Saturday, May 31, 2014

Turning Pejoratives Into Badges of Honor

I wasn’t surprised that a big story out of Durham, North Carolina last week was buried under several pages of other local news in our local newspaper.

There are far too many “great things” emanating from here to always be front page news.

In my former role as head of Durham’s marketing organization, it fell to us to illustrate the sheer volume both to residents, but even more so to people who work but probably don’t live here, as well as to the news media across the state and nation.

I remember meeting with the newspaper editorial board in Greensboro for a briefing and having to disavow an editor of the notion “only in Durham,” a popular short hand at the time to broad brush some shortcomings here but also applicable to many cities.

Pejoratives such as this about Durham are rare now.  Following a decade of turnaround between 1989 and 1999 spearheaded by that guardian of its sense of place, for more than a decade now, Durham has had the highest image among North Carolinians in general out of all major cities here.

But a state lawmaker from Union County down on the South Carolina line where the largest town has a population of 40,000 tried his best to create another earlier this month while driving another effort to starve cities statewide of revenue.

Dismissing the harm this would bring to millions of the state’s residents just to satisfy a few whining special interests, of which his HVAC business is one, he sniped to a Durham lawmaker who urged caution that his community could stop providing services “or whatever else they do in Durham…”Whatever Else

The real news though is how quickly another Greensboro editor who was in the room back then came to Durham’s defense writing that “It happens that ‘whatever else they do in Durham” has produced a pretty vibrant city.”

While also linking to Durham’s overarching website, he went on to note that Durham is ranked #4 in the nation this year by, which scientifically ranks America’s best places to live and visit,  followed by Greensboro at #19, Asheville #48 and Chapel Hill #71.

This is only one of hundreds of such accolades, across a variety of measures, that Durham has brought to North Carolina.

In the write up, while linking to things to see and do in Durham, the researchers noted that “it’s hard to separate Durham from its anchor, Duke University.”

The nationwide announcement I mentioned at the beginning of this essay was about the publication of the latest research done by Dr. Stuart Pimm (his 250th such paper,) who is Duke’s chair of conservation ecology in the school of the environment here.

He and his wife are also neighborhood activists here or “whatever else it is we do in Durham,” which is also home base to the collective of conservation professions across the globe called Saving Species.

About the time I first became a DMO exec, Pimm was getting his Ph.D. out west against the backdrop of southern New Mexico’s spectacular Organ Mountains.  But while now also an American, Pimm is originally from the midlands of Derbyshire, England.

We have another connection there because that area was set aside in Royal Forest by my 25th grandfather, William the 1st (notice the resemblance,) after he and some of my other Norman ancestors conquered that country nearly a thousand years ago.

Actually, he was also called William “the Bastard,” which may be where I got it (smile.)  He wasn’t known for conservation but he must have had some innate understanding.

The huge forests he set aside or afforested also included heathers and heath, grasslands, meadows and other wetlands, everything to support wildlife.  My 25th grandfather was an avid hunter, a trait that finally petered out with me.

At one point these forests covered a third of England below the border with Scotland.  The laws setting aside these forests even named a variety of protected species while also banning hunting dogs.

Forest law, as it called, was largely anachronistic by the reign of the Tudors but references to these forests and the wildlife they protected are found in plays by William Shakespeare.

About the time I arrived in Durham twenty-five years ago, a part of Dr. Pimm’s homeland was again set aside as The National Forest with bipartisan support in Parliament.  It has been reforested with 9 million trees to date.

It also linked two of those ancient forests that may inspired him as a boy.

The purpose of the reclaimed forest is not only forestry but biodiversity including wildlife habitat, historic preservation, reclamation of depleted landscape, carbon sequestration (climate control) and of course, recreation.

England’s National Forest lies an hour and a half drive from 10 million people.  In addition to visitors, it has been a significant draw for new and expanding businesses as well as population growth.  A population nearly the size of Durham now lives and conducts business in this forest.

As we know in American, people pay a premium—as much as 50%—to just be near trees and nature.

Stretching across part of Derbyshire, England’s National Forest is also a haven for wildlife.

Dr. Pimm’s new study is drawing incredible attention because it quantifies the rate of extinction as human activity has accelerated.  Pre-human, even with five mass extinctions over time such as dinosaurs, “the ‘death rate’ of how many species become extinct each year out of 1 million species was .01.”

“Now it is about 100 to 1,000 according to Pimm.”  The #1 issue driving this is habitat loss including impervious surface, deforestation, forest fragmentation, crowding from invasive species and of course climate change.

Symbolic is an example I’ve been following, the Monarch Butterfly, down from a historic average of a billion butterflies to a low this year of 33.5 million.

Scientists can’t physically count these butterflies so they trace their 3,000 mile annual migration to where each generation breeds just a few feet from where their great-grandparents wintered.

The causes of the decline include loss of habitat, some of it due to deforestation and forest degradation including along roadsides, but much of it now is caused by insecticides such as those found in Roundup, which has accelerated with the advent of GMO seeds resistant to these pesticides.

Who cares about an insect that at most weights three hundredths of an ounce, right?  Humans should!  Monarch’s are symbolic of the pollinators we rely on for food.

But the study shows that far beyond these tiny creatures we’re also facing another mass extinction. 

Of course, this ground-breaking study and the acclaim it brings to North Carolina is just another example of “whatever else we do in Durham.”

Regressives holding our state General Assembly hostage, having outlawed the use of global warming science to make our vaunted coastline sustainable, now want to make sure that “whatever else we do in Durham” no longer includes fostering urban forest canopy.

These and other actions are increasing apparent as part of an undeclared civil war on North Carolina cities.

“Whatever else we do in Durham” also includes turning pejoratives lobbed by jackasses into badges of honor.  Bring it on!

Friday, May 30, 2014

“Post Mortems” Are Essential to Optimizing Productivity

Clearly the source of some things you pick up so naturally early in your career gets lost over time.

Somewhere between graduating from college and having a hand in community marketing startups in Spokane in the 1970s and Anchorage in the 1980s, I adopted the practice of always conducting group “post mortems” after projects were completed.

By the time of my last DMO startup for Durham, North Carolina, the practice of “post mortems” was a central feature.

This is where co-workers gather after a project (on average 50% of any job is project-related – 100% in DMOs) to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work as well as lessons-learned.

To the consternation of a few co-workers who always resisted this practice, usually because they couldn’t seem to help but take everything personally, reflection such as this is the subject of some new research studies.

Repeatedly required during these sessions was “this isn’t about who, but what!”

I suspect I adopted “post mortems” from something I read in the 1970s by or about EST founder Werner Erhard while powering through the briefcase of “airplane reading” I always had handy.

Erhard was a very serial social entrepreneur and deep thinker about the processes of management and productivity. With no Internet in those days, I would read voraciously and then tear some articles out for further study when I could give it my full attention.

Anchorage back then was still attached at the hip with Seattle, or so Seattle seemed to think it its entitled manner.  It was a three hour flight there, four hours to San Francisco, 7+ hours to New York or Tokyo and 9+ hours to London, all of which I was required to travel to in those days on business, often on short turn arounds.

Even a simple round trip flight just to the state capital in Juneau took nearly three hours.

I got through a ton of reading either attending coop marketing planning meetings for the state or opening up new inbound markets specific to Anchorage.

I also burned out on business travel during my near-decade there but have to admit it also provided time for much needed reflection.

Durham, where I spent the remainder of my career is the center of a four-county metro designation that includes Chapel Hill.  Each community is home base to a noted business school.

I won’t make the mistake a DMO exec made several weekends ago when referring to her community as overflow for Duke without bothering to mention Duke is not in Chapel Hill or identifying other hotels in her comments were also actually in Durham.

She obviously forgot that the DMO’s in this part of North Carolina have a written agreement to ethically restrict comments to their specific destination and refer media to others for information in those communities.

I am sure there will be a conference-call “post mortem” to reconnect the dots.  Some DMOs, seemingly bored with destination marketing, always seem prone to mind the business of others places and in doing so, undermine their own.

Often they use the term “regional” as cover, which is pretentious and probably means they are simply in the wrong business.

Chapel Hill is home to the main campus of the University of North Carolina, one of 16 in that system overall.

Dr. Bradley Staats who teaches in the Kenan-Flagler Business School there and lives in nearby Carrboro is the co-author of a working paper detailing a series of studies reviewed recently by Carmen Nobel on Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge” forum.

The studies confirm the importance of individual and group reflection to learning.  Most research focuses on “doing” but this study confirms that reflection on work or “unpacking” creates incredible value-added.

We learn not just by doing but through reflection.  Because there is a tendency in any fast paced organization to move to quickly to the next thing, setting aside time for what I learned to call “post mortems” to glean lessons learned is crucial.

I certainly found it to be an essential ingredient to our ability to leapfrog much more established organizations,  I also found failing to do so seem to condemn other organizations to stubborn feedback loops that inhibited growth.

Individual and group reflection on a project is also how we learn to adapt our behavior and overcome the stubbornness and ego-centrism that holds so many back in the workplace or in relationships with peers.

“Go to your room” as my parents often required when I was growing up was just the beginning of self-reflection.  Once everyone had cooled down, the indispensible ingredient to learning was “unpacking” the issue or issues involved with the parent or parents involved.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and lessons-learned get truncated.  Home is where we should first learn that “it isn’t about who, but what!” These are the building blocks of conflict resolution.

Without the second part, learning, and therefore performance, isn’t optimized regardless of what stage of life your are in, especially in the workplace.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Two Best Practices at Changing Misperceptions

Two things ran through my mind earlier this month as I took in a quarterly graduation event, this time for 34 residents of TROSA, a two-year substance abuse recovery program with aftercare in Durham, North Carolina.

One was that I had been sitting on an unpadded folding chair for nearly three hours without noticing it because the personal stories delivered to the audience by each graduate were so incredibly touching and compelling.

The other thought was of a paper by a researcher at Dartmouth, Dr. Brendan Nylan who had earned his Masters and Ph.D. here at Duke University in the years before I retired from a career in community marketing.

His research is about why people continue to embrace misinformation even after learning it is false.  This is particularly salient in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deliberate lies to voters by or on behalf of candidates for high office are protected free speech.

But first a few words about TROSA.

It was founded in 1994 by a former addict, Kevin McDonald, who lives four doors down from me.  A few years after it opened, Kevin turned his life around at Delancey Street where he stayed on for 12 years to help others.

He came to North Carolina about the same time I did to open a much smaller 30-resident Delancey Center in Greensboro.  Then five years later accepted an invitation to build on the model by founding TROSA, which has nearly 480 residents now from around the country.

It has grown from 8 residents to a $13 million annual operation, nearly half of which is earned income from businesses such as moving, tractor-trailer driver training, framing, vintage product recycling, landscape care, stonework, catering and foodservice, sales and construction and facility maintenance, to name a few.

The program relies, in part, on donations or in-kind contributions from individuals and businesses for the rest.   There is no charge for the program; residents ear their keep through working.

In its on-going well-being index, Gallup has found that people in communities with higher well-being are more likely to give back to their communities.

Foretelling that North Carolina ranks only 43rd in charitable giving (7th  from the bottom) is that it ranks only 32nd for well-being overall.  But the metro area centered around Durham ranks second in the state and 31st nationwide, in the top quintile.

In books such as last year’s, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, the case is made that drug and alcohol addiction is a “preventable, treatable disease, not a moral failing.”

A few years earlier a book called, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice, made the highly controversial case that the condition is merely a matter of self-destructive choices and free will, but the author also repeatedly made the point that this does not exclude neurophysical influences.

In fact, both authors essentially agree that it is both a disease and a matter of choice.  As Seth Godwin blogged recently, disease doesn’t trump choice, it just makes bad choices much harder to overcome.

This is something TROSA understands and addresses with a heavy mix of vocational training and therapeutic, educational and aftercare programs.  It builds character while addressing disease.

It is clear when looking at the effectiveness of TROSA over most rehab programs lasting anywhere from a week to a month and from listening to TROSA graduates bare testimony including a friend of mine who is a resident, that it takes two to three years for those addicted to reclaim their lives.

But it isn’t just lack of funds or in-kind donations that prevents this program from being scalable from thousands to the tens of millions who need it. Misinformation and Fact-Checking

One obstacle is the number of people who still buy into barrages of misinformation that addiction is purely a failure of will power, a moral shortcoming.  For others, this merely reinforces a world view that no amount of scientific information or testimony can change.

Dr. Nyhan and other researchers delve into the best ways to correct misperceptions or misinformation as overviewed this month in a blog on The New Yorker by Maria Konnikova, author of the new book MastermindShe is a former producer for “Charlie Rose” who also writes for Scientific American.

One of my first challenges when jumpstarting the community destination marketing organization for Durham was not only correcting misinformation but turning around the negative image of Durham held by the vast majority of residents in nearby communities.

Research plus trial and error helped us achieve this goal by the end of the 1990s, although crucial follow-up will be never-ending.

In the early days, many friends were too nervous to be of much help while others were fearful that trying to correct these misimpressions would only reinforce them.  Fortunately, we could rely on a grassroots army of residents.

Much has been learned about reputational management since then but no one has done more research over the years to identify what works than Dr. Brendon Nylan.  I wonder if he was aware of what we were doing when he was at Duke?

In a paper last year entitled “Misinformation and Fact-Checking,” Nylan and a co-author from George State identified some techniques similar to those that had made us successful in Durham, e.g.

  1. Get the story right the first time.
  2. Early corrections are better.
  3. Beware of making the problem worse.
  4. Avoid Negations. (just saying it isn’t so)
  5. Minimize repetition of false claims.
  6. Reduce partisan and ideological cues.
  7. Use credible sources.
  8. Use graphics where appropriate.
  9. Beware of selective exposure. (confirmation bias)

The paper is an overview of studies supporting each of these and a good read for anyone who is trying to overcome misinformation or misperception.

It would have been helpful if Nylan had done this work two decades earlier.  Our success was by trial and error to find the right messaging, as well as recruiting allies in other communities along with other Durham residents (Durham Image Watch) who would also help make our point.

We were also strategically focused.

We weren’t trying to change anyone’s world view, just get the facts right and in context.  We didn’t worry about the negatives among the 10% who were rabid.  We focused on the vast majority who were “soft negatives,” mostly just uninformed.

We successfully isolated those who were the source.

We also appealed to the honor of journalists, editors and news directors by showing them that our objective wasn’t to influence the content of the news, just the accuracy and balance.

No amount of promotion would have overcome the “moat of negativity” surrounding Durham.  It had infiltrated the news media, airport/airline workers and even around local “water coolers” from the 2-in-3 people working in Durham but not living here.

We knew that the negativity had not statistically harmed Durham’s image elsewhere which was always high, but research showed that if we didn’t address it aggressively, it soon would.

Anecdotally, we knew it had already significantly contaminated loan applications and appraisals as well as diverted visitors including relocating executives and newcomers.

We turned it around in the nick of time.  What amazes me is how many communities don’t even know they have an image problem, let alone address it.  The home communities of some of those trashing Durham have even greater image problems across the state.

When they get around to it, research such done by Dr. Nylan will be a good resources.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Two Roads Less Taken and Reflections on DMO Innovators

I’ve always been interested in the evolutionary history of community destination marketing organizations (DMOs,) my now concluded career.

Not just when they began nearly 120 years ago or the Progressive Era that spawned them, but how they and the communities they serve evolved over time.

Keep in mind that my career not only spanned more than a third of that history but due to influential mentors such as Charlie Gillette, and Bob Sullivan and those who mentored them, my career span covers influences from all but 15 to 20 years since the first DMO was formed.

The career DNA passed to me from them and from their mentors to them stretches back to the period of 1910-1915 when less than 20 DMOs were in existence.  This was in the years before a DMO trade association was formed.

This was back when asphalt had just been invented and pavement applied to only 144 miles of roadway.  It was also the period when passenger air travel first evolved, although only over waterways using airboats and a full decade before mass tourism evolved.

Those mentors came to mind this month while reading a new McKinsey report on the state of how digitization transforms industries written by directors Martin Hirt and Paul Wilmot.

Equally applicable to the evolution of marketing is their excellent typology shown as an image in this blog.

My two mentors in 1974 came from very different backgrounds: one in publicity and the other in sales; but they were both DMO innovators who could quickly read trends and translate them into both strategy and execution far in advance of their peers.

That was the year my mentors persisted until the trade group for DMOs finally added the word “visitor” to its name, four decades after leisure tourism by auto had skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, trade associations are usually dominated by mainstreamers, or at best late adopters, who are forced to tolerate the occasional innovator.  This is illustrated by taking four decades from the emergence of tourism to recognize that it included much more than conventions. 

The association will celebrate its 100th anniversary this summer in Las Vegas, Nevada.  That may seem an odd and extremely unseasonable choice since the first DMO was founded in Detroit and the association was founded in St. Louis.

I’m not sure those cities are any less unseasonable in the dead of summer and probably even more humid, although as a westerner I know that “dry heat” is a myth.

Las Vegas was an innovator when its first marketing effort formed after World War II as a news bureau.  After a time it fell under the chamber of commerce but was independent by the early 1970s when I joined the profession.

Most DMOs started as sales organizations so this was not only novel but incredibly farsighted.  Las Vegas grasped that community marketing is first about fostering image and that PR and publicity are many times more powerful overall than advertising.

Any number of books document that it is the news bureau—not Bugsy Siegel or mobsters or their successors—that made the destination what it is today.  When I started in destination marketing circles, the news bureau’s head, Don Payne, was the face of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas didn’t get everything right.  Nevada pioneered the room occupancy tax in 1955 but dedicated it only to a recreation authority to fund the building of a convention center.

Slowly it was realized that it is marketing, not facilities, that drives visitation, and that overall destination balance trumps volume in any one area of activity.

By the mid-1970s, just before I became a CEO, the organization morphed into the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority to do community destination marketing.  The News Bureau moved under the LVCVA in the early 1990s.

The organization remains highly innovative, sharing the number one spot in the world for best practices with the DMO in Durham, North Carolina where I live.

Durham and Las Vegas have historically taken two different paths as destinations. They were settled about the same time.  Although Durham was quicker to be incorporated as a city, their respective counties were formed only about two decades apart.

The two cities were about the same size when I visited Las Vegas for the first time in the mid-1960s.  But Durham was about 10 times larger when the two took very different approaches to sense of place in 1920.

At the time, Durham’s founding generation took the route of preservation of place-based assets, e.g. historic buildings, indigenous cultural events, nature and  nationally known but homegrown chefs and sense of place.

Las Vegas, when it felt the first stirrings of tourism a few years later in the 1930s, took the direction of gaming casinos and a simulated sense of place.

There are still remnants of the real Las Vegas but the glare of the strip clouds its view.  While both at one time were known for “sin,” one tobacco, the other gambling, Durham took a different route to sense of place.

Durham was more than two decades slower to launch visitor-centric economic and culture development but when it did, its vaunted sense of place was well evolved and took center stage in community marketing.

Each community is the center of its own MSA but while the greater regions are similar in size now, Durham’s is polycentric, a geography that has also helped it retain its unique cultural identity as well as the feel of a much more intimate, manageable and inviting place.

In the early 1800s, the meadows for which Las Vegas is named became a stop for traders on the Old Spanish Trail.  In 1855, Mormons created the first real settlement and a historic fort, a site that you can still visit today.

In the 1930s, Hoover Dam was created impounding Lake Meade, the largest reservoir in the U.S., 35 miles outside Vegas.  At a time when the first generation in Las Vegas settlement was busy surrendering its sense of place, the first generation in Durham’s settlement was already busy preserving and restoring its genuine sense of place.

I went on a trip down to Las Vegas in 1966 with my maternal grandfather as a high school graduation present.  My grandmother had just died after a decade-long illness.  He knew I like Johnny Mathis from the albums I had listened to when we visited.

So we tooled down in a my uncle’s ‘65 Mustang convertible (he was serving what would be three tours as a fighter pilot in Viet Nam) to see Johnny sing in the newly opened Caesar’s Palace.

Las Vegas was still people-scaled back then and downtown Las Vegas was symbolized by The Mint, where country-legend Patsy Cline had performed a year before her she and three others including two other country stars died in a small plane crash.

The last song she sang live was I’ll Sail My Ship Alone.

My first trip was sandwiched between the Beatles two years earlier and the arrival of Howard Hughes four months later.  We took in other attractions too, but the opening of Caesar's during my right of passage marked the end of an era and the beginning of mega-themed-casino hotels.

It was a lot for an Idaho boy to absorb, but even then I could sense that the community’s personality was being overwritten.

By the time I arrived in Durham in 1989 for my fifth DMO startup, The Mint was gone.  Ironically, I had been succeeded in Anchorage by Bill Elander, a friend, former MGM executive and Thunderbirds pilot on whom Las Vegas had worn thin.

Near the end of my career I was on the DMO trade association’s International board of directors and attended a board meeting held in Vegas.  We were treated to a light show in a fountain but not to the genuine Las Vegas.

I’m definitely not LV’s target market.  Only the Ferrari dealership/museum offered any appeal, but even that didn’t seem real somehow.

The only highlight for me of that final visit was a quick run up into the El Dorado mountains in back of Vegas to see Hoover Dam along the Arizona border.  Coming back down, in the far distance you can still catch a bird’s eye view of the real Las Vegas from there. 

Places such as Las Vegas today are where you go to see simulations of other places but little of it is genuine or authentic anymore, which is a much more popular reason people travel.

Few visitors see the the real Las Vegas—or even care—but at least that community committed fully to simulation rather than seeking to emulate others that have slowly surrendered any distinct sense of place, becoming little more than Anywhere, USAs.

You can’t have it both ways.  Durham and Las Vegas each made a better choice.

When DMOs convene in Las Vegas this July to toast the century since their trade association’s founding, I doubt more than a few will care to understand these distinctions.

Those that do I bet are DMO innovators.

DMOs are at a crossroads.  Sense of place in many communities is disappearing and often rather than fulfill their role as guardians of sense of place, many DMO’s serve as complicit enablers, especially those addicted to facilities.

Many, I fear, will fail to grasp that differentiation and fostering sense of place is what destination marketing is all about.  Others labor in communities with deaf ears.

It is fitting they  meet in Las Vegas where the contrast is so evident.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sense of Place Concern Spawned Community Marketing

Tourism in the United States began as early as the 1830s as a way to get away from cities and towns, but the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, attended by 1-in-4 Americans, changed all of that.

These massive, six-month long exhibitions, when popular, had many purposes over the years including showcasing new technology, cultural exchanges or to demonstrate best practices such as the one put on in 1974 by business leaders to create environmental protection in the community where I began my community marketing career.

Ostensibly to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas, the one in 1893, as designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Daniel Burnham, was a prototype of what cities could and should become.

It came near the end of six decades when the countryside had been turned into vast seas of tree stumps.  Two-thirds of the deforestation since colonization began occurred during this brief period.

America the Beautiful had been America the Desecrated.

The prototype in Chicago spurred the Progressive Era’s grass roots’ “City Beautiful Movement” that would transform cities and towns across the country beginning with aesthetics.

Coupled with President Theodore Roosevelt’s movements for conservation and then ecology, these evolutions brought America the Beautiful back from the grave.

Two years following the 1893 World’s Fair and 285 miles east, the surging City Beautiful Movement also spawned in Detroit the formation of the nation’s first community destination marketing organization (DMO.)

Initially intended to leverage the new appeal being created into visitor-centric economic and cultural development, soon these organizations became the guardians of sense of place.

Insight for this revolutionary city-centric marketing approach was innovated based on observations that travelers are primarily drawn by overall destination appeal rather than by individual facilities or events.

It is for the same reason that while North Carolina remains focused on attributes such as mountains and beaches, it is the overall appeal of its cities and towns that for decades now has generated more than 80% of the state’s revenue from tourism.

Rather than as mere stops coming to and from the mountains and beaches, cities and towns are driving the vast majority of this visitation for other reasons now with these areas as an add on.

The 1893 event and the City Beautiful Movement was also at the root of why cities discovered renewal and appeal from fostering green infrastructure including urban forests, parks and open space as well as classical architecture.

That era was also the origin of the modern planning movement along with the idea of zoning land use, improved sanitation and cleaner water.  But at its heart, the movement was about aesthetics and sense of place.

It soon resonated with cities large and small across the nation.  The first city plan in North Carolina was created in 1913 for Raleigh, the state capital, by its Woman’s Club, but because they lacked the vote it went nowhere.

Olmsted Brothers created a plan for Duke West Campus in Durham.  Mill towns were also among the first to employ planning, and business associations began pushing the idea of planning to cities and counties.

In the meantime, planning was employed for neighborhoods in Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh that are still among the most vibrant and popular in these cities today.

By the end of the 1920s, Asheville (1922), Durham (1927) and High Point were the first cities in North Carolina to create comprehensive plans.  Keep in mind this is also the period when Durham’s first generation began historic preservation and massive reforestation.

An earlier sign that the City Beautiful Movement resonated almost immediately among first generation Durham industrialists is their prompt and prolific application of Romanesque Revival and other forms of classical architecture on warehouses, factories, homes and churches.

Repurposed as performance halls as well as residential, offices, research labs, restaurants and stores today, these distinctive buildings are symbolic of the “built” part of Durham’s vaunted sense of place.

Unfortunately, back then many other cities and towns in the old south used the planning movement not to encourage aesthetics or sense of place but to further perpetuate a then-legalized form of racism.

The area surrounding Asheville had been entirely deforested by the time of the City Beautiful Movement.  George Vanderbilt reforested the estate around his Biltmore House and used a plan influenced by the movement for its village.

It is symbolic that Asheville stepped up with the state’s first comprehensive plan even though, still to this day, the surrounding county has no zoning.

It speaks volumes that this county and others around the state who failed to learn or came late to the lessons of the City Beautiful Movement are working today on behalf of special interests to outlaw its embrace by cities and counties that did, perhaps hoping to regress to that era of desecration.

It is ironic that with some exceptions such as the exec of Durham’s DMO, which was only founded in 1989, those today with careers spawned from the City Beautiful Movement seem often apathetic about their role as guardian of sense of place.

Many are now even enablers of its destruction, such as when they utilize roadside billboard and other forms of blight while hypocritically giving lip service to more than a string of increasingly anemic but valiant scenic preservation successors to the City Beautiful Movement.

Hopefully, on the upcoming hundredth anniversary of the creation of a trade association for DMOs back during the heyday of the City Beautiful Movement, its members will take a long hard look in the mirror.

Do they regain the spirit of the City Beautiful Movement that spawned their first predecessors as guardians of sense of place or do they continue to sit back while it is destroyed?

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Decade of Insight Behind Today’s Accolades

One of the things running through my mind recently while helping a friend clean out a garage in the Buckwater Creek neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina where we both live was how forward thinking the Durham native was to leave huge stands of trees.

By the mid-1990s when that neighborhood was completed, Craig Morrison’s Cimarron Homes had been developing neighborhoods for more than a decade.  Craig was a “green” developer decades before it became cool.

He grasped what some homebuilders down in Raleigh didn’t when along with other special interests their whining spurred a bill to ban development related local tree retention, preservation and reforestation ordinances.

Good developers know that trees improve property values and help sell homes and lease commercial property of all types more quickly.

Trees also provide a number of ecosystem services that affect the entire community such as evapotranspiration, a process by which trees slow, capture and cleanse storm run off and put the moisture back in the atmosphere.

In Minnesota, instead of banning tree ordinances, the state is developing a system of credits for retaining and planting trees with the formula calibrated to trees as they grow, canopy, impervious surface, soil type, temperature, rainfall and other variables.

Unfortunately, the only credits that will be given in North Carolina if a few regressive lawmakers have their way, are those designed to incentivize deforestation.

In South America, some outdoor billboard companies are bragging that with new technology, this form of sign blight could cleanse up to 25 gallons of water a day in countries where clean water is still hard to come by.

But in thousands of acres of roadside where North Carolina lawmakers are now permitting out-of-state billboard companies to clear-cut the length of a football field, each would cleanse 400 gallons per day if permitted to remain.

Anyway you slice it, the giveaway makes no sense and runs in the face of an amendment to the state constitution.

The variety of calculations that economists and forestry researchers are now placing on the value of trees may one day help lawmakers understand how foolhardy it is to public health alone to ban tree retention and preservation ordinances.

Even in some highly acclaimed cities such as Durham, where the challenge is cleaning up urban streams that flow into water supplies, an obsession with not raising taxes is obscuring services that are lacking and hollowing out others.

For example, neither the city nor county of Durham has an agency tasked with keeping these streams clean or following up to find polluters.  Instead, we rely on episodic clean ups by agencies, non-profits and volunteers such as Creek Week that barely make a dent.

Maybe local as well as state officials should be required to publish a list of services that are being neglected or hollowed out whenever they take credit for not raising taxes or even cutting taxes.

The public has a right to know that what we take for certain is more often actually being neglected.

Durham was renowned for investing in its future especially from 1900 into the 1940s thanks to forward thinking leadership and visionary public servants such as John C. Michie, William M. Piatt and Dallas W. Newsom in the period that led the way to professional management of cities and counties.

Then Durham suddenly descended into another period not dissimilar to the one we are in now where an obsession with holding the lid on taxes took precedent over preparing for the future during the late 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.

Durham was held back during this span even as state and business leaders from here laid the foundation for the transformation of North Carolina’s economy to what it is today.

The costliness of that era when Durham was around a third the size it is now is made strikingly apparent by what happened during a remarkable decade beginning in 1982.

It is this decade that truly laid the foundation for making Durham known worldwide today for where great things happen.

It began when now-Mayor Bill Bell, then just in his early 40s was elected chair of the Durham Board of County Commissioners and joined by community activist Becky Heron about the same time Cimarron Homes was founded.

An incredible generation of students who had graduated from college in Durham in the 1970s has stayed here and had begun to be elected to the Durham City Council, including Wib Gulley who would go on to serve two terms as mayor and several as a state senator.

In 1983, Orville Powell was recruited as city manager, followed a year later when Jack Bond was recruited as the new county manager for Durham.

Together, these managers and elected officials all with fresh eyes, decided to make it clear to residents what they had been missing during the four-decade obsession with not raising taxes rather than investing in the future.

These are also the years when local officials also grasped that by forming a community-destination marketing organization (DMO), which I was brought here to start in 1989, they could also grow the local tax base through attracting visitors.

It is also the decade when Durham banned billboards and cleaned up other sign blight, first initiated adaptive reuse of historic factories and warehouses, grew organic districts such as Ninth Street, and established tree preservation ordinances and scenic overlays along major highways, all by fostering the community’s unique sense of place and authenticity.

In the years and months before I arrived, these Durham city and county officials also asked residents to approve two huge bond issues designed to catch Durham up and lay the groundwork for the future, followed by several subsequent bond issues.

In response, realtors and developers in neighboring communities began to hammer Durham as having higher taxes failing to mention that Durham’s city taxes were 19% higher because after running utilities to make Research Triangle Park possible, corporations there were subsequently exempted by the state from paying a full share of Durham taxes.

These detractors also obscured the significant difference between “tax rate,” “tax valuation” and actual “tax burden”which must be factored into any comparison.

In response, Durham’s fledgling marketing agency fueled the local and surrounding news media with better information, but the damage had been done.

Some Durham voters had become confused by the constant misrepresentations, especially in the more conservative unincorporated areas of the county.

Jack Bond retired from local government in 1991 and after a stint in state government and on the governing board for Durham’s DMO, he passed away in 2001 about the time Bill Bell moved over as mayor.

Bell had been briefly replaced as a Commissioner in 1994 because he had supported school merger and while he was soon re-elected, some conservatives were also elected in the early 1990s whose rhetoric deepened suspicion among residents about taxes.

As it still is today, this changed the conversation from taxes as investment and it set Durham back again to the regressive thinking of the 1950s and 1960s, a preoccupation that quietly began again to hollow out initiatives such as upkeep and refocus attention only on the near term.

One conservative elected official during that transition even asked me in a hearing, when we would have enough visitors and wouldn’t need visitor spending or resulting tax revenue.

“Uhhh…never,” I replied, “Not if we want Durham to thrive.”

By 1993 Gulley had gone on to the state senate and in the mid-1990s, Orville moved on to teach at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Durham has passed bonds since then and has had many good leaders, but the obsession with capping taxes at any cost has systematically hollowed out local government while simultaneously blinding residents and probably some elected officials to what isn’t being done as a result.

The revitalization of downtown today, a remnant from that decade of forward thinking, belies the fact that we’re no longer keeping the community up as a whole or investing in the future.

All of this is to say, that Durham needs leadership to stand up again and level with Durham residents and business owners about what is needed to prepared Durham beyond our current terms of office and lifetimes.

Durham can’t sit back and rest on today’s accolades, most of which are really the result of strategic groundwork initiated in the 1980s and early 1990s, while the community silently slips behind again.

Nor do we have to sell Durham’s unique character out to the highest bidder so we don’t have to ask residents to shoulder this investment.

We just need another period where preparing Durham for the future is considered an investment, not a burden.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The First Generation Kindling of Durham’s Passion for Place

It was conceived at a pivotal time in my community’s history when a population of only 8% of what it has become today was already seeking to preserve Durham, North Carolina’s history.

Whenever visitors to Durham first see Duke University Chapel, the first thing they often say once they catch their breath is, “that’s not a chapel, it’s a cathedral.”

I’m sure I even said something like that when I was given a tour of the community during my interview twenty-five years ago to become the startup executive for Durham’s marketing agency.

Today I know that tour was really an audition to see if I had an understanding enough of sense of place to truly grasp the essence of Durham’s.

But the term chapel has never been a reference to size, nor does the term cathedral always mean large.

One is a term used by many religions, especially in reference to churches embedded within universities, e.g. King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge.

The other refers to central as in diocese vs. parish.

What distinguishes Duke’s collegiate gothic cruciform chapel from those at other universities that seek to evoke a cathedral of the English Middle Ages is its 210 foot high tower made to seem even higher by its placement.  It’s just five feet short of the cathedral at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Duke Chapel was envisioned in the mid-1920s when a prototype that still serves as a church here was built to test the use of various sources of stone during a pivotal decade in the evolution of the part of Durham’s sense of place centered around its “built” character.

This was also when Duke Forest was envisioned as a means to rehabilitate depleted tobacco fields, now a vast symbol of Durham’s broader urban forest canopy and a vaunted part of it “natural” character.

It took from between 1950 and 1960 until 2000 to establish and mature a pine forest in Duke Forest and foster an understory of hardwood trees.

The transition of parts from pines to hardwood forest began at the turn of the century and will continue until 2030.  The first hardwoods there will begin to climax from 2030 on.

All of that is to put 100 years of Durham history and its urban canopy today in context.

But by 1920, the founding generation of Durham was also already busy preserving its five decades of history.

Durham was stunned in the fall of 1921 when the original Bennett Place farmhouse where the Civil War had effectively ended here 56 years earlier burned to its foundation.

Many across North Carolina at the time preferred to remember the war only through a revisionist movement known as “the lost cause.”  But many in Durham, including Washington Duke, had been “unionists” and fought only because it was mandatory.

Samuel Tate Morgan, who had purchased Bennett Place anticipating a memorial park there, had died a few months earlier. Trust titan James Buchanan Duke, also a Durham native, served as one of his pall bearers.

Morgan’s father had died when he was eight, around the age of my grandsons now.  He was fully aware as pursuing Union cavalry caught up with Confederate units trailing through Durham resulting in a truce and culminating in the pivotal surrender at Bennett Place.

Soon, Morgan moved from his Flat River roots a few miles south, to the crossroads known as Durham where the Dukes, Carrs and Blackwells were busy earning Durham a national reputation for manufacturing. 

He founded the Durham Fertilizer Company recycling wasted stems from tobacco processing which soon became the nucleus of his huge Virginia-Carolina Chemical Co, the largest in the world.

At the time of his death, Morgan was also president of the Southern Cotton Oil Co, the Charleston Mining and Manufacturing Co and a director of the Texas and Pacific Railway, but he never lost touch with his Durham roots.

Knowing his reverence and plans for Bennett Place, his widow and heirs donated the property to the state, while Durham’s state lawmakers pushed the General Assembly to designate and maintain it as a state historic site.

To make that happen Durham Representatives Reuben Everett, an early Durham civil rights attorney and advocate, and Frank Fuller Jr., an attorney and part of a group known as the Durham Dynamos, worked with Durham state Senator Bennehan Cameron, a farmer and railroad executive.

Cameron also helped organize the First Bank of Durham, now adaptively reused as office space, across from where a 21C Hotel is doing the same to another famous Durham banking landmark.

Both are just up Main Street from where another historic bank building is being converted to restaurant, adding to Durham’s reputation for locally-owned, chef-driven facilities and a national foodie reputation.

Everett, Cameron and Fuller’s father were all contemporaries of Morgan and J.B. Duke and all shared life-long devotion to Durham and preservation of its history and other elements of sense of place.

They were working to preserve Durham history long before some of the old tobacco factories and warehouses we consider so historic today were even built, including major portions of the American Tobacco, West Village and Measurement Inc.

Much of the brick work in these buildings is distinct from that of buildings in other communities of the day.  Durham’s first generation, in thought and deed, revered its sense of place.

Frank Fuller Jr., whose historic Morehead Hills home was inhabited until recently by an acclaimed Durham architect and his jazz singer wife, was the scion of one of the founders of the Durham Buggy Company, Frank L. Fuller Sr.

Ironically, more than a decade ago a Durham developer offered to restore one of the historic buildings developed by Frank Fuller Sr. in the 1930s as Duke Chapel was being built.

It had been sitting vacant since 1992 when it last served as a clearing house for social services and then deed it back for $1 to the proposed Museum of Durham History.

The then county manager nixed the proposal, instead leaving the building vacant and decaying for another decade when it was adaptively and lovingly reused as event space only to soon close.

As foretold, the building revealed a treasure trove of Durham history and it wasn’t the first time in the past 60 years that Durham officials let pass a perfect opportunity to house the Durham history museum. 

In fulfillment of Samuel Tate Morgan’s wishes, in 1923 Durham leaders also erected the Unity Monument near the ruins of the Bennett Place farmhouse.

In part, the monument was designed by T.Y. Milburn who lived near Fuller in Morehead Hills and was also busy at that time designing many of the buildings that are signatures of Durham’s sense of place including the Carolina Theater, Durham School for the Arts and the King’s Daughter’s Inn.

Milburn’s civic engagement also spanned the era three decades later when he and other Durham leaders transformed the state’s economy once again laying its foundation as a center for research, hi-tech and healthcare.

But let me take a brief break from this story to put into context that early 1920s and 1930s era of Durham’s historical reverence and memorial at a time when the community was only a third as old as it is today.

This is the period that spurred second-generation Durham textile executive and newly minted radio entrepreneur, Mayor W.F. Carr (William Frederick) in 1934 to ask famed city engineer John Michie to lay the foundation of a Durham history museum in the months prior to Duke Chapel’s dedication.

Carr was mayor until 1948 but the movement for a museum of Durham history was tabled due to the Great Depression and then WWII.

In 1949, according to Durham historian Jim Wise, Southgate Jones Sr. offered his father’s historic mansion along with memorabilia as a site for the museum.

Instead, a few years later it became the site of a hotel and is now the site of a new transportation center that somehow eluded historic design guidelines.

The proposal as a museum was deep sixed back then by city and county managers and elected officials during a four-decade era of obsession with “holding taxes at all costs,” which compromised not only reverence for Durham’s past but nearly choked off its future.

Famously pro-Durham, Southgate Jones Jr. was one of my strongest backers when in 1989 I started the agency for Durham charged with marketing the community and championing its sense of place.

He was also a passionate advocate for a local history museum, a public priority still being hamstrung by a few officials even though the need is still held in high esteem among residents of a community that has grown many times in size.

Ostensibly it is still throttled because this long-held cultural priority would cost the equivalent of what was just spent to overall the 18-year-old Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  But that is less than half of what was spent a few years ago on a new theater.

As an organic measure of how much time has been lost in the 90 years since first proposed, the depleted soils where Duke Forest now stands have gone from crabgrass to shrubs to pine forest to emerging hardwood forest.

Just sayin’.

In the late 1950s Durham residents stirred again, hoping to replicate the old Bennett Place farmhouse in time for the Centennial of the Civil War.

Civil War buff Charles Pattishall who owned a garage on Markham Avenue just off Ninth Street was assisted by Dr. Lenox Baker, who took me on one of those orientation tours when I first moved here.

Using the pattern and materials from an identical farmhouse being torn down on Chapel Hill Road, they reconstructed the Bennett farm house where Confederate General Joe Johnston disobeyed Jefferson Davis and surrendered to Union General William T. Sherman putting an effective end to the tragic war.

A call went out for artifacts which were relocated or returned.  It was completed in time for the first reenactment of the surrender in 1965 and attended by U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey and newly-elected Governor Dan Moore.

In the 1970s, the state added a visitor center on the site after officially making it a state historic site.

The period bookending the preservation of Bennett Place also marks the preservation of two other state historic sites in Durham.

In 1930 Washington Duke’s granddaughter, Mary Duke Biddle, whose daughter I came to know, bought the old Duke Homestead after returning to Durham from New York City and presented it to Duke University in 1931 which began to restore it.

In 1966 it was named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service and became a state historic site in 1974 with a working history farm and the addition of a mini-museum and visitor center in 1977.

In 1973, Margaret Haywood, who passed away three months ago, began a crusade forming Preservation Durham, saving the Carolina Theater and igniting the reinvigoration of downtown that spanned my tenure in Durham.

She also set about to earn a designation for the 1787 Bennehan House in northern Durham near where Morgan was born to the National Register of Historic Places.

In turn, she then persuaded the owner of Liggett and Meyers Tobacco Company to put their house, outbuildings, historic barn, a yeoman farmers house of the same period and slave quarters, all of which lie along the Great Indian Trading Path in Northern Durham, to the state as a historic site and archeological resource.  It’s called Stagville State Historic Site now.

Dating to when it was younger than I am now, (65) Durham residents were already busy passionately preserving the community’s history and its green infrastructure, a lesson yet to be learned by political regressives in high office a hundred years later.

They seem to yearn for a time of desecration while Durham’s founders yearned for sense of place.

Now that more than 160 years have passed, is it time for elected officials and administrative caretakers to do the same:

Fulfill the community’s 90 year old yearning for a Museum of Durham History and develop comprehensive strategic plans for preservation of its urban forest and historic buildings.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Litter Could Soon Be A Thing of the Past And Why It Won’t

A lot is being made in the news media now about the “Internet of Things.”  I’ve read recently that the cost of a sensor, those little gizmos that connect things to the Internet, is a dime or less and falling.

This is no longer just about RFID tags.

Some sensors are already the size of your fingertip, and globally, the annual market for smart sensors will be $21.60 billion globally by 2019.

We’ve probably all heard and read recently that they have already been deployed in many cities to help people identify the location of vacant parking spaces and to help improve delivery routes by eliminating left hand turns and to identify parts in need of replacement.

One day very soon we may get a text message warning us when one of our appliances is about to fail, long before leaks or spoilage occur and in time to get it repaired without inconvenience.

I suspect that one day in the not too far distant future, tiny sensors will be so thoroughly embedded throughout products that we use that they may help trace the ownership of materials we find illegally dumped in streams and along roadsides.

Shoot, they may even be used one day to trace the lifecycle of plastic grocery bags and other types of plastic film.

I live in Durham, North Carolina where they recently conducted Creek Week, an annual event where volunteers engage in a cleanup coordinated by ten or so city and county agencies along with an equal number of non-profits.

Along 16 miles of streams here at 19 different sites worked by more than 300 volunteers a few weeks ago, two tons of trash was retrieved along with almost 1,500 pounds of recyclables.

Click here and go to page 9 of a report to see the statewide results of this effort last year.

Major components are lightweight plastic grocery bags and polystyrene used for packaging and as eating and drinking utensils.

They also installed a 750 sq, ft. rain garden and planted a couple of dozen trees.

This is part of an effort since 2011 that has resulted in the installation of nearly 100 rain gardens by City Stormwater Services alone, part of nearly 250 “rain catcher” efforts in all.

Rain catchers attempt to hold runoff in place so it can be purified by natural ecoservice providers such as trees, rather than carrying pollutants into waterways and supplies.

No word on whether any forensics were done to identify upstream polluters.

Word is the Sheriff and Police departments refuse to follow up anyway. That is supported by comparing such citations and convictions here with other counties (page 21.)

Sending a signal that it doesn’t care either, the City is also trying to eliminate three solid waste inspectors whose job it is to follow up.

This is what happens when “pie-slicing” is estranged from outcomes, and so-called strategic plans have no overarching strategy.

But I bet if we got serious and traced it back to those who illegally dump garbage including construction waste, old tires, plumbing and kitchen fixtures in urban streams and other litter along roadsides, they would find that isn’t their only illegal behavior.

I am sure if they did, though, violators would scream invasion of privacy, for having sensors laced into products such as those pulled out of the streams that some day would actually make all of us more accountable for harmful actions to others.

Virtually invisible now, if sensors become as prolific as shown in Cisco’s infographic in this blog, then it will become a whole lot easier to address the 4% of Americans who intentionally litter and the 17% who do so out of laziness instead of just cleaning up after themselves.

My thinking that sensors could be useful for follow up or as a deterrent could be reality in six to ten years.

Duke graduate students will soon conduct an assessment for Durham storm water services, of the litter discarded in the part of downtown where storms carry it into watersheds to the north.

The other part of downtown drains to a watershed to the south because this area lies along both sides of ridge where the railroad was run in the mid-1800s.

I hope these students can utilize inexpensive wireless cameras to observe behavior vs. just assessing where I has accumulated.

I’ve mentioned to city and county officials that they could use these cameras as follow up at dumping sites along streams but usually get a response of futility from those involved.

While those who roll their eyes have no better suggestion, I’ve learned that neither the city nor county of Durham has an agency designated for stream clean up, relying instead on these episodic clean up events.

No wonder we/they can’t get a handle on this problem.  Alas, I suspect they also won’t have time to bother following up on data provided by sensors when they become ubiquitous.

Maybe what’s missing among these public servants is passion and determination, not technology.

So far the nod for those attributes seem to go instead to those who pollute streams and roadsides.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Ironic Resistance When Communities Reclaim Assets

You’ll never believe where I first encountered the most grief and resistance when starting Durham, North Carolina’s community destination marketing agency 25 years ago next month.

I shouldn’t have been surprised because I had encountered it in Alaska while polishing off a DMO start up there in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The State Division of Tourism, a statewide counterpart, fought me there when I explained to them that they were listing several cross roads/neighborhoods in Anchorage as though they were separate communities and it was not only inaccurate but it was confusing visitors.

A deputy director blew up at me and insisted I prove they were in the Municipality of Anchorage.  This was pre-Internet but this distinction was easily viewable on maps and of course the state’s own records showing the area covered by municipalities.

They eventually corrected their listings but it taught me a lesson.  Often many in destination marketing just don’t grasp what it entails.  And when confronted, no matter how gently, their first reaction is to try and defend their mistakes.

When I arrived in Durham, the problem of misidentification was even worse thanks to a bewildering policy adopted in the 1980s by the United States Postal Service no less, and one of the reasons this institution has become less relevant.

To the consternation of the National League of Cities, the USPS had begun assigning street delivery addresses based not on physical location but based on wherever the mail carrier was based.  So you could live in one city but have as your mailing address another city because the person who delivered your mail was based there.  Yes, go figure.

This was and still is incredibly confusing to visitors but thankfully, GPS only recognizes true locations, not mistaken identities.  But back then GPS, which was fostered by the U.S. military in the 1950s and 1960s, was just that year being made available to private enterprises such as Magellan for commercial use.

So when I arrived in Durham, I found its assets scattered in state publications under two different “R’s”, the “M’s”, two different “B’s”, and the “C’s.  Only a fraction could be found under the “D’s” where they all belonged.

So I dialed up an old friend who was running the Division of Tourism and he had the person over listings call me back.  But again, instead of addressing the situation and immediately consolidating all of Durham under Durham, I was, again, met with incredible resistance.

To be fair, no one back then could understand why the USPS had begun playing fast and loose with physical locations.  Because Durham had an incredibly proactive planning director back then, Paul Norby, together we got the addresses for 5,000 businesses corrected but many remain mis-assigned today.Unfair Datestamp

This is also why a friend and former mayor of Durham was forced to have a Chapel Hill address, meaning his mail came from a post office there.

Snail mail is increasingly irrelevant now.  But back when it was, Durham initiated a collaboration with DMO execs and chamber execs in this region to persuade the regional mail processing center not to stamp “Raleigh” on letters regardless of the origin.

It was not only offensive to other communities but misleading not to mention undermining back when competitive bids for various types of visitor business were submitted by snail mail.

Instead, based on our collective request, the facility agreed to substitute ”Research Triangle Region” as the postmark instead.  But someone new must have come along and added “Raleigh” back in above it.

Even though some of the faces have changed, the agreement was on behalf of organizations not individuals, and I assume someone will soon dust off that agreement and re-connect the dots.

Eventually I was able to get all of Durham’s assets listed under Durham in state publications.  Then came several years of chasing down and correcting hundreds of national directories that had been similarly contaminated.

This also involved explaining that the mail designation Research Triangle Park based here was a Durham postal substation and vanity designation, not a city.

Diligence in this regard is an important part of protecting and shaping community identity, but not one that many DMO counterparts face because they are the beneficiaries of the confusion, having assets in other communities misattributed to theirs.

In my first DMO startup for Spokane, I had benefited from misattribution and quickly gained empathy for other communities whose identities were compromised and for the confusion it caused travelers.

Unfortunately, playing the “ethics” card is often the only way to get communities that benefit from misinformation and misattribution to embrace “truth in addressing.”  In Durham, we even put it in writing in an agreement with surrounding communities but whenever someone comes along who is clueless, it has to be dusted off again.

I also ran into the problem with associations holding state, regional and national conventions in Durham.  One such association represented by someone who was director of the state division of tourism in the decade before I arrived, did everything it could to not reveal that the location of its meeting was in Durham.

I thought, because of his former position, it would be easy to resolve but instead, I had to endure a lot of verbal and email abuse before finally getting the correct location noted.  And this was 16 years after we started Durham’s community marketing agency!

Not a fun part of DMO work but one you can’t walk away from.  No amount of promotion alone can overcome this type of misinformation.  It’s why 2/3rds of community marketing is actually about “lowering barriers.”

A lesson I learned during my career is that just because someone has DMO experience doesn’t mean they don’t harbor resentment, jealousy or even bigotry toward other communities.  It is also why it is more important than ever that DMO execs signs codes of ethics.

Durham is considered “cool” now thanks in large part to the work its DMO did dating back to 1989.  But as illustrated by quotes from more than a few state elected officials in recent years, the job isn’t finished.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Putting A Wider Lens On A Techno-Curmudgeon

On a Mother’s Day phone call, my mom was schmoozing me with how glad she was that different than the vast majority of people my age (65), I still keep up with new technologies.

This from a rising 86-year-old woman who, while nearly totally blind, uses a cell phone and is only taking a break from using magnifying software to email exchanges with friends.

My parents both embraced technology while I was growing up but during the call, mom shed light on why my rancher-paternal grandfather refused to give in to tractors.

Well into my youth I watched as Mel Bowman stubbornly insisted on using his beloved teams of draft horses throughout the 1950s to rake hay after my dad had mechanically cut it and before he bailed it.  It is one of my iconic images of my grandfather who died when I was in high school.

I remembered that while guiding that team of horses, Duke and Bally, he was approximately the age I am now.

But I also recalled something else as my mom explained that grandpa thought tractors were wasteful because they were hard to maneuver into corners of the meadow or in fields where we grew grains to feed our livestock.

My grandpa was born in 1888, just as the steam power of the First Industrial Revolution was about to give way to the petroleum-driven Second.  It’s similar to my grandsons being born as the Second Industrial Revolution began to cave to the renewable-energy that will soon dominate the Third.

He had been too young at age 5 when his father’s bay horse, Darby, was taken 100 miles south of his birthplace by rail in 1903 to be ridden by a cousin instead when U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his victorious Rough Riders were given a parade in Salt Lake City.

Coincidentally, the Black Troops of the Twenty-fourth Regiment, who had stormed San Juan Ridge alongside the Roughriders, were the first activated for the Spanish-American War while stationed at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake.00512_p_10aeuyf6sw0636_z

These troops from the south had already been welcomed home with a parade less than six years earlier and those killed honored each Decoration Day.

Grandpa was able to go to Logan, Utah with his family to see a performance of “Buffalo Bill” Cody starring in the Ringling Bros. Circus.

When he was ten, he and Darby pulled a two wheel cart loaded with milk cans each day to a “chessery” in High Creek, Utah whose power was generated by “treading” sheep or a small pony.

Soon he earned enough money hauling away brush from fields that were cleared to buy his own horse, “Queen” and watched as grain was ground into flour still using a water wheel for power.

When he was 12, grandpa learned to drive the team of twelve horses that powered the first thrashing machine in that area which was owned by his grandfather, my great-great grandfather, Hyrum Webster Bowman.

A step in that process was running the grain, once it was cut, through a stationary machine powered by steam.

When he was 16, four years before the area became Cache National Forest, he and his brother used horses to bring timber cut up in High Creek Canyon back down 3,000 vertical feet to a sawmill started by his grandfather and still powered by water wheel, earning a percentage of the lumber sold back then for $19 per thousand feet.

When grandpa was 19, he helped drive their cattle nearly two hundred miles north, where he and his brothers, sister and parents each homesteaded land in the shadow of the Tetons, which grandpa consolidated into our ranch after his brothers moved on to other pursuits and his parents died.

To also earn additional income, he and his brother George bought the second steam-threshing machine in that area and contracted to harvest all of the grain on farms and ranches for miles around.

Then they started a sawmill using a steam engine on Sand Creek, hauling logs to it from Antelope Creek then using horses again to haul the sawed lumber to the Fogg and Jacob store in St. Anthony for $20 per thousand feet, half in store credit.

He and his brother furnished the lumber for Alma Blanchard’s first dance hall along the Henry’s Fork near Chester.  In his personal history he also mentions that his coop used a bulldozer to improve on the dirt dam they had built up at Arcadia to bring water to the meadows.

They also hauled loads of cement one winter from the railhead in Ashton, up over the Tetons for a dam being built on Jackson Lake.

So as we can see, he wasn’t always resistant to new technology, far from it.

I think that in the last stage of his life though, he just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his life-long love of raising, training and using horses had come to an end between the two world wars.

Think of the span in the play and in Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning movie, “War Horse.”

My dad, who was a tanker during the latter of the two wars, came home highly aware of the power of technology, but growing up I viewed my grandfather’s stubbornness through a far too narrow lens because I, too, loved his draft teams as well as the saddle horses we used to herd cattle.

As my mom says, he gave pragmatic reasons for his resistance to gasoline-powered tractors but I also believe it broke his heart to see his horses replaced by technology of a new age.

I wish I had talked to him about it back then rather than stereotyping him.  I should have suspected there was more to the story because he had learned to drive and he and I tooled around in a cool Korean War era Jeep that eventually my grandparents gave to me.

I believe I would have learned had I probed, that his resistance at that late stage of his life was actually more about nostalgia and loyalty than resistance to technology.

For more than 200 years, horses had been a revolutionary, highly disruptive technology along both sides of the central Rockies after Cheyenne introduced them to Shoshone for mobility and buffalo hunting.

I may harbor a similar technological nostalgia by driving a descendent of that old Jeep he and my grandmother gave me when I turned 15. A remnant of a gasoline-fueled engines that will soon become a thing of the past.

For similar reasons I have kept their “pass-me-down” early 1900s Underwood typewriter, even though typewriters were replaced by keyboards ten years into my now-concluded, four-decade career in community destination marketing.

Looking back, it is clear that more than I realize, the early adoption of technology I used during my career flowed from gene pools on both sides of my inheritance.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Never Underestimate The Power of Artifacts

Some really cool people are making the Museum of Durham History a reality.  But from the outset, a few have been petrified of being in the “artifact” business.

Granted I am an artifact junkie.  In my former career, I kidded unmercifully the now retired head of our local science museum for giving away a very cool 1942 DC-3 to another museum.

It had been purchased from the military by Western Airlines the year before I was born and then sold to Piedmont Airlines in North Carolina and flown as the Potomac Pacemaker from 1956, when I was the age of my grandsons now, until 1965 when I was a senior in high school.

During that span, the plane most certainly flew in and out of RDU International Airport which is co-owned by Durham, but through Raleigh subterfuge (see page 6), the other co-owner had the name  switched out of alphabetical order.

In fact, in the image below, that very well could be the Potomac Pacemaker sitting in front of the RDU terminal in the late 1950s.  Piedmont few in and out of RDU from the airline’s inception in 1948 when it was founded in Winston-Salem, NC.

When I was growing up, we either took livestock for auction to Bozeman or Idaho Falls which are very roughly equidistant from our ancestral ranch in the Yellowstone—Teton nook of Idaho.

When the choice was Idaho Falls, my paternal grandfather, who was born in 1888, loved to go out to the old airport that had been built there in the 1930s by the WPA and watch Western Air Express prop planes such as the DC-3 take off and land on routes from Montana to California.

A decade after it was retired, the Potomac Pacemaker was salvaged and then donated to the Durham-based NC Museum of Life & Science in 1978 by Durham-native Dillard Teer and his family.

The Teer family has been prominent in Durham now for 125 years, having built the Blue Ridge Parkway and many of the major roads in North Carolina.

They also owned and operated the Durham & Southern railway, built airfields around the world including RDU’s in 1939, developed Research Triangle Park here, and through several generations have served on the RDU Airport Authority.

The family carefully trucked the historic aircraft to the Durham museum where it was lovingly restored and mounted for display by former employees of Piedmont.

When I moved to Durham in June of 1989, I was intrigued by Piedmont Airlines which had been founded in North Carolina the year I was born, only to be gobbled up by US Airways three months after I arrived here.

To me, that made the Potomac Pacemaker mounted at the Museum of Life and Science a valuable visitor feature as well as a significant symbol of Durham’s history.

Of course, had it been retained instead of given away in 2004, it would be too large to be displayed inside what will eventually be a full-fledged Museum of Durham History, unless hung from a vaulted ceiling.

But the old DC-3 could have been mounted at the front entrance of the eventual local history museum as an icon, much as this Mercury Redstone Rocket does today for the Museum of Life and Science.

One only has to look at the front-page news about the recent reclamation of one of Durham’s 1949 fire trucks which will join two others, one from 1902 and another from 1935, in yet another mini-museum, to see how artifacts capture the public’s enthusiasm.

Maybe my friend, the former director, who parted ways with the Potomac Pacemaker is serving penance by being a driving force in retirement for a Museum of Durham History (smile.)

Instead, the Potomac Pacemaker is now in loving hands of volunteers again who are fully restoring it for display one day at the state Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC.

It was given away ten years ago as museums fell under the spell of interactive exhibits, especially for children.  But soon it became clear even to museums created during this span, that it is the genuine artifacts that garner the most attention and create a sense of awe.

It is both/and, never either/or.

By not wanting to be in the “artifact business,” I assume some who are laying the groundwork for the Museum of Durham History (now represented by a hub-avatar) probably fear that people like me will show up with their grandfather’s collection of old National Geographic magazines (smile.)

But museums don’t need to tie themselves down by vetting potential donations.  They could use trained volunteers or contract with entities that do that sort of thing.  We’ve all seen this vetting at work on TV shows such as Antique Roadshow, American Pickers or even Pawn Stars.

The primary importance of history museums, especially local history museums, is the telling of stories.  A recent essay posted by the Smithsonian explains why artifacts are so powerful, far more powerful than just photographs or videos:

  • Artifacts tell their own stories.
  • Artifacts connect people.
  • Artifacts mean many things.
  • Artifacts capture moments.
  • Artifacts reflect changes.

The authors note that (paragraphing inserted for ease of reading):

“Artifacts are the touchstones that bring memories and meanings to life. They make history real. Moreover, it is a reality that can and should be viewed from different perspectives.

When museums choose not to enshrine and isolate an artifact but instead open it up to new interpretations and different points of view, they provide opportunities to challenge and enhance our understanding of the past.”

Anything but static, “consider each artifact with its many stories as holding diverse meanings for different people, past and present. Think of them as bits of contested history.”

The authors of the essay, National Museum of American History curator Kathleen Kendrick and Dr. Steven Lubar at Brown University, have written several books both together and separately about the legacies of artifacts and what is worth saving.

Because Durham officials have delayed what has for eight decades (half of Durham’s existence) been a top cultural priority among Durham residents as measured most recently during a cultural master planning process, thousands of invaluable artifacts have been dispersed around the world.

Many are in landfills, but many were hopefully plucked by collectors from garage and estate sales when distant decedents of Durham owners, ignorant of their significance, put them on sale or discarded them after cleaning out attics.

This means the Museum of Durham History, when finally fully enabled, will need to put out calls to collectors and pickers for invaluable but forgotten Durham heirlooms and hope they can at least be loaned to the museum.

One only has to watch and observe visitors to the three state historic sites in Durham (mini-museums) to see how significant artifacts are.  Each site has hidden away details on how to relocate hundreds more than they have room to put on display.

With each passing day, Durham loses more and more of its history.  For those still puzzled about why we should care, here are just a few reasons a Museum of Durham History, stocked with both artifacts and the latest technology, is crucial:

  • Story Telling. It will give children, students, newcomers and relocating executives a place to get in touch with Durham’s story. People who grasp that stories are more inclined to be engaged as activists, volunteers and philanthropy.
  • Synergy. It will augment Durham’s historic sites by providing exhibition space to stir interest in those locations, making them more sustainable. It will complement rather than undermine other cultural facilities and programming.
  • Preservation. It will be a vigilant testimony to what makes the community distinct and unique and insulate its character and personality from the pressures of development and “generica.”
  • Future Generations. As a repository of innovations and artifacts, it will inspire future generations to build on the temporal qualities that make Durham, well, Durham…creative, entrepreneurial, caring, innovative, accepting, etc.

My dad was notoriously unsentimental about artifacts but through the last few decades of his life he learned to ask me first before disposing of old equipment and memorabilia.

Unfortunately, this was too late to salvage tack from the ranch or my great-grandfather’s branding irons.

Never underestimate the power of artifacts.