Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nurturing an Indigenous Festival Ecosystem

Spurred by a headline in the local newspaper, I had a flashback to Paul Jeffrey and the former World Jazz Festival here when a new indigenous jazz festival launched in Durham, North Carolina last weekend.

It was one of more than a dozen indigenous but nationally-acclaimed annual festivals including several smaller jazz festivals I found waiting for me when I was invited here 25 years ago to to foster the community’s marketing organization.

Then City manager Orville Powell and the late Jack Bond, who was the Durham County manager at the time, asked us to incorporate a far more in depth and comprehensive community-wide calendar into our work, something still far too rare among other destination marketing organizations.

It made sense to expand our inventory to include not only visitor-ready events including annual festivals, but to each and every event in the community.

This way organizers would be fully aware when selecting dates to avoid any that would compete for audience, but more significantly avoid competing for sponsors, volunteers and even hotels rooms.

There were already a couple of thousand Durham events back then.  Today there are about 5,000 events each year but the ecosystem in which festivals and events thrive is extremely fragile.

It is reliant not only on respect by other organizers and the supply and demand for sponsors and volunteers but for sustainable capacity.  By that I mean that the core organization, group or cluster of individuals upon whose energy and passion indigenous festivals grow and thrive.

It is not an area of a community’s sense of place that can survive churn.

Pile on too many and the capacity to create and sustain indigenous events—only ones that make a community distinctive—and a community can go generic or from “somewhere” to “anywhere” in a hurry.

This new jazz festival was quick to reach out and incorporate several others that have been in existence in Durham, most fostered by jazz instructors and study areas at Duke and North Carolina Central universities here.

The former Durham World Jazz festival created and produced by Professor Jeffrey from the early 1980s until he retired many years later was also a multi-day, multi-venue festival.  It drew participant jazz performers from around the world.

When consultants created a master plan for Durham’s downtown, without checking the inventory of events held downtown or elsewhere, they included an off the shelf recommendation for more events.  Unfortunately, this may have undermined some existing events.

I recall many years ago when one of our strategic partners asked me if we would support the City spending $200,000+ to import a jazz festival from another city.  “No,” I said, because to his surprise we already had two or more indigenous jazz festivals that could use that underwriting.

The idea of an import was quickly extinguished and traditional supply-driven economic developers very wisely consulted with those of us on the demand-side of economic development for an understanding of the organic way sense of place evolves.

In many communities, supply-siders seem so numbed by the concept of churn created by commercial developers that they end up destroying sense of place which sadly once gone cannot be restored or reinvented.

Sense of place is organic.

Adaptive reuse of historic buildings are no guarantee of sense of place if they are populated with formula restaurants, formula retail and formula festivals and events.

Things such as indigenous festivals and indigenous restaurants and truly locally-owned, independent businesses are the crucial software that prevents historic preservation from becoming just another Disneyland, a simulation of sense of place.

To her credit, the organizer of the new Durham jazz festival that occurred a few days ago, reached out and incorporated others that had been struggling, bringing much needed oxygen and a dose of crowdfunding to a cast of corporate sponsors for underwriting.

Festivals can age out when the people with the original energy move on or because they need to be retooled or because of some temporary dislocation beyond their control. Volunteers can burn out too.

Two here that have seemed to struggle in recent years to find their original vibrancy and chemistry are Centerfest and the Bull Durham Blues Festival.  Neither is due to lack of trying or community enthusiasm.

More likely is that a delicate and fragile festival ecosystem had been disturbed making it difficult to find the original magic.  Money is often not the answer if internal capacity, vision or passion has been compromised somehow.

Watching a video at Durham’s Annual Tribute Luncheon which was tucked between our Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the new jazz festival, I was struck by the audience’s reaction to images of Centerfest and the Bull Durham Blues Festival in their heyday.

Reminded of how vibrant they once were, the audience probably recalled the role these two festivals and many others played in downtown’s resurgence.

Some communities may need more festivals.  However, fortunate for Durham, our festival ecosystem is entrepreneurial and self-perpetuating and needs no “big game hunting.”

Instead, its health needs to be nurtured and given capacity.

When festivals inevitably begin to age out and lose steam, equally indigenous replacements need to be nurtured just as Dr. Cisely Mitchell, a trained bio-statistician and her partner trumpeter Albert Strong did with the Art of Cool Fest.

She also not only created an indigenous festival but gave exposure to scores of local performers as well as name acts, established as well as up and coming, something also at the heart of the Durham Blues Festival in its heyday.

Community sense of place is never about “big game hunting” for culture. It is always about careful gardening.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Archaeology of A Career

Last week, I was invited back to an incredible retrospective on the early years of my fifth and last community economic development startup.

Former staff and governing board members returned for the event, and the Durham community was treated to a short video created by Wil Weldon and Growler Productions from hours of video captured by DCVB for its archives.

It was humbling, heartening and a reunion with old friends.  The board member who first interviewed me credits start up experience for making me standout.

It made me realize that for anyone keeping count since I retired nearly five years ago, the number of startups in the first half of my career has continued to increase even though my last was for Durham in 1989.

I was involved in many other startups after that including grassroots efforts such as Durham Image Watch and Durham Wayfinders.  Many other startups involved strategic alliances such as the Durham Pubic Information & Communications Council and Durham Heritage Alliance to name only two.

Three in the first half of my career involved community destination marketing organizations, but I was also involved in two other closely related startups.

One occurred when I stayed a year longer in Anchorage to jumpstart from scratch its economic development corporation before taking a year and a half sabbatical mid-career from community marketing to catch my breath and try new things.

My first startup was as a student working as the supervisor for the BYU Office of Tours & Conferences under Gary Bascom, then a unit of University Relations which fell under an Assistant to the President.

The office had been around since the 1960s but our charge was to go beyond campus tours and other public relations duties such as the President’s box at sports events.

We jumpstarted the proactive recruitment, facilitation and hosting of conferences, associations and events from around the nation to fill capacity during summer term.

The office also coordinated with related units the handling of public relations, the campus visitor information desk, sports information and community and government relations.

My job also included coordinating production of marketing materials including concepting, writing, photography and production of print materials that not only communicated the allure and sense of place of the campus, but would serve as a guide to detailed event planning.

Coupled with my previous job of inventorying all campus buildings, it was fun and I was good at it, the perfect introduction to skills needed in my eventual career.

But my dream at the time was law school, a path that ultimately led back to my real purpose.

Thinking back, that first taste was, in fact, community destination marketing without the community.

But, of course, a university the size of BYU even back then was a small city of nearly 40,000 students, staff and faculty.  At the time it was 63% of the size of its surrounding community.

We were so successful that within a year or two after I graduated, BYU took a breath and reorganized.  Now that aspect falls over with Continuing Education and Alumni Affairs.

It has its own conference center and hosts many times the off-campus  events, camps and conferences that we did, including another 70 sports camps facilitated by Athletics.

Startups aren’t for everyone because of the sense of urgency, drive and strategy involved.  There are other ways to build a career in my former field of community destination marketing.

But one thing it may uniquely cultivate is an entrepreneurial sense of urgency, engagement, drive and timing.  It embeds an organic sense of continuous and never-ending improvement.

When as fortunate as I was, startups can also provide a unique fusion of the passion and purpose that makes me tick, one that was non-transferable to or from solely profit-making enterprises.

I am often asked to tell the story of how my career evolved.  It is an interesting archaeological exercise that never ceases to amaze me as new resurfaced connections arise.

Monday, April 28, 2014

“What If It Were Our Property?”

While obviously peeved, a forester posted a list of observations recently.  I stepped on some toes, no doubt, but his pejoratives and condescension aside, he makes some valid points.

To my point about why residents here seemed stunned rather than mad about some massive clear cutting of urban forest canopy, he speculates that “landowners aren’t mad because it’s their own [someone else’s] damn land.”

Maybe, but doubtful, based on public opinion surveys.

I am not just talking about queries that show how passionately and overwhelmingly Durham residents feel about tree canopy as one of the reasons they love living here.

Interestingly, another community I recently wrote about that had surveyed residents in depth about trees, probed much further.

Asked if they would choose tree preservation or replanting over allowing individuals property owners to remove trees, by 4-1 residents there chose preservation.

More revealing though, when asked if they favored tree preservation regulations even if they had the opportunity to develop their land, they agreed by nearly 3-to-1, especially the preservation of groves.Urban Forest View - Durham, NC

By an even greater margin, residents objected to leaving decisions to preserve trees to developers.

These would be useful questions to inform Durham resident views about urban forest policies which, by the definition of United States Forest Service researchers and experts, includes not only public, but private land, and rural as well as within city limits.

The answers would vary, I suspect, community by community across North Carolina as they do regarding roadside billboards, which are opposed statewide.

A hint of statewide public opinion regarding tree canopy preservation on private land is found in a poll taken when out-of-state billboard companies successfully lobbied lawmakers here to double the amount of public roadside forest they could cut based on the argument that billboards are private property.

More than 8-in-10 North Carolinians opposed cutting more trees along roadsides even in view of the claim of private property.

From the surveys I’ve read, I’ll bet residents in communities across the nation overwhelmingly believe trees are important to every community’s character and desirability as a place to live or visit.

Foresters by nature and training are utilitarians, much as I was growing up in the Rockies.  This is the conservation philosophy behind the national forest preservation policies of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Any argument that private property rights give someone the right to do whatever they want gave way in the 1800s to the “liberty-harm principle,” meaning that the liberty of individuals to do whatever they like is limited when harming others.

Initially it was felt that if society agreed to the harm, it was okay.  Evidence that North Carolinians don’t agree is adoption of the constitutional amendment know as the North Carolina Bill of Rights passed by 7-to-1 in 1971.

Those currently controlling high office here are often called “regressives” because ignoring the constitution, they want to take the state back to before that amendment while avoiding any vote to repeal, regardless of polls showing North Carolinian oppose this reversal.

Obviously not all North Carolinians.

Private property are “fightin’ words” in a state initially populated by immigrants from the border lands between Scotland and England, where their ancestral commons had been confiscated and fenced off beginning in the 16th century.

In his books about each of the first two Industrial Revolutions and the shift to another now underway, Jeremy Rifkin reminds us that the notion of private property was initially instituted by the rich against the poor:

“The enclosures movement and the market economy that ensued changed the very nature of property relations from conditional rights to exclusive ownership.”

These immigrants during the first half of the 18th century had only one objective in mind, a piece of property to own.

But during subsequent formation of the United States and up to 1840 when the “enclosures movement” concluded, there is repeated evidence that many Americans still thought of property relations as conditional.

Long before that, all of my ancestors began hopscotching west from South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Massachusetts, and finally after 1847, to what I affectionately call the Meridian of my DNA along the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Many moves along the way were in search of land.  Even the ancestral ranch where I was born and spent my early years along the Idaho side of the Tetons came about when one of my great-great grandfathers found a place further north where his children could homestead.

Along the Rockies, my ancestors experimented with different ways of holding property including some in common.  They embraced conditional property rights because the restorationist Christian religion which they joined saw ownership as temporary and responsibility for stewardship as eternal.

They viewed land ownership as a variation of what the ancients called the “Great Chain of Being,” an ecological worldview adopted by the Romans from St. Augustine and brought forward during the Renaissance.

It ties responsibilities and obligations above and below to a pyramid including resources such as minerals, water, land and plant life.

Perverted by the time of the Enlightenment to justify subjugation, purer forms had made it to America with early colonists such as Puritans and Quakers and other Christians groups.

It was transformed during the Enlightenment to ethics.

Without knowing it or linking it to the Creator, many today use this hierarchy to encourage sustainability, while others use it to justify exploitation to varying degrees.  It remains, among the most religious and those with no religious affiliation, at the crux of what differentiates our feelings toward the environment.

Views of scarcity also differ such as the one described a few days ago in an op-ed by Matt Ridley, with emphasis on a view popular with readers of the Wall Street Journal, and I suspect, with the reader whose comments I posted at the beginning of this blog.

Many such as me see tree canopy at risk and the negative effects of their loss apparent in the findings of economists and ecologists and especially the growing fusion-field of environmental economics.

Others see deforestation, climate change and coastal flooding as inevitable and place their faith in some future technological innovation that somehow make forest preservation efforts unnecessary.

Forested areas to them will be sustained in parks, along streets and in state and national preserves or on private property where preservation is valued.

New research shows that those who engage in tree-planting today tend to be educated people who already have trees, a cohort I assume that also includes many foresters, including those who otherwise view urban forests only as a commodity.

I tend to be more persuaded by Rifkin’s most recent book and the transformation underway that he calls the Third Industrial Revolution.  He provides evidence that the Internet will soon revolutionize energy, agriculture and logistics the way it has communications.

All of this may take pressure off forests and allow them to re-multiply and diversify.  Billions and billions of square feet of vacant suburban commercial space will allow communities the opportunity to convert them back into tree groves for ecosystem services and quality of place.

I guess we’ll see, but by the time my grandsons are in their prime, I’ll bet the tension between forest preservationists and “it’s my land and I’ll clear cut if I please,” will dissipate. It takes 20-40 years to reach a tipping point for an Industrial Revolutions.

We’re in year six but you can already detect that as margins reach near zero, groups are increasingly both dissatisfied with uneven and insipid government management and the desecration resulting from the private monopoly of resources created by privatization.

A movement is back to the hybrid private/commons approach that has thrived for hundreds of years in parts of the free world and practiced by my ancestors along the Rockies.

Until then, the tension over trees may increase, especially on the half of all U.S. forest canopy and an even greater proportion of urban forest that is on private property.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Environmental Injustice

I felt slightly better when I rode the Harley Cross Bones again past the devastation I wrote about last week.  It had already been reforested by acres of loblolly pine seedlings.

This pine plantation will never replace the mixed forest that was clear cut, including hardwoods that had been growing there for a hundred or more years, but pines grow fast and will be timbered again before long.

A church owns the property and used the sale of the timber to earn funds.  To its credit, the congregation retained a consulting forester as well as receiving a management plan from state foresters assigned to each county.

All foresters aren’t abreast of the benefits of holistic approach to urban forestry that meticulous research by the U.S. Forest Service has so thoroughly documented over the last 25 years.

Those educated earlier still view trees only as commodities to be harvested and urban forest as merely street trees.

Ironic, that in a state for whom trees are pivotal to its brand, tax incentives drive property owners to deforest rather than retain forests.

Likely aided or enabled by some old school foresters not up to speed on the science behind urban forests, a few “regressives” in the state legislature now want to also take away the ability of communities to foster retention of urban forest canopy.  .

Science, public health and local resident values be damned.

Still, foresters assigned to each county usually do their best, for now, to abide by local ordinances and to be respectful of local values.

The fact that these huge areas were completely denuded of all trees and vegetation reflects that Durham tree, soil and watershed ordinances in both the city and county are far from adequate.

I’m sure the property owner in this case was advised on the option of selective harvesting which, if done properly, would leave a mix of mature and growing species and still leave room for reseeding pines.

In the end, in their own interest, but not the community’s, it was the owner’s choice to be so drastic, mitigated by immediate if not biodiverse reforestation.

This example, along with one a few months earlier down on New Hope Creek (where replanting apparently was never contemplated) confirm that Durham doesn’t even require something county-wide as simple as retention of a few feet of token tree buffer along all roadways.

This would not just be for scenic preservation and visitor-centric appeal, but more importantly, to slow storm runoff, cleanse and sequester air pollutants and inhibit particulates.  It would also protect the reforested seedlings.

The soil erosion ordinances also seem less than adequate.  It will take decades now before trees will be able to safeguard the earth.  If you take this lightly, look again at what clear cutting caused in Oso last month.

Both clear cutting and selective cutting are legitimate techniques but must be done judiciously with a full awareness to mitigate any harm to others or the environment and the preservation of groves.  In an urban area clear cutting just has too many downsides.

Of course, even if Durham’s ordinances were “best practice,” any outcome would be totally reliant on how the passion and energy with which they were communicated and enforced, something found far too lacking among most of today’s public servants.

Regulations protect the public as well as guide property owners to mitigate actions shown to be harmful to others.  This at the very nexus of liberty and individual rights laid out at the dawn of this nation by John Stuart Mill.

Environmental justice is an important issue today in urban forestry, “an ethical principle that environmental benefits and burdens should be equitably distributed across society.”

This includes tree-planting programs such as the joint city-county initiative “Trees Across Durham.”  A new study sheds light on why a few in the legislature seem bent on deforesting all of North Carolina, beginning a few years ago with roadsides and now honed in on the urban forests of cities and counties.

A review of campaign contributions for these individuals recently reveals the outsized influence of special interests, including out-of-state billboard companies, formula or chain restaurants and power companies who begrudge communities struggling to preserve the vestiges of sense of place and appeal.

These special interests “vote” each and every day as they buttonhole legislators in the hallways of the people’s chamber while the “people” are limited to voting every few years.

Whenever I try to understand lawmakers bent on destroying forests and North Carolina’s sense of place I am reminded of insight given by the author of “The True Believer:

"A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business."

The reason Eric Hoffer’s pocket size book is still popular more than six decades after it was published is that it provides keen insight into movements such as the regressives who control North Carolina today.

He sheds light on why this movement was able to seize power by playing rural North Carolinians against its cities, which over the span since The True Believer was first published, had turned the state’s image around.

Noted in Hoffer’s book is also why the less affluent and educated fall victim to movements such as the one bent on dramatically reversing North Carolina’s image as a place to live, visitor or do business to one as backward.

Recent research by foresters even found this phenomena present in a study of volunteers who tree-plant in urban forests.  They found that “a volunteer tree-planting program has more success in areas of higher socioeconomic status which already tend to have more, and better maintained, environmental amenities.”

As happened to so many parts of North Carolina, the benefits from decades of progress were unevenly distributed.  But rather than emulate the places propelled forward, their emissaries now seek to pull everyone in the entire state back several decades.  And what better way than to wreak havoc on the environment?

There is no evidence that those at the state level seeking to improve North Carolina’s brand mean more than just switching out a superficial logo and tagline, more a change of clothes than marketing.

But regardless, their efforts have already been made nil, undermined especially along roadsides which make the state’s first and last impressions on visitors, including the prospective deliverers of new jobs.

Of course this desecration is in violation of state and federal law as well as an amendment voters overwhelmingly approved to the state constitution more than four decades ago.

Special interests such as billboard companies have made any enforcement mute, if not lethargic, by hamstringing executive action and pushing lawmakers of all persuasions with financial incentives over that same span to apply what experts call “legal corruption.”

But even if federal law, which limits placement of billboards to areas deemed commercial in the mid-1960s were enforced, you would find them creating environmental injustice to those with lower socioeconomic status.

Even as barriers to Civil Rights were being taken down back then, urban housing policies began re-segregating the poor, stranding them in “out of sight, out of mind” tree, food and transportation deserts.

The current news media fixation is on gentrification as the culprits, but this fails to understand what housing policy expert and “City Notes” blogger Daniel Hertz describes, which is that it is impossible not to be a gentrifier today.

While racially segregated when they were created, historic neighborhoods in Durham like the one where I live were otherwise and purposefully a far better mix of poor, middle and moneyed classes.  As racial barriers dissolved, underlying policies re-segregated them using social economics.

Durham, which is highly regarded for its ethic and socioeconomic diversity, may have been no exception.  Its first “poor neighborhood” created by a mill closing in the early 1930s was a “white neighborhood.”

Today it is still poor, but integrated.  It is also the site of a billboard and deforestation recently enabled by the state legislature.

But judging by resistance to tree-planting efforts there, we can’t rely on poor people to always see through this environmental injustice or to get through the manipulation by regressives.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Haunting Detour

Last year, after driving a spectacular 40-mile scenic byway on that leg of our road-trip out west, Mugs and I found ourselves on an unexpected detour as the sun began to set.

Apparently, a radical route revision for a restaurant we were headed to was so recent it had not yet made it to GPS.  When we finally found a place to turnaround, we lingered a bit to watch as the sun set on the the spectacular Kolob Canyons.

Where these unusual, almost crimson spires of Navaho Sandstone stretch along Ash Creek out of Zion National Park, I noticed a spot in our view where archeologists down from BYU had recently been busy excavating historic Fort Harmony.

Having turned 24 years of age a couple of months earlier, it had briefly been the home of one of my maternal great-great grandfathers, Marion Jackson Shelton, in 1857 after journey by horseback up the Old Spanish Trail.

Through the Kolobs on horseback, the fort was a few hours from where the horrific Meadow Mountain Massacre had taken place a few weeks before Shelton’s arrival after a five day siege.

Until his death two decades later from alcoholism, his brief stop along the trail at the site of the massacre would haunt him   For a few weeks, he found himself teaching the children of the only man who would eventually be executed for the murders.

Soon he was called 40 miles south back to Fort Clara and sent with other riders through the ancestral lands of Paiute, Hopi, Zuni and Navaho peoples in search for young children who may have survived the massacre.

His journey there began 4,000 miles away in west-central Illinois where he was born the year after his father’s service in the Black Hawk War after migrating there from a place in Virginia only a hour’s ride from my home in North Carolina today.

Marion Shelton’s mother died when he was two but during his early years he was given insight into Native American cultures by his grandmother’s story.

Mary Neely Spears was a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s, who, as a young woman, had spent two years in captivity by a small band of Shawnee, a story that must have weighed heavily on my great-great grandfather’s mind as he rode in search of similar captives.

In the 1840s he and his father joined a new, restorationist Christian religion, and when Marion was just 13, to escape religious persecution, they all fled for protection toward a part of the Rocky Mountains that was then a part of Mexico.

By then, coupled with the traumatic experience of his grandmother and hearing stories from Mormons who had been threatened with cultural genocide in Missouri, and now Illinois, after the murder of Joseph Smith, teenage Marion Shelton already had a firm sense of how dangerous and unjust the world could be.

But at the Missouri River his father joined the Mormon Battalion and with Marion and his new family, set off on what what would be the longest march in the annals of the U.S. infantry to fight in the War with Mexico.  At Santa Fe, however, the Sheltons were sent north to Pueblo with a sick detachment.

The next spring they set off north to follow the California-Mormon trail west, arriving a week after three of my other ancestors had arrived in Salt Lake Valley ahead of the vanguard wagon train of Mormons.

The Sheltons wintered in Salt Lake and then migrated to a fort built prior to their arrival by “mountain man” Miles Goodyear, in what is today Ogden, Utah.

But in 1849 they hit the trail again just as an effort percolated among “true believers” in the 18 year-old Mormon Church to purge it of non-conformists.

Known now as the “Mormon Reformation” it included oratorical devices that, taken literally, may have culminated in the massacre less than a decade later.

But the Sheltons may have just been drawn across Nevada, up and over the Sierras and down the Middle Fork of the American River to pan for gold by stories filtering back from fellow Battalion members there when it was first discovered.

By 1852 the Sheltons had enough to buy squatter’s rights to a ranch lying a hundred miles further southwest near Stony Point in what had been a 66,000-acre land grant ranch between the Petaluma River and Sonoma Creek and surrendered by the 1848 ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Judging by the diaries of Mormon missionaries who often dropped into visit, the Sheltons maintained connection, though lapsed, especially Marion who was in his early 20s.  But two things changed his world in 1857.

His father died shortly after Marion’s 24th birthday and word came that fall that all 40,000 Mormons should return to Utah to defend against an invasion of U.S. Army Dragoons.

Church leaders were also contemplating a mass exodus to the Bitterroot Valley in the Pacific Northwest, a part of what is now western Montana a hundred miles over the Bitterroots from the Mormon Fort Lemhi in what is now Idaho.

Marion Shelton turned over the ranch to a step-sibling, saddled up with a former Mormon Battalion officer and headed on horseback down California past Yerba Buena, what had once been a largely Mormon settlement recently renamed San Francisco, to Los Angeles.

The small party grew as the trail flooded with returning Mormons at San Bernardino then up Old Spanish Trail past deserted Las Vegas Springs, another Mormon settlement into southern Utah, and past the recent killing ground where 120 people from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri were murdered on the route to California.

It will never be known what, if any, role was played by the paranoia of that time.  It could have been fueled by the cumulative effects of twenty years of persecution or the murder that spring near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border of Mormon Apostle, Fort Harmony founder Parley P. Pratt, or a literal interpretation of a oratorical device used by true believers.

In light of assassinations occurring today, we know the power that so-called oratorical devices have on people who take them literally, whether by radical clerics, or on talk radio, or by Tea Party partisans, or by leaders in hate groups.

There is never an excuse for this type of violence, even in war time, regardless of Old Testament lore.

And as evidenced by the memorial leaders encouraged the state to place at the site in 1990, Mormons today, some of whom who are descendants of those murdered, still mourn what happened at Meadow Mountain just as my great-grandfather must have done for the remainder of his life.

I sense his broken heart in the affidavits given to judges to things he heard subsequent to the massacre, precious because they give me a glimpse of his handwriting and the education he had gleaned during his witness of events during his ten year journey through history to that time.

He spent the next decade or more living with and teaching Hopi and Zuni people in their pueblos on the plateau of northeastern Arizona.  He worked hard, but in vain, to develop an alphabet for them.

He became fluent in Spanish as well as Hopílavayi and the Ute-Chemehuevi of the Southern Paiute people, just as two of my other great-great grandfathers did in the languages of the Shoshone and Bannock much further north. 

But the trails he blazed back and forth also in time became roads for settlers.  He eventually sought peace in the lush river bottomlands of plateaus further north in Castle Valley where my great-grandmother was born before Shelton died just six years later in Heber City, Utah, just as the Second Industrial Revolution began to take shape.

Marion Shelton was buried in Provo where I attended BYU, eight decades after his death, and where I first learned of and then visited Meadow Mountain on a cool haunting morning after spending a night with friends in the Kolobs in the late 1960s.

I hadn’t planned to return to Fort Harmony during last year’s road-trip, but I’m glad I did, if only to be reminded of Marion Shelton’s part of my heritage and to recall the remarkable history, places and events that shaped his life.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ironic First Step to Reclaiming Durham’s Story

It took a few months to figure it out. But 25 years ago as we jumpstarted Durham, North Carolina’s first community branding and marketing arm, one of our first challenges had little to do with Durham.

Back then Raleigh, a community south and east of the airport co-owned with Durham, was desperately over-reaching including expropriation of the assets and identities of other communities.

It was obnoxious but as with most place-related desperation it was fueled by insecurity, an observation made to me as we departed a meeting by the scion of a family that had owned the newspaper there for nearly 100 years.

It became clear to me that one of our challenges, if we were ever going to reclaim Durham’s story and give its brand some much needed oxygen and sunlight, it would be doing something that had nothing to do with marketing Durham.

Ironically, if Durham was ever going to get its due, we had to make the case to Raleigh that it could stand on its own.

As a friend who had worked for the New York Times told me when I accepted the challenge of my fourth destination marketing start-up, “one of those places may just as well be Tulsa and the other Kuala Lumpur.”

Her point was that while they each co-anchor a polycentric “family of communities,” they have very distinct cultures, and as I suspected at the time of her comment, distinct brands, primarily obfuscated only by misuse of the name of the jointly-owned airport located midway between.

Part of my challenge in those early news interviews was to first persuade Raleigh-based media that there was a “there” there in Raleigh while setting the record straight about Durham.

It is hard to believe now but in meetings with counterparts there at the time, I repeatedly had to make Raleigh’s case to Raleigh promoters, officials and residents.

In marketing, this is called lowering barriers.

The work of any holistic community marketing organization is 1/3rd promotion and 2/3rds lowering or eliminating barriers.  All too often ignored, the latter is the “heavy lifting” of successful place marketing.

No amount of promotional energy alone is enough to overcome barriers.

Eventually, new Raleigh allies emerged who understood that if Raleigh learned to stand on its own, not only would it produce better results for each community, but the vast poly-centric region encompassing Raleigh and Durham, now two distinct metropolitan designations, would be better served.

Marketing Durham presented many other challenges but research quickly confirmed that it had one of the strongest identities and senses of place anywhere in the nation, an asset no amount of marketing can create.

Among residents, the sense of community pride and passion here was off the charts.  Far too many communities settle for residents being “pleased” if they measure resident awareness at all, but this is the weakest sign of a connection with place.

As a whole, we didn’t have to worry about Durham residents being able to deliver on our marketing promise.

We also didn’t have to dig down very far to uncover three of Durham’s most enduring values and personality traits as a community, elements that may not be unique, but clearly distinctive in the way they were manifest here.

A little more than a decade later, a two year process facilitated by place brand recovery expert Bill Baker drilled down much further into every part of Durham, which helped us excavate and confirm with research a full range of overarching community traits.

But grasping that Durham’s intrinsic traits included being “genuine, authentic and textured” (now elusive aspirations for many brands) that gave us enough to anchor those first marketing efforts at the dawn of the 1990s (one of the first brand marks shown in this blog.)

Unfortunately for Raleigh, it has never dug down to understand its true brand.  Like so many communities that get the “cart in front of the horse,” the focus there even now is on a logo, a superficial and disposable ingredient that is only valuable when created on deeper, community-wide self-refection.

Impatience with what it takes to reveal a community’s inherent brand is reflected in use of the term “rebrand.”  You don’t rebrand a community because its true brand is intrinsic.  You might “rebadge” it from time to time with a new logo or tagline but that isn’t branding, just a quick change of clothes.

I hope Raleigh does uncover its true brand personality one day.  It may not live up to hype or official expectations or titillate the local media there but it would be far more enduring and effective all around, a beacon for community self-preservation as well as appeal.

Recovering a community’s truly intrinsic brand or personality is a diagnostic process.  Not every trait will be viewed as positive but when accurately distilled, will resonate to “stickers” and “boomers who became “stickers” alike.

If Raleigh is honest with itself it may find that being “over-reaching” has some deeper roots there.  The introspection that comes from a true place brand excavation helps a community rediscover and become comfortable in its own skin.

Raleigh is a great place and worthy of knowing why.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Meridian of My DNA

My western heritage is sprinkled along settlements my ancestors created in the 1800s down the length of a route that would become the 1,100 mile U.S. 89, a “Blue Highway” stretching from Montana to Arizona.

The “Ponderosa belt,” as I call it for the dominant species of pine tree found along its length, stretches from the cusp of the Northern Rockies through Yellowstone and along my native Tetons.

It crisscrosses the Idaho-Wyoming border then drops down Bear Lake Valley and across the Utah line before jumping across into Cache Valley.  From there this ancestral spine tracks against the Wasatch Mountains as they split off from the southern Rockies.

Then it shoots straight down the high plateaus, alpine meadows, forests, and valleys of central Utah before jogging around the Grand Canyon and giving out on the last reaches of the Colorado Plateau as it spills across northern Arizona.

The roots of my longitudinal DNA never strayed more than a degree after 1847 along nearly the entire length of the 111th meridian west as it dissects the continental United States.

But Mugsy, my English bulldog and I, usually weave back and forth across this route using various scenic byways on the last leg of our annual cross-country-road-trips before collecting my daughter and two grandsons for a week of reunion along the shores of a lake in the northern Rockies.

These byways often take in one or two of the dozen or so settlements my ancestors created along the length of the meridian between 1847 and 1907.  Last year we took a scenic byway along state route 14 as it slices through alpine meadows between Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

This year, a different byway about an hour’s drive north will give us a glimpse of one of the world’s oldest and largest living organisms which was discovered when I was in college in the late 1960s by Dr. Burton Barnes, a forest ecologist at the University of Michigan.

Christened “The Trembling Giant” or Pando, this ancient 107-acre grove of approximately 47,000 quaking aspen trees near Fish Lake (8,800 foot above sea level) all share a singular root.  DNA tests by Utah State University geneticists confirm it is one huge clone weighing nearly 7000 tons.

Essentially all one tree, the 80,000-year-old grove is now in crisis.

In fact, USU scientists are rushing to find out why aspens are suddenly dying all over the west.  Aspens don’t grow from seeds.  The grove we’ll see in a few months are all stems off the same plant.

This is because as geneticists have learned, these trees now have three genes.  My uneducated hunch is the problem will have something to do with human activity over the last 250 years and the side-effects of both the first and the second Industrial Revolution which peaked in 2008.

The question is, “Will the far more environmentally friendly third Industrial Revolution now percolating ramp up quickly enough?”

From Fish Lake we return to U.S. 89 and drop 3,000 feet as we head up the San Pete Valley through two areas first settled among Native Americans by two of my paternal ancestors before they began to explore much further north along the route.

In fact, nearly all of my ancestors along this longitude of my DNA lived long enough to see the end of the first Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the second.

As we near the place where my grandsons live nestled on the slopes of the Wasatch, the haze of pollution often visible will be a reminder that 167 years of their ancestral DNA also lies along that same meridian.

They will be in or near their 30s when we reach the tipping point for the new Industrial Revolution now underway.  If too late for the aspens, will it be soon enough to save and restore our planet?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cultivating Concentration

A business professor lamented on a recent blog that it is hard to get in the “flow” at work when you’re constantly interrupted, and then prescribed superficial antidotes such as fewer meetings and less email.

I don’t mean to be flip or insensitive, but complaints about tactics such as these are more likely a sign of employees who are among the 70% overall in the US who are simply disengaged or worse “actively disengaged (even higher worldwide.)

Distractions are part of every line of work or endeavor, but recent research reveals that 75% are unrelated “self-interruptions.”

From my experience, even if emails and meetings could be banned altogether and every effort were made to fill the workplace with motivation, enthusiasm and purpose, it wouldn’t really make a dent.

The proportion of workers who either spin frequently into what neurobiologists call “frazzle” or simply sleepwalk at work are apparently struggling with focus.

I was blessed to spend more time engaged and in the “flow” during my career than most people spent being awake, something that can mostly be credited to my wiring.  But this didn’t make me immune to rare but inscrutable instances of distraction, usually brought on by personal turmoil.

Nor was I a stranger to interruptions and distractions.  Part of being the CEO of a community organization is having to “putting out fires,” many set intentionally by one or two other executives or officials hoping, I assume, to benefit from the resulting chaos of “who’s on first.”

My job was also to firewall my coworkers from these “fires” so they wouldn’t be distracted and to restore my focus to tasks at hand as as quickly as possible.

Realizing that what seemed to be in my wiring or mysteriously acquired was obviously illusive to others, I was always trying to learn, adapt and cultivate in others new information about concentration and attention.

It always disturbed me when some people not only perpetually fixated about their worries, but then seemed to hitch rides on the personal drama in the lives of others, even strangers, as though they were their own.

These are the folks who, for example, when someone in the office has encountered a death in their family, even if it is an aunt twice removed, will react as though it is happening to them.

They become not only distracted for days with vicarious lamentations, but use them to repeatedly distract and dramatize others around them.

Wiring or not, researchers are finding that difficulty with focus is really at the root of distractions or the inability to tune them out rather than after-work access to emails or meetings.

In fact, complaints about not being able to unplug are just an extension of why some people were so disturbed to find emails waiting for them on Monday morning or before that, voice mails and snail mail to be answered upon returning from wherever.

Managing and processing information is a part of life.  Being so distracted by it that one cannot refocus or focus at all runs deeper than a few tweaks in office productivity can remedy.

Anyone temped to think focus and attention can be populated in others by some superficial office tweaks is well advised to read a new book published a few months ago entitled Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Dr. Daniel Goleman a scientific researcher who also writes about science.

I suspect the few negative reviews I read about the book came from those who thought, without understanding why they have trouble with focus, that the book would just give a set of list-checking techniques and “voila,” instant success.

What they were looking for is better found in a series of CDs Goleman has produced based on the science that focus and attention can be cultivated like a muscle.

But in my experience with people who struggle with these inabilities, the book is a way to understand and come to grips with how emotional centers in our brain work.

More importantly, it explains why without what is called cognitive control, these emotions can literally take over the centers of our brain used for learning, critical thinking, focus and attention.

Developed when we are young, studies show that cognitive control—or focus—is a better predictor of health and financial success in our 30s than either IQ or family background.  This was the type of focus that came easy to me.

“Outer focus” also seemed to come easy or was fueled by early distributed learning.  This is the ability to perceive how larger systems shape our lives, organizations and communities.

This is what people mean when they credit me as strategic, an inclination to see how various ecologies work and interrelated.  In fact, it is something that can be cultivated too.

The third type of focus is one I always felt that I had to work hard all of my life to cultivate, “empathy for others.” 

But in my 30s an RHR management consultant once told me that from his observations my sense of empathy and “other focus” was so strong that at a very early age I had earned to over-rule it, moving to the safety of cognitive control.

This ability to quickly shift back up to cognitive focus always is why some people perceived me as cold.  It is also why some people become extraordinarily calm and focused in the face of tragedy, chaos or adversity.

Goleman puts it this way – “Since focus demands we tune out our emotional distractions, our neural wiring for selective attention includes that for inhibiting emotion.  That means those who focus best are relatively immune to emotional turbulence”

That consultant in the 1980s helped me understand that my challenge wasn’t gaining more “empathy for others.”

Instead, to paraphrase Signe Spencer who researches competency at Hay Group, that consultant told me I needed to learn to manage my impact (referring to my passion and intensity) on others in my presence.

I’ve worked hard at this but it remains a challenge.  Maybe not as challenging as it is for so many people who find it much more of a challenge to reach up from the eddies of emotional turmoil to grasp cognitive focus.

See, I can be empathetic (smile.)

One of the best explanations of empathy is a short TED talk by Jeremy Rifkin put to illustration.

In his book on focus and attention Dr. Goleman breaks empathy down into a triad:

  • Cognitive Empathy which is fed by inquisitive nature and comes from our top-down brain circuitry.
  • Emotional Empathy which shared with other mammals comes from our more instinctive brain and helps us join the other person in feeling along with other people
  • Empathetic Concern or compassion, a mix of top-down and bottom-up circuitry, the opposite of self absorption which involves discomfort at others pain and caring instinct.

The key takeaway from the science of focus and attention is that we need to cultivate all three levels along along with the ability to shift levels, especially to cognitive focus, in the workplace.

This includes learning when to soften that focus. But this is difficult in a fast moving workplace where it may make more sense to hire people with these abilities.

It would be far more efficient for society, especially parents and teachers, to cultivate this in children at very early ages and as they are prepared for the workplace.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Incentivizing Urban Forest Preservation

It is easy to mistake the dispassionate communication styles of some in local government as apathy, especially when deployed to quibble away absurdities based on technicalities.

This is the impression I took while digging into two recent instances of huge clear cuts in Durham, North Carolina’s urban forest, one a few months ago along the road to Chapel Hill above New Hope Creek.

Now another is drawing attention north of the Eno River along Guess Road near Russell (or click on image shown below to enlarge.) This is along what had been an unspoiled stretch taken by many visitors and residents to reach a designated 27-mile Scenic Byway through Durham countryside that begins just a few minutes up road.

As usual, both of these egregious examples have escaped any significant news coverage because they would be too complex to sort through all the bureaucratic CYA, but they have residents shaking their heads.  Why are gatekeepers brushing off desecration to something so key to the community’s appeal and why we love living here?

Because I get the feeling that Durham’s tree ordinances are not only fragmented but seemingly ineffective, I keep an eye out for communities on the forefront of protecting green infrastructure both for eco-system services and to protect sense of place.

One such place lies on the opposite side of a dramatic ridge of Tualatin Mountains from Portland, Oregon in the Tualatin Valley, a gateway to that state’s wine country (of course Portland calls them the Portland hills.)

This best practice community of Tigard lies beyond the much larger City of Beaverton, the noted home of Nike, with which it shares a part of the Tualatin Hills including Cooper and Bull mountains.

It lies short of a tiny crossroads also named Durham, where the namesake river dissects the valley.

A further coincidence is that the Oregon Durham, known for an incredible roadside grove, is just across the river from where Bill Baker, one of the world’s foremost consultants in place branding is based.

Thousands of Durham, North Carolina residents will recall when Bill facilitated the archeology nearly ten years ago that revealed and distilled the roots of Durham’s acclaimed and widely embraced overarching brand and personality.

Cooper and Bull mountains provide a contrast in urban forestry.  Above Beaverton, Cooper Mountain features a very cool nature park but forestry policies have had some unintended and many feel horrendous consequences.

Some landowners there have completely deforested, or to use a euphemism, “timbered,” large tracts of the mountain as a means to ostensibly end run permits, fees and tree preservation ordinances.

This is in preparation of eventual mass development, similar to what we see so tragically occurring in Durham.Tigard

On nearby Bull Mountain,Tigard has taken steps to incentivize tree retention on private property.  This began with an in-depth survey of resident opinion and development of an acclaimed Urban Forestry Master Plan, embarrassingly neither of which has been done in Durham, North Carolina.

While the survey showed that Tigardians were generally satisfied with the quantity and quality of trees on their own street, in their neighborhood and in the community overall, the questions probed much deeper.

By a ratio of 23 to 1 they “strongly agreed” that trees are important to a community’s character and desirability as a place to live.  By similar ratios they voiced support for more trees and more resources to maintain and protect existing trees.

By 9 to 1 they supported city requirements that some trees be preserved and new ones planted on sites being developed.  The ratio of those feeling strongly in support of this was 18 to 1.

One-in-three Tigardians also felt the overall quality of their community’s urban forest had decreased.  Only 12% gave high ratings to the extent and appearance of trees in their community.  Taken together, this was cause for alarm.

Interestingly, by a ratio of 4-to-1, Tigard residents chose tree preservation or replanting over allowing individuals to remove trees.  By nearly 2-to-1 they supported regulations limiting tree removal during property development in general.

More telling, by nearly 3-to-1, they favored city tree regulations even if they had the opportunity to develop their own property.  By 2-to-1 they supported a focus on large groves vs. individual trees.

This more in-depth survey confirms that communities that only ask whether residents are pleased are settling for the weakest of metrics.  Tigard used its deeper understanding of resident opinion to shape novel tree ordinances.

Tigard’s overall tree canopy is 24.52%, less than half of what it was in 1851 when settlement began.  This compares to only 10% on commercial property now and 46.13% on city-owned property. 

Tigard’s plan is to increase overall urban tree canopy to at least 40%, a goal only achievable by addressing the 78% now on private property.

Using this calculus to extrapolate an urban forestry goal for Durham, North Carolina, the city and county should each pursue a goal of 57% tree cover.

The effect of respective development codes for Tigard and Beaverton can be seen on Bull Mountain across Scholls Ferry Road from Cooper Mountain where it slices into the heart of Oregon wine country.

Blogs and news reports indicate that Tigard has avoided clear-cutting by thoroughly inventorying significant tree groves and then reaching out to property owners with incentives.

While all new residential development is required to achieve 40% tree canopy coverage, no matter what is growing there prior to development, when computing the tree canopy on a site design, “double credit” is given for preservation of existing trees.

In other words, a property owner with existing forests could meet the 40% requirement by preserving tee canopy covering 20% of the land.  Housing density requirements are also relaxed if a tree grove is protected.

Similar flexibility for building height restrictions is given commercial developments, including apartment complexes, when related tree groves are protected.

Thanks to news reports and blogs such as Tualatin Watch, tree ordinances there are now more familiar to me than in my adopted home of Durham, where fragmentation makes them all but inscrutable.

Over the past two decades, developers here have moved away from preserving groves of trees in new developments like they did in a series of neighborhoods stretching along the southern edge of the Eno River, including one where our City Manager lives.

Developers began the practice of clear cutting all existing forest, then making the clay soil almost entirely impervious by repeatedly running heavy equipment over it, then planting a a couple of sparse sprigs of new trees on each lot where they struggle to grow.

The net effect is a loss of huge amounts of tree canopy, increased storm run off, higher temperatures, reduced climate regulation and other ecosystem services provided by urban forest not to mention less curb appeal and a drag on values.

Commercial development has been even more short-sighted.  In the thirty year span prior to 2005, on average, Durham subsumed nearly 1,500 acres of urban forest and other green infrastructure a year creating an average of 2.5 acres of impervious surface a day, outpacing population growth by 8 to 1.

On average, Durham reforests net losses less than an acre of trees a year.  You do the math.

Of course, Durham isn’t the only community where urban forest is at risk, it just has more to lose.  Nor is this the only place failing to be strategic.

An example is a report heralding a few companies that have pledged to be “deforestation free” regarding palm oil, but still enables clear cutting of hundreds of thousands of acres of roadside trees in this country through use of roadside billboards.

“Every little bit counts” only works when part of an overarching strategy.

While one of the most cherished parts of Durham’s character is rapidly vanishing, we have no inventory, no strategic plan, no goal and all we seem to do is dicker over what an urban forest entails or throw ourselves into well-intended but activity-trap endeavors without any view to outcome metrics or strategy-making.

Seemingly lacking a sense of urgency and political will to even conduct a real inventory of the overall urban forest, in this city and county we seem to also lack the motivation to be a “quick follower” by adapting to best practices.

Residents don’t seem mad enough for some officials because they are stunned and bewildered thinking such a precious and perishable resource must surely be of the highest priority for gatekeepers.

It isn’t too late, but it may soon be.  Clear cutting means vast groves here are disappearing exponentially, not linearly.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Infographic - Wake Up Times of Famous Authors

Friday, April 18, 2014

Americans Value Both Property & Public Lands

The news media loves a good stereotype, such as a story recently out west where inadvertently a rancher may be abusing the commons while failing to pay his fair share.  He successfully posed as a victim by calling on heavily armed extremists.

As a descendant of generations of cattle ranchers, I know that as independent as they are, ranchers have no patience for the few among them who always seem bent on gaming the system while dodging responsibilities.

This is especially true of those who abuse the land.

But in this instance, I suspect one or more government agents had been enablers until pushed into action by a lawsuit.  Uneven or lethargic enforcement is the real reason regulations have earned a pejorative.

I suspect ranchers and regulators generally fall into the three groupings, long-identified in research about how Americans overall feel about their work.

Fully half are “not engaged,” or as one researcher put it, either “sleepwalking” or frazzled by concerns unrelated to work.  This group is where the government agents in this news story probably fell.

Twenty percent of Americans are “actively disengaged,” working to undermine others.  This may describe the rancher who was abusing publicly-owned land while also failing to pay for the right to use it.

All too often, leniency with members of this group merely breeds a sense of entitlement.

According to a Republican friend of mine who has served both as an administrator and elected official, given more energetic and even handed enforcement of regulations, we would need far fewer.

Of course, a third of Americans are fully engaged in their work according to the annual survey.  Researchers at Harvard, Stanford and Claremont have also found that 20% of these workers experience what is described as “flow” at least once a day and a smaller percentage less often.

Government workers fit the profile for Americans workers overall with a slightly smaller percentage “actively disengaged.”  I assume ranchers overall are more engaged than the average, as are workers in smaller non-profits.

However, being engaged is about far more than just genes or heritage.  In fact, while one can learn to be engaged, finding it is about exploration of passions until there is a fit.

There is clearly room in every economic sector and organization, including government and even families, for the trend to Pay to Quit” programs.

I became a fan of economist/futurist Jeremy Rifkin more than twenty years ago when I happened to read, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture.  Initially, I was interested in the archeology of my heritage, but his books always transcend their focus.

Even more prescient today is one I read a little more than a year later entitled, The End of Work.

In Mr. Rifkin’s newest book released this month, he again reminds us of how the notion of private property evolved. It began with the first of several European enclosure movements in the 1500s, including mass evictions, and was then legislated from the early 1700s to 1850, including 14 million acres in England alone.

Several books and essays regarding this era were required reading when I was working my way to a degree in 1972 at Brigham Young University, including one entitled, The Tragedy of the Commons, which is more a platitudinal op-ed than science, history or economics.

Private property was embedded in the evolution of America, even down to initial limitations of who could vote.

But by 1847 when many of my ancestors were headed into the Rocky Mountains, lawmakers were paying attention to the concerns of Americans over the destructive excesses caused by human activity when left to the market alone.

This rapidly led to a federal department of the Interior and formation a little more than two decades later of Yellowstone National Park, a few miles from what would become our ancestral ranch.

This American movement was driven by popular acclaim fueled by  nature essayists, photographers and artists taken on survey expeditions, including the spectacular Hudson Bay school depictions of the west by Albert Bierstadt.

Favorite memories of mine include cutting through the fine arts building between classes on my way to work part-time in what was  then-called the Office of Tours & Conference, my first start-up experience.

My favorites were Bierstadt’s pieces, including the 10’ wide painting shown in this blog, two decades before a 102,000 s.f., 4-story building was erected to showcase what must be nearly 20,000 pieces in the Museum of Art’s collection by now.

Influenced by John Muir, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt incorporated scenic and natural preservation with his own brand of utilitarian conservation including national forests such as the Targhee, located just north of our ranch.

All of this is now scientifically reinforced by the subsequent science of ecology and what economists measure as eco-system services.

A scientific poll taken last year reinforced how strongly more than two-thirds of Americans feel about permanent protection of public lands including 1-in-3 who wants some accessible for fee-based livestock grazing.

Judging by an even more recent poll showing that Americans put protection of the environment over jobs, I assume they would not be sympathetic with over-grazing on public lands in Nevada, even when threatened by extremist assault weapons.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Economic Angioplasty

A new report on the nation’s road infrastructure, including bridges and mass transit, reveals that nearly 17,000 miles of paved roadway through National Forests, National Parks and Wildlife Refuges are suffering from a backlog of more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance.

Many people think of airports when they think about travel and tourism, but 80% of domestic leisure trips and 2-out-of 3 business trips including 1-in-23 for the purpose of attending a convention or meeting, actually travel by car.

Cities that believe they can disguise billboard blighted roadsides by tidying up the drive from the airport to their Downtown are delusional, as are elected officials and private sector businesses opposed to transferring funds (taxes) to keep the nation’s economic arteries healthy.

Overall economic vitality in this country has always been enabled by public sector infrastructure. 

The report documents that revenues to build and maintain roadways include general funds (27%), per gallon taxes on fuel (26%), vehicle taxes (12.2%), bonds (15%), tolls (4%) and “other” (16%.)

So we can’t lay the lack of funding for this type of infrastructure solely on the fact that a combination of fuel efficiency, inflation and fuel prices is eroding road revenue from per gallon taxes on fuel.

Bonds such as those used recently by my adopted hometown to catch up on years of neglect are expensive and the “dues” many communities across the nation must pay for decades of neglect. Nearly 78% of highway road mileage is locally owned roads including half of all bridges.

States are responsible for 19% of overall road mileage and 48% of bridges, with North Carolina an exception because the state is also responsible for county roads as well as highways that become local roads as they pass through cities and towns.

The low rating residents gave roads in Durham on a recent survey is likely due to the relatively poor condition of state roads that run through here now that city streets are up to par.

The national report also documents how road funds are expended nationwide.  The 49% that goes for capital outlay (not including the 11% for debt service) includes only 60% which is used for rehabilitation (resurfacing or replacing existing pavement and bridges.)

Laying pavement is only part of keeping the nation’s economic arteries flowing including 80% of all domestic tourism.

There is also the matter of traffic control, public safety and forested roadsides to soak up storm runoff, along with air pollution and scenic views that are so crucial to tourism and business appeal.

In fact, scenic roadsides are the first and last impressions given relocating or expanding businesses during site selection.  Blight along roadsides, including billboards and other litter, create a brand no amount of marketing and promotion can overcome.

Manicured and tree-lined roadsides and respect for scenic vistas signal to decision makers something far more important than incentives or tax breaks.  They signal whether a state or community has self-respect and whether they grasp what it takes to grow and attract talent.

No amount of branding and other marketing can offset the first and last impressions created by roadside neglect and blight.

The reason shifting to a per mile assessment for roads, which Oregon has been testing for a decade, is that 90% of vehicle miles traveled in the United States are for freight compared to just 10% for passenger travel.

Trucks are also disproportionately harder on pavement.  By tonnage, nearly 70% of freight shipments were by truck in 2010, and that amount will grow by two-thirds by 2040.

As consumers we are going to pay one way or the other because taxes on freight travel will be passed on in the prices of products.

But an added plus to going to a per mile assessment is that it may make commercial enterprises re-think and re-engineer supply chains to minimize distance, something that will be better for our health and for our local economies.

Private sector businesses or their allies who are resistant to paying more to bring roadways up to par are in effect pushing costs off on the general public.

This is something economists call an “externality” when the full costs of products are pushed off on the public sector and taxpayers rather than being incorporated through full-cost accounting.

A study shows that Americans pay noticeably lower charges for our roads than other countries.  This is lost though on regressive members of Congress who are hamstringing the federal highway trust fund.

By working through the details over the past decade, Oregon, which also pioneered the per gallon fuel tax in 1919, has already adopted a per mile approach after beta testing it in cooperation with residents and business owners, some of whom agreed to provide access to GPS systems.

GPS is increasingly common in passenger vehicles and driver smartphones as well as freight trucks, but the Oregon per mile system is being first phased in beginning with a cap of 5,000 drivers willing to opt in to paying 1.5 cents per mile driven vs. 30 cents per gallon on fuel there.

Until privacy issues are resolved (apparently some people don’t want to divulge their secret destinations) it will be based on the miles traveled each year and measured during state safety inspections.

That works out to $150 a year for someone driving 10,000 miles a year.  It meets the fairness test by shifting more of the burden for roads to heavy users and freight haulers.

A trial in Iowa of the per mile approach showed 40% in favor beforehand and 70% positive after it.  A Nevada report provides some excellent examples comparing the current per gallon tax with a miles traveled fee.

It isn’t yet clear how VMT, as it is called, will scale up to include interstate tourists.  Nor is it clear how interstate transfers will occur unless the GPS approach is eventually implemented, which will make it even fairer by eliminating private driveways and facilitating out of state transfers.

The Institute for Transportation Research is recommending a shift to miles traveled in North Carolina.

I’m ready and I don’t mind if it tracks via my GPS.  Being able to readily find a vehicle that is missing or overdue is a bonus far more significant to me than privacy.

But I do see why it shouldn’t be accessible to the press so that confidential corporate merger discussions or bipartisan political initiatives have privacy.

Pulling the wool someone’s eyes, though, may be a thing of the past.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Second Choice – Still Sense of Place

Growing up, my ambitions were tied to sense of place, first as a cowboy on our ancestral ranch in the Yellowstone nook of Idaho, then in grade school as either a uniformed Forest Ranger or a Fish and Wildlife Officer.

Both were easy to spot in Ashton, the small, nearby town where I started school and provided an inspiration to attend college (as though my parents ever gave me a choice (smile.)

I have always loved wildlife, so running up Ashton-Flag Ranch Road and veering off into the remote Idaho corner of Yellowstone Park was always a spectacular option.

In the early 1900s, my paternal grandfather, Mel Bowman, then 22 years old, helped pioneer the 40-mile route that slices between Yellowstone and the north end of the Tetons.

During the dead of winter between 1910 and 1911, while my grandparent’s ranch lay buried in snow drifts, my grandfather and his brother ran wagon loads of cement along the dirt and gravel road using teams of four draught horses each.

Each trip took four days over and two days back in below freezing weather.  In return they received $80 each not including provisions, horse feed or overnight stays in tepees along the way.

The objective was construction of a concrete dam in order to raise Jackson Lake by thirty feet for the purposes of supplying irrigation water, and eventually along with six other dams along both sides of the Tetons, a source of hydroelectric power.

A view down the Tetons from a ridgeline at the beginning of the road is one of my favorite views of the 40-mile Teton Range.  But this was only one option for viewing wildlife during my early years.

Two other favorite trips including going a mile or two across the Henry’s Fork to the hatchery to see native Cutthroat trout fingerlings and riding horseback into the Sand Creek Elk Refuge that ran down the west side of the ranch including Moose in the wetlands down near Chester.

Less than fifty miles due west of the ranch, the 10,000-acre historic Camas National Wildlife Refuge (shown in this image) is one of nearly 600 nationwide.

Filled each spring and fall with tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl including Trumpeter Swans, the Camas NWR is now at risk.

Center-pivot irrigation technology (the circular farm land you see from an airplane) not only pushed farming out that way in the 1960s and 1970s but it soon began to deplete ground water that kept the refuge’s wetlands wet.

So ironically, the refuge has had to also pump water from the aquifer in order to sustain places for the big birds to stop for rest flying south and returning north.

Probably gone are the days when we could see more than 50,000 ducks and geese in flight all at the same time.  Now the Refuge must be selective about what habitat it can keep viable.

Thinking I might want to be a lawyer, I didn’t turn back to my love of sense of place until part way through law school in Spokane, Washington.

In the 1970s, when I was helping to start the community-destination marketing organization there, we included the huge Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge which was 25 miles southwest in our inventory of nearby things to see and do.

Spectacular flights of huge Trumpeter Swans is what I remember there.  The largest of North American native waterfowl, Trumpeters (for the sound they make) stand about four feet tall but stretched out in flight they measure 6 feet from bill to feet and another 6 to 8 feet in wingspan.

They had become almost extinct before I turned six years old in the 1950s.

When I was recruited to Anchorage to complete another start up, I lived on a steep bluff along the southern edge of the city between Kincaid Park and Discovery Bay overlooking Turnagain Arm, with a spectacular view down Cook Inlet.

The glass wall and front door of my ground floor condo was less than a dozen steps from the bluff’s mid-point along the 33,000-acre Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge that runs along the south side of the municipality from the airport to Potter Marsh, a wildlife area created in 1917 when construction of the Alaska Railroad isolated a wetland.

Our organization lobbied successfully for the bird refuge at Potter Marsh to be interpreted for visitors along a 1,500 foot boardwalk, now one of Alaska’s most popular wildlife viewing areas.

Potter Marsh isn’t just for the birds, including an occasional Trumpeter.  When I lived there in the 1980s, more than 1,100 Moose in Anchorage used the mountain to sea greenways as their highways.

In the spring, the Marsh is where they calved just a few miles from where I lived and worked.

Just around a corner, while still in the municipality of Anchorage you can see Dall sheep (which look similar to mountain goats) climbing a rocky slope just above the roadway, and a bit further, a lookout to see Beluga whales.

There are ten wildlife refuges in North Carolina including Roanoke River which was created the year I moved here, but most are a good ride east from Durham where I finished my career after building yet another community start up with natural place based assets included.

A friend and I may visit one refuge in particular the next time we take the Harley Crossbones to visit friends in Charlotte.  As we cut down across the “heart” of North Carolina and under Uwharrie National Forest this time, the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge is on our way just outside Wadesboro.

We forget how much tourism overall relies on infrastructure, including green infrastructure such as the National Wildlife Refuges.  They weren’t created for the sake of tourism, but like much of the nation’s green infrastructure, that is a huge economic byproduct.

Even in cities, natural assets are among the most productive of place-based assets essential to both quality of life and quality of place.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Value of Coming In Third

I didn’t remember that my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina is only one of 150 communities it serves, when SONOCO awarded it a Bronze-tier Sustainability Star Award this month.

Durham is no stranger to accolades, especially in the sheer breadth of areas recognized, but in my former career as a community marketer, I would usually breeze past one like this to immediately dig down into the rating scheme and how the community could improve.

Beyond validation, accolades serve as a vanity metric for some but the true value of any ranking, if scientifically done, is as an extremely useful diagnostic to shed light on areas for improvement.

More later in this blog on why accolades are a double-edged sword when it comes to community marketing.

In this case though, it was apparent that Durham was one of the few—if not the only—community awarded at any of the three tiers and that in addition, Energy Digital has named Durham a “Top 10 Recycling Community in the US.”

Durham was the only city in the Southeast to make the list, falling right after Madison, Wisconsin, which hopefully it will soon emulate at recycling plastic film such as shopping bags.

Making its appearance in the top ten even more remarkable, North Carolina as a whole ranks 41st at recycling.

Durham recycles 1,000 tons of material a month (2 million lbs. – 8 lbs. per capita) so it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking this must be the norm everywhere until you read about some other pretty cool cities that really struggle with recycling.

It is also important for Durham to remember that SONOCO Recycling alone now collects 292,000 tons of material a month or 3.5 million tons a year.  If they aren’t already doing so, SONOCO could help us establish a per capita benchmark for which to strive.

Beyond their diagnostic value, community accolades are a signal of quality.  But care must be taken when using them to leverage awareness through community marketing for visitors including the more than 8-in-10 who secretly shop a community as a visitor first.

The accolades provide reasons to believe in Durham’s deep-rooted values and personality traits but a study published last year shows The Paradox of Publicity.

Community marketing is about helping people make decisions that are best for them, and Durham is not for everyone, no community is, but especially one such as this with a strong sense of place and identity.

The study shows there may be more enduring value in not being first in a ranking or accolade, which according to the researchers, if not used carefully, can lead to adoption by audiences who would not have been attracted otherwise.

This can lead to a backlash and disgruntled individuals.  This is why community marketing arms must do their best to provide a full range of content that will help potential visitors, newcomers and relocating executives find the right fit, even if it isn’t your community.

In other words, don’t be quick to discount missing out on first place.

An example is another recent ranking of metro areas by a series of indices that rate sprawl.  When I first looked at the work of researchers at the University of Utah, I questioned if they had been careful to look at variables such as whether the region is polycentric.

Fortunately, they also provided the measure by county, which in a polycentric area, more accurately reflects how people live and perceive where they live.

At this level, the indices reflected accurately what I know to be the differences between Durham and other counties in North Carolina (pages 33-34.)

Sometimes, using rankings or accolades requires digging more deeply into the metrics before publicizing them as a means to help prospective residents, as well as officials, make decisions.

I was shocked recently to hear two people, one in my former profession, question the value of undergoing an in-depth organizational diagnostic for accreditation or reaccreditation.

Communities have very different personalities unless they have surrendered theirs to emulate others.

But I can’t imagine a community that would tolerate having representatives that aren’t accredited or eager to seek any diagnostic that would ensure they are proficient.

Don’t give me the bunk that you are too busy, or in my mind, you better be busy looking for a new line of work.