling” sort’, a term for the middle class.

But the founders were never able to resolve an issue that raised its head almost immediately and still plagues democracy today.  They were unable to protect government for the common good from self-interests which has become overwhelming since the bicentennial of the Revolution in the mid-1970s.

Those who profiteered during the Revolutionary War pushed to see that continued, overwhelming the wishes by the founders to focus government on the collective, common good.

It is painful to read Brown’s account of the debate over special interest group politics, especially in light of its predominance today.  In the lament of President George Washington:

“the few, therefore, who act upon Principles of disinterestedness are comparatively speaking, no more than a drop in the Ocean.”

Today, we’re still locked into what The Economist magazine’s Lexington Blog calls “zero sum politics” where we hear and believe only the worst each political party says about the other:

“the Right has done a fine job of convincing lots of Americans that Democrats are the party for the undeserving poor…The Left, meanwhile, has successfully portrayed Republicans as the party for the heartless rich.”

As an Independent, I just want to rid government of self-interests.  Period.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Circular Economy is No Place for Whiners

Regulations aren’t designed to set the best standards, only the minimum bar for those who seek benefit at the expense of the general public.

It is typically those who are part of the “whiner” economy who make a fuss about regulations.  Everyone else cleared that regulatory bar long ago and strives instead for best practices.

One of those best practices is the movement toward the “circular economy,” as described in an article this month by McKinsey alum Markus Zils.  Those who fuss about regulations typically take more of a linear approach.

The circular approach is just better business.  It seeks to preserve the “embedded labor, material and capital costs.”  This is true of organic as well as technical materials.Screenshot 2014-02-06 09.01.42

It isn’t just about recycling by breaking down and reusing the products but also involves refurbishment.

The short term benefit is better profit margins but the long term benefit is a “decoupling of the economic growth from material intake.”

Often called the “triple bottom line” or “full-cost accounting,” the improvements aren’t just in manufacturing.  You saw it at work this week when CVS decided that selling tobacco didn’t make sense for a company in the business of providing healthcare services.

At the same time, undeterred by gridlock among nation states, fifty-nine mega-cities around the globe that have banded together to address climate change issued their annual report.

Even McDonald’s is moving toward more sustainable, antibiotic-free beef for its burgers, hopefully by 2016, a movement led many years ago in that food genre by Chipolte.

This even gives hope that marketers for the largest enabler of roadside billboards may one day connect the dots about the harm they are doing by enabling the sacrifice of the equivalent of a good size national forest as well as blighting neighborhoods and property values.

The marketplace likes sustainability.  A CDP report two months ago to inform investors, noted that nearly 30 of America’s largest global corporations - including five major oil companies - aren’t waiting for the U.S. Congress either.

They are incorporating a price for carbon emissions into their long range plans.  The free market isn’t ideological and “whiner” economics, relegated to seeking favors from lawmakers, just isn’t good business.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In The Beginning

Twenty-five years ago, as Durham’s new Tourism Development Authority sorted through more than a hundred resumes to find its start-up CEO,  approximately two million overnight and day-trip visitors that year were already finding their way to the Bull City.

That’s right.  The visitation spigot had been dripping along for years.

Durham wasn’t forming the community’s first destination marketing agency (DMO) to pursue its first visitors.  In fact, even if it had never drawn a single new visitor it would have still been able to fuel visitor-centric economic and cultural development by:

  • Improving visitor satisfaction, stimulating better word of mouth and lowering barriers to entry such as misinformation,
  • Increasing circulation of existing visitors to see, do and spend more while curbing leakage when visitors are misdirected elsewhere,
  • Telling the Durham story to provide congruity, reinforce community identity and reveal place-based authenticity,
  • Gathering data and establishing metrics by which to measure future efforts and to inform future investment, and
  • Optimizing tax yield from visitors to enable local governments to then reinvest in organic, place-based assets to make Durham sustainable as a destination.

Of course, there is no such thing as a “visitor base” like there is with say, building occupancies which have longer term leases.  Every single visitor must be earned by a destination each and every year.  So the challenge is far greater than just building on last year’s total volume.

But my point is that these five elemental things are what every community DMO should make a priority at the beginning.  Unfortunately, they are often skipped over in a rush to do the things that are much more visible, often just activity traps.

If a community doesn’t have the resources for its DMO to do more, these alone will fuel the foundation of good visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

I helped start these DMOs as a demand-driven economic development spearhead for three communities, one from scratch, one as a resurrection and the third from a point where only the basics were in place.

Each time I felt such an incredible sense of urgency that I tried to do too many things that I could have staged later.  It is so clear now, but communities are usually either clueless about what to expect at the beginning, or they have unrealistic expectations or they have pet projects or interests, all of which make hard to control the focus.

If I had it to do over again (and I am not interested,) these are the five anchors I would stress up front.

I was always known for how rapidly I could leapfrog a newly organized community over more established destinations when it came to visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

But I bet this approach would have made that leap even more rapid.

It Is Really A Failure To Be Strategic

There is quite a bit of neighborhood listserv chatter in Durham, North Carolina, where I live, over a proposal endorsed by administrators to amend the community’s tree coverage policy to facilitate a fourteen-acre development.

I’d like to make the case that this is a failure by public administrators to think strategically as many community’s do as well as give an example I believe Durham should follow.

Although there may be merit to the specifics of this request, amending the entire ordinance seems extreme.  Administrators admit in emails that they really aren’t resourced to do a full impact analysis in such a short time which is also usually the result of a failure to budget strategically.

Although they intended to revisit that requirement themselves in the future, I fear such a drastic approach was also influenced by the $4,000 fee attached to an amendment proposed by private interests.  Council was right to send it back for more study.

But the real problem isn’t this request.  It is symptomatic of how penny-pinching without sufficient strategic context puts a community at risk.

Of course, in Durham, the request set off alarm bells with hyper-vigilant neighborhood sentinels who have become nearly every community’s primary defense for public interest.

This became necessity after public administrators began to buy into bullying thirty years ago from special interests that those paid to gate-keep should instead always remain “neutral”

But the real problem, shared by both the city and county here and far too common in other well-managed communities is a failure to be strategic or maybe a more appropriate term is strategic neglect.

Both have so-called strategic operational plans to bring focus to day-to-day activities but in the overarching sense they have few, if any, truly strategic plans to inform decisions around requests such as this.

The stark reality is that Durham simply doesn’t have an inventory and valuation of overall green infrastructure upon which to base tree requirements or variations.

Our administrators are among the best but proposals to spend $12,500 each by the city and county to get a strategic grasp of something so crucial to our economy, sense of place and public health have been vetoed even though such a plan would have support among elected officials.

Instead, well-meaning public servants are left to do what they can piecemeal, and then only regarding trees on public property rather than  using a holistic best practice approach urban forest.

The failure to secure a comprehensive inventory and management plan saves a few thousand dollars up front but shifts huge costs to local government, residents, property owners and developers as we fly blind regarding the value of trees and vegetation.

By blind, I mean that we have no clue if we need to compensate more or less for the 3.91 acres per day that we are putting under development.  We have no idea how to measure the effectiveness of tree planting initiatives because we have no baseline.

What we do know is that land converted to development and impervious surface over the last forty years has roughly outpaced population growth by 8 to 1.

Is it still not worth $25,000 or so to get a handle on what and how much we should do and where as well as give landowners and developers cost factors to weigh with regard to tree cover?

In a holistic sense, the urban forest is a huge component of our community’s critical infrastructure and we have only cursory documentation.

An example of the plan that Durham needs is the comprehensive assessment conducted a few years ago for Wilmington/New Castle County, Delaware using i-Tree Eco, a free, open-source, peer reviewed model developed for communities by the United States Forest Service.

I’ve spoken with and blogged using the research of the lead developer before.

The data collection can be coordinated by local forestry officials using summer student interns from the Duke School for the Environment or NC State’s forestry school when they intern in northern Durham each year.

It involves the use of hand held field units which upload directly or securing licenses on smartphones such as the one the city has as a beta.  But the two hundred select 1/10th acre plots need to be measured over no more than a two year period and not just on public land.

They aren’t just any 200 plots.

They need to be taken randomly throughout the county including areas that are residential, urban, rural and commercial.  They also span forested areas, wetlands/lakes, agricultural areas, transportation corridors and parks.

I believe, like the example I linked, they should also include particularly sensitive storm run-off areas and watersheds.

The data is uploaded as it is taken and then the model calibrates details to local conditions such as weather, pollution etc.

Like Durham, the Wilmington/New Castle County area got the “cart in front of the horse” too.  They also had started tree initiatives only to realize they needed a baseline for these efforts to make any sense or be measurable.

As you would see if you read the study, it provides local governments, including land-use planners as well as private property owners and developers, tools such as:

  • A baseline for the number and age of trees and the percentage of each species as well as their overall health and management needs to minimize risk.
  • Indepth, ground-up augmentation that can dovetail with the more superficial, top-down satellite measures of just tree canopy, including the intriguing EPA approach for which Durham is currently a beta.
  • Quantification of the overall value of the urban forest and overall green infrastructure in a variety of ways including carbon storage, air and water purification and climate control, all calibrated to local climate and other variables.
  • Pinpointed areas for tree retention and reforestation.
  • Optimization of tree ordinances and planning decisions.
  • Information to inform residential, landowner and developer decisions as well as guide urban forestry maintenance.

There are many reasons not to try to do this on the cheap nor to be piecemeal.  A baseline such as this helps administrators, planners, foresters, neighborhoods and developers as well as elected officials understand the huge tradeoffs involved.

It provides a bigger picture context within which to make little picture decisions and variances.  It helps communities understand and stress the value urban forest retention but maybe even more important, it helps establish impact-based reforestation offsets for impervious surface.

It helps roadside maintenance engineers understand the value of trees before they clear cut them just to extend maintenance schedules.  It also provides much more accurate fiscal notes to lawmakers to inform any decisions to sacrifice trees for things such as billboards.

Failing to come up with $12,500 each for a joint city-county baseline inventory and analysis such as this is not the only area where local officials may be short-term frugal but long-term spendthrift.

Durham jumped on a broad brush historic inventory of historic buildings in the 1980s and 1990s but then failed to finish the job.

We have failed, with fits and starts, to do further in-depth neighborhood by neighborhood or era by era assessments commonly performed in similar sized communities.

This has put sense-of-place guardians on guard about everything while leaving developers and property owners in the dark, often at great expense.

Being strategic means that short term tactical decisions to save a penny don’t unwittingly result in huge costs down line. 

We need a strategic approach to find and maintain balance with growth.  Trying to do it on the cheap is the most expensive approach possible.

There is nothing wrong with being tightfisted when it comes to tax dollars but without strategic assessments, it may result in a huge hidden cost.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Musings of a Chattering Brain

A few readers are always a bit alarmed when I miss a post like I did a few days ago.

Four decades ago, while working a brief stint at Kaiser Aluminum, a brief management trainee job I took while I waited for law school to start, a work physical revealed that I wasn’t exhaling with the normal amount of force.

The doctor warned me to watch out for pneumonia, but I had and have always been quite athletic and I don’t smoke, so I dismissed the result as anomaly.

Then a few months after turning 40 years old, and a month or so before I interviewed for a job in Durham, North Carolina, where I live now in retirement, I was hospitalized for a week with pneumonia.

I also contracted pneumonia twice during the 1990s, although without being hospitalized, and came close a few other times.  So, now in my mid-60s, my health professionals leave nothing to chance when I get symptoms such as I did late last week.

First time I’ve been that sick in a decade but a helpful reminder to take nothing for granted.

It gave me time to catch up on reading so while recuperating, I finished a remarkable book published a few months ago by Oliver Burkeman entitled, The Antidote – Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.  I was drawn to it because a chapter deals with a coping technique I learned from my parents.

From birth they embedded in me the growth vs. fixed mindset illustrated in this infographic based on research by Dr. Carol Dweck.  Failure was always an option with my parents, just not an excuse.

Pre-school age, whenever I became hesitant to keep trying when something was difficult or threatening, to lower my anxiety, my parents would have me think about the worst thing that could possibly happen and then point out that if I could see my way through that, I would be fine.

My right-handed rancher dad used this technique when he spent the good part of a day with his four-going on five-year-old, left-handed son, riding on each side of a steer up and down a meadow to teach me to lasso.  Eventually, he realized I am a mixed-lefty and would lasso best - if at all - right-handed.

The book helped me understand that the lesson my parents taught me in the far Idaho reaches of the Upper Snake River Valley to overcome fear or hesitancy are the essence of the Stoicism, a Greco-Roman philosophy founded in the 3rd century BC.

I experienced something else I learned in the book while sleeping almost non-stop for 40 hours over a couple of days.  When we disassociate from our thoughts, such as when first learning meditation, the first thing we experience is anything but calm.

Our brains are constantly “chattering.” 

My most interesting take-away from the book would have been of great use during my four decade career as a community destination marketing exec (visitor-centric economic development.)

It is a fast-paced, always changing endeavor that requires incredible teamwork.  Often a staff member or two would get stuck and hold everyone else up.  Training, cajoling, intense oversight, project management technology, peer pressure, nothing seemed to work to help them break loose.

They didn’t do it with every project but boy when they did it, it was costly in terms of productivity.  These were often organizational “stars” too.  Even the little Stoicism trick my parents taught me wouldn’t work.

The book The Antidote, shed light on both what was behind this behavior and a solution.  These folks felt such ownership of their thoughts and emotions, they were wasting all of their time trying to “feel motivated.”

Burkeman, a Brooklyn-based journalist for the Guardian, discusses a Buddhist therapy for this type of procrastination in his book.  Buddhist philosophy teaches that thoughts and emotions are not things we have to stop and obsess about or over control.  They are more like the weather, always changing.

People who procrastinate to the point of dysfunction at times are having an argument with themselves based on the belief that they first need to “feel” motivated and then “act” or even something more strategic.  But they can skip that step or come back to it later.

But maybe the folks behind the Nike slogan “Just Do It” were Buddhist philosophers.

In reality, the answer is to skip that step and just take the first step, much as I do each morning to get started on essays for this blog.

It is a very good read.  His blog and Guardian column, “This Can Change Your Life”, are also full of insights.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Infographic - Tale of Two Mindsets