Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gallup’s Link Between Travel and Well-Being

I spent a four decade career helping people make decisions about where to travel, trusting if the fit was right for the three communities I promoted, that they would become a source of economic and cultural development.

The U.S. Travel Association, a trade group for the five or six different industries that benefit most from visitors has a website called Travel Effect that for my sensibilities comes across a little too guilt oriented.

But now Gallup has also established a link between well-being and taking vacations.  It finds that those who earn less than $24,000 a year and still take regular trips actually have a higher well-being score than those who earn $120,000 or more but don’t regularly make time for vacations.

About half of Americans regularly make time for vacations, a higher percentage of Asians and whites and a lower percentage of blacks and Hispanics.

Regular vacation travel is higher among those over age 65 (smile,) and descends by age group to 47% of those aged 18-29.

Most travel these days is for an extended weekend but Americans who can’t afford to travel abroad or on cruises get the same or an even greater uptick from short excursions or drives to see relatives.

Hopefully, questions can be asked in the future that distinguish the effects related to different types of travel.  I suspect it is much higher for visiting friends and relatives or leisure than it is for business travel, conventions or medical treatment.

Gallup is clear though that the causal path underlying the relationship between travel and well-being isn’t clear.  It is possible that Americans who travel had a higher well-being to begin with or were more inclined than those with lower well-being.

Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Self-Gifting Delusion

In late 2011 television news outlets signaled that paid newspaper circulation (total weekday and Sunday) was close to slipping below 40 million, a decline of 32% over two decades.

But less than 24 months later, those same outlets gave little notice when cable TV, now known as “legacy television subscription” slipped below that same threshold, having dropped more than 10% in less than three years alone.

When we cut the cord entirely in our house in 2010, television executives were arguing that the phenomenon was economic in nature, not the result of disruptive technology.

But by the end of 2011, 11% were considering doing so and a study in 2012 showed that 25% of legacy television subscribers planned to drop that service over the next five years.  Taking cord-shavers into account, the drop is becoming more precipitous than what hit newspapers.

Newspaper executives were astonished at the speed with which their business model was undercut by the Internet in the 1990s but not nearly in as much denial as landline telephone services were when the smartphone did the same to that technology less than a decade later.

It took less than a year after Netflix began streaming in 2007 for cord-cutting to move from fad to an accelerating trend.

Having good data is not an antidote for being delusional, nor is television the only industry in such gross denial.

In my former profession of community marketing, there are still far too many obsessed with visitor segments that have long been in decline such as conventions, pushing or enabling cities to build mega-facilities and then spending huge subsides on out of town groups that typically displace more tourism than they could ever create.

Evidence that this is a form of insanity has been available since the 1980s.  Similarly, community marketers and television executives often collude to subsidize huge sports events which also displace more economic impact than they create.

Corruption is rarely involved, unless it is lobbying, a form of legal corruption.  Just denial.

New media is at its worst when covering news media.  Listen in the build up to the Super Bowl as an example.  No it isn’t more popular than ever.

No the ads aren’t a turn on.  They turn off 1.2 viewers for every one viewer motivated to search for more info or buy something or feels made more aware.

The hugely expensive ads have a negative return.  So who is in denial?  Denial is a cooperative enabler and in this case, it includes the news media, advertising agencies, advertisers and about half of viewers.

One of the above is being ripped off,  But television may be the one being ripped off by convoluted data regarding the huge disruption now underway.  Instead of forewarning executives and stockholders to take significant action, it is full of mixed signals, in part, to desperately cling to the status quo.

All of this came to mind recently as I watched a presentation by arborists working for one of the nation’s largest utilities.  The presentation was quick to assign the costs of outages to trees but not to the fact that the utility lines should have been undergrounded decades ago.

The presentation was also clear that the lower lines running from pole to pole desecrating neighborhoods, home values and community scenic stature did not belong to the utility.

They belong to cable and land-line telephone companies and other utilities that are as obsolete as running the lines above ground.

It is the free market at its most irresponsible, unless you also factor in the obsolete use of coal to generate the power.

Free or freeloading?

These businesses are trapped in antiquated and unsustainable business models.  But waiting for them to adopt full-cost accounting or to write off stranded infrastructure is about as feasible as expecting lawmakers to see past the obfuscation created by billboard lobbyists, on behalf of another dead business model.

A new study indicates that nearly 6-in-10 shoppers in the US are self-gifters.  Maybe our only hope is to gift our communities the infrastructure to put these obsolete technologies underground.

We’re paying through the nose anyway.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A List of Names Never Forgotten

I wonder, “For how many decades can useful DNA cling to an old horseshoe?”

In the early 1970s, when she sold the house my grandfather had relocated from a parcel that they had assembled as part of our ancestral ranch down, she had one last thing to do before living in shifts with her four children.

The old house had originally belonged to my great-grandparents.  Moving it down to Main and Third in Saint Anthony, Idaho and fitting it above a new basement probably cost more than a new house but it had been where my great-grandmother died during the Great Influenza.

As she packed possessions to move, my Grandmother Adah made sure a heavy box of artifacts was shipped to me where I was just completing college.

In the box were pairs of horseshoes that had been worn by favorite horses trained and bred by my great grandfather and grandfather.  Each had been mounted on a beam in the basement etched with the names of the horses, Darby, Baby Queen, Bill, Thousand Springs and Senator Dubois.

Unfortunately, my grandmother didn’t keep them in any order, nor did she write down the names,  but they were made indelible in my memory from hearing and seeing my grandfather use them to tell the story of the long line of horsemen and horsewomen from which we are descended.

I remember when I was age 8 or so, helping grandpa add a pair while he held me up to print the name Dolly above them, the name of one of the five draft horses he had kept on the ranch after turning it over to my parents to operate after dad returned from WWII.

Not all of the horses named along the beam were work horses such as Gypsy had been, a pure black hand me down quarter horse, given to me as my first horse when I was age five.

Some were used for breeding quarter horses and/or raced and paraded as thoroughbreds at surrounding community celebrations.

The fame of some of those horses extended beyond their mythical esteem in my eyes.  Darby had been ridden in the parade in Salt Lake City for Theodore Roosevelt and his Roughriders.

Queen was trained by my great grandfather and given to my grandfather as a boy.   Bill was the first horse my grandfather trained and raced in community celebrations and rodeos.  Bill ran a quarter mile in 24 seconds once.

My great grandfather bought Senator Dubois as a retired racehorse.  Even at 20 years old, Senator turned in a quarter mile in 22.5 seconds when ridden by my grandfather in one of the early War Bonnet Roundups down in Idaho Falls.

Winning the 3/8ths mile event, it was the last for both of them.  Newly married, my grandmother, who would work right alongside my grandfather while training horses as well as mules, felt it was too dangerous.

Or to hear his version, at age 25, he was getting too heavy to race.

The War Bonnet started in 1911, and they were married in 1914, to give an idea of the timeframe.

One of my great grandfather’s contemporaries was the real Senator Fred Thomas Dubois (pronounced in Idaho and Wyoming with heavy emphasis on DEW followed by a quick tailing boys,) rather than the way his French Canadian parents had intended.

There is a tiny town named for him about 50 miles west of our ranch and another about 160 miles east in Wyoming. I suspect they were named for him because he broke with his party to support conservation and not because he did everything possible to disenfranchise Mormons prior to statehood.

Dubois first came to Idaho as the US Marshall for the territory about three decades after my ancestors settled along the Rockies.  At the time he was first appointed Senator of the territory, Mormons began settling up in the furthest nook of the Upper Snake.

He was not reappointed after his second term and left Idaho for good about the time our ancestral ranch was forged a mile west of the Henry’s Fork River, the closest you can be to Montana and Wyoming and still be in Idaho.

I suspect the irony was not lost on tiny Mormon settlements along the Tetons as my great grandfather and grandfather rode Senator Dubois at celebrations and in parades.

I doubt that being able to see the names along the beam in that 1915 house, which is still in use at 3rd and Main, would not help me specifically tie the shoes back to their owners.

But one set could probably be identified by DNA as belonging Thousand Springs.  He was a grandson of Man o’ War (shown in the image in this post,) arguably the greatest horse to ever race.

When he was 30 years old, Man o’ War died of heart failure seven months before I was born in mid-1948 but more than fifty years later, horsemen in a poll still ranked him America’s “Horse of the Century.”

In the era between WWI and the 1930s, horseracing, along with track and field, were the most popular sports in America; the NFL, NBA and MLB of that period.  In the wake of WWI, Man ‘ War inspired the entire nation.

I never knew his grandson Thousand Springs and my family’s tie to the great horse.  My grandfather felt he was a bit temperamental and mean,  but he is still legend enough in that Teton-Yellowstone nook of Idaho to be mentioned in books alongside my great grandfather who died in late 1936.

Thousand Springs is a cousin to Seabiscuit, made famous in the early 2000s in a book, documentary and movie including a memorable Randy Newman soundtrack.  Seabiscuit inspired Americans during the Great Depression as his grandfather had done after WWI.

With a two car garage in place of my grandmother’s famous flower garden, the Saint Anthony house is still there at 249 W. Main Street a block equitant from the Catholic Church and the Henry’s Fork.

So I suspect I could track down the current owners and learn if there are any names etched on that beam that I may have forgotten.

At age 31, Gypsy, horse I inherited as a hand-me-down from my father when I was five years old, died not long after I left for college.

Grandpa had passed away two years before and I never had the heart to check during visits home with grandma to see if a pair of Gypsy’s shoes were up on that beam.

I suspect not, although my Bowman side was pretty stoic except when it came to horses.   Whenever that big black cross between a Belgian draft horse and possibly one of those thoroughbreds crosses my mind so does her scent when I would blow into her nostrils as a sign of affection.

When she moved out of her house in the early 1970s and began rotating her time with each of her four children including my dad, her youngest and only son, Grandma Adah made certain a set of artifacts made its way to me at college.

They were pairs of horseshoes my grandfather had nailed to a beam in the basement of their home in St. Anthony, Idaho and that he used as I was coming up to repeatedly tell me the story behind each pair and about the long line of horsemen from which I descended.

They are priceless even without the specifics because they were the means by which my grandfather would tell me our family’s story, the same reason they are so pivotal to history museums.

One set belonged to Thousand Springs, a grandson of Man o’ War, arguable the greatest thoroughbred racehorse of all time and familiar to fans of books, movies, musicals and documentaries as the grandfather of a cousin, Seabiscuit.

At the age of 30, Man o’ War died of heart failure, seven months before I was born in mid-1948 a few years after horseracing slipped in decline except for the Triple Crown.

But more than five decades later, a poll that included horsemen declared him the American race “horse of the century.”

I descend from a long line of horsemen but even as the only son of an only son and the end of that line in both talent and name.

Already my eye had been caught by the cool 1950s cars St. Anthony Motors would then showcase right on the street where we turned off the old Yellowstone Highway for the two blocks to Grandpa and Grandma’s house, by backing them in at an angle.

That heritage today is carried on in the Pacific Northwest by my niece Megan, a stalwart at REI, who learned her lifelong love for horses when very young while going to the racetrack with her grandpa.

I can bet they spent most of their time in the stables and saddling paddock where accompanies by escort ponies, horses and riders warm up before a race.

Friday, December 19, 2014

My Apologies

My apologies to regular readers for the sudden “radio silence.”  I had hoped to add a few more to the 238 essays posted this year but that will have to wait until year end.IMG_1162

I got caught up in logistics as well as some fascinating new research discoveries you now have to wait to hear about until after a planned holiday hiatus.

Can’t believe has now been five years since I retired and slipped into obscurity, except for these posts and whenever the local Herald-Sun lifts one up, with standing permission, to republish as a guest editorial, perhaps to confirm I am still exist (smile.)

Life is good and as you can see, my English Bulldog Mugsy waits patiently for a road trip.

Best to you and yours as we ready for 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A More Inclusive Way To View Performance

Durham, North Carolina where I finished my career and still live in retirement just issued a report on how well the convention center here has been doing at erasing operating deficits.

There were some inconsistencies and misperceptions.

At both the city and county levels, Durham has always had excellent professional management during my twenty-five years here and none more so that under Tom Bonfield as city manager.

Governments at every level are not known for being able to fully account for and allot both revenues and costs to facilities. But neither are those in the free market economy.  More on that later including a new approach applicable to all sectors.

The convention center in Durham was always expected to run a deficit.

Back in the day when consultants weren’t punished for being candid with both pros and cons and most were not for sale, the consultant for the proposed Durham convention center projected a $450,000 annual deficit, which would be $1.8 million today.

But thanks to new management it now runs a $167,000 deficit and that is without fully attributing all related revenues.

For instance, if parking and ticket assessments are being used to make DPACs performance look even better, as they should, it seems the city should attribute revenues from the lease of “air rights” above it to the convention center’s bottom line.

The convention center here has always been hampered from harvesting more than its share of the out-of-town conventions and meetings drawn to Durham overall by having far too few hotel rooms in walking distance.

That is about to be more than remedied when by this summer the number of guest rooms at or within less than a block will increase nearly double to nearly 400 and another 259 within a few blocks.

A few are made feasible by revitalization but a good share are due to incessant communication, over nearly three decades now, by Durham’s marketing agency to point out downtown’s strategic location.

It is four miles from Research Triangle Park, adjacent to one Duke campus and two miles from Duke’s main campus and that of North Carolina Central University, as well as the most proximate to dining and entertainment districts.

But as the new management company has proven, the original management company back in 1989 could have closed the gap, had it not cursed the facility with a convoluted identity and a sense of entitlement.

When it opened, it not only made sense to contract management with the adjacent hotel owner but that contract was calibrated as an incentive by essentially covering all of the private hotel’s fixed costs.

But instead, the hotel company tried to brand the convention center merely as its private meeting space while still demanding preferential treatment, if not sole-sourcing to out-of-town groups selecting venues.

The city and county bear some responsibility for their own self-inflicted deficits by being passive until a few years ago with everyone except Durham’s marketing agency which it insisted must refer to the facility by it true identity while somehow dealing with the obfuscation it tolerated  elsewhere.

I cringed when news reports repeated (although in much more genteel language) an urban legend that somehow Durham’s community marketing agency felt “uncomfortable” with the arrangement inferring less had been done for the convention center back when I ran the DMO.

The cardinal rule for a DMO is to do what’s best for the community as a whole when it comes to optimizing visitation including the 10% who attend conventions, while maintaining a level playing field.

When it comes to attracting out-of-town meetings, this isn’t just about being fair to local stakeholders such as hotels and other privately-owned meeting space as well as the convention center but to be absolutely fair to meeting planners and organizers.

The job of a DMO is to draw attention to Durham and then assist while meeting planners and other site selectors make the best decision for their groups as to which venue and part of town are best for their needs.

It is up to each facility including the convention center by that point to close the deal and harvest their share while the DMO provides level platforms for information.

A few community DMOs play favorites, but it is at their peril as has been so often proven, including elsewhere in North Carolina.

However, a level playing field meant that the Durham DMO always did much more to promote downtown Durham, and thus the convention center, than it did for other facilities.

We made sure the other facilities understood why, but that this extra effort would stop short of ever “sole-sourcing” the convention center to a meeting planner which is what the management company and owner of the adjacent hotel demanded.

What did we do extra?  A special section on downtown including several pages of schematics on the convention center, dining maps to show proximity of restaurants, a walking tour, a time/distance/frequency shuttle schedule to and from other hotels and facilities to name just a few examples.

We even intervened to smooth over relations between the convention center management and planners from time to time back then when a sense of entitlement threatened to poison the site selection process.

But none of this overcame the primary reason the convention center performance was limited – the lack of nearby hotel rooms.

Of course there were market trends to blame.  The facility opened just as the nation’s meeting planners shifted preferences to hotel meeting facilities and away from downtowns and conventions centers because the number of facilities rapidly increased, while the number of conventions went into a long slow decline,

That is still underway today.

Until now, Durham’s local governments have avoided the slippery slope many communities have fallen down when they disguise deficits by creating special slush funds to pay out of town groups subsidies to use certain facilities.

Durham visitation outperforms those communities that do “pay for business” according to analyses of participation in activities such as conventions, sports and performing arts where that tactic is used.

Sadly, community marketing organizations and chambers of commerce are often the ones leading communities over this cliff.  But ultimately, the problem is not just a failure to understand the law of supply and demand.

If instead of subsidizing events, cities and counties as well as surrogates such as DMOs and chambers, where they contract other, traditional economic development services, would adopt full cost as well as full attribution accounting, they could make or recommend much better decisions.

This would be looking at the benefits as well as costs of events and facilities more holistically, like an ecosystem.

Maybe the convention center deserves partial credit for an event its existence helped intrigue even when another local facility in the community is selected.

Maybe the Museum of Life & Science deserves partial credit for increased property values in surrounding neighborhoods.  Maybe facilities and events that cannibalize underwriting, should deduct that from overall an event’s overall impact.

It isn’t as far-fetched or complicated as it sounds.

But cities and counties are not alone in the struggle to adapt accounting to be more consistent and inclusive when it comes to fully allotting costs and benefits.

The free market has long avoided “full cost accounting,” instead pushing what are called negative externalities (certain costs) off on consumers and taxpayers.

Even countries are now being challenged to move beyond merely using GDP (gross domestic product) or inputs minus subsidies in value as a measure of economic health.

An alternative to using only GDP is called IW (inclusive wealth) an approach that measures the positive change in human well-being across generations in a country by factoring in the social value of all capital assets, natural, human and produced.

It is consummately free market, just without opaque freeloading.

It has been under refinement since at least 1987 and linked here is the 2014 Inclusive Wealth Report. It doesn’t reject the value of GDP.  It just takes a much more full-accounting approach to growth, and particularly sustainable growth.

Natural capital includes fossil fuels, minerals, forests including non-timber resources and agricultural land.  Human capital involved education and health.  Produced capital includes equipment, machinery, roads etc.

Add them up and deduct things like oil capital gains and carbon damages and you have an Inclusive Wealth Index.  My interest is in natural capital so I’ve read and re-read the 2012 report with a focus on that area.

Each report gives a rating overall for 140 countries and then zeros in on one of the three areas of capital, sort of like a balance sheet is used by the private sector but far more inclusively.

Accounting and metrics such as these are important because they help individuals, communities, states and countries make decisions with a full understanding of the inherent tradeoffs.

To bring it back to subsidizing events, even when the dollars are raised privately, they didn’t just magically appear without having an adverse impact on areas including other events.

Failing to grasp subtleties such as this is how communities make decisions that gradually hollow out unique sense of place.

Inclusive Wealth is a better way of looking at deficits and surpluses as well as a far more inclusive way of measuring impact.

The sooner it filters down to the local level, the better it will be for communities still able to salvage the distinct sense of place that make them worthy of love by both those who live there but those who visit regardless of purpose.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Rare 2.5%

Over lunch, prior to giving a guest lecture a few months ago, a college professor friend of mind told me I had always been entrepreneurial.

It was a mixed message to me.

The same observation had been made by others but I always took it to mean that during my now concluded career, I had specialized in startups for community marketing three different destinations.

The mixed message came from other friends and associates who criticized me for being too data-driven, for not “thinking big,” for being too strategic and process oriented, even too altruistic.

To them, the latter were not hallmarks of being entrepreneurial which contrasted to their view of me they instead fashioned themselves to be.

It wasn’t until the last few years of my career, when I met Christopher Gergen, who walks the entrepreneurial walk and also teaches innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke University that I began to grasp why he and others such as Dr. Dana Clark at ASU saw me as entrepreneurial.

The idea that entrepreneurism could, in part, be altruistic was also becoming clear to me by then.  The organization I led until retiring five years ago spearheads the Durham’s Annual Tribute Luncheon, in lieu of an annual meeting.

The idea was and maybe still is to shine a light on people who fostered and shaped Durham values and unique sense of place.  In the year I retired, the event honored social entrepreneurs such as my neighbor Kevin McDonald.

Being entrepreneurial has become one of those traits that without any idea of what it means now gets salt and peppered into resumes.

For others who boldly claim to have this trait, I am reminded of a saying by a friend of mine had that “there is only room for one person at a time to stand on principle.”

Actually, being entrepreneurial, as a trait, exists along a spectrum.

Over three decades of research and analysis, Gallup has zeroed in on the ten talents exhibited by successful entrepreneurs.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I score higher than six on all but one of them and through working hard brought that one up to a 4 or 5.

Turns out I score much higher on “thinking big” than I was given credit for by detractors, because as Gallup has ascertained, I took an “analytical approach to challenging or uncertain decisions.”

Who knew?

“Replacing emotion with a rational thought process,” according to Gallup’s findings, “helps accurately calculate their odds of success.”  By this this they mean in the long term and in association with other needs.

Looking at a distribution of entrepreneurial talent nationally, Gallup calculates that just 5% have it at a level that produces “significant superior business performance. 

Gallup also calculates that of those working adults in the US who currently do not own a business, about 2.5% have very high-level entrepreneurial talent.

That’s about 5 million people who could, if tapped, generate an addition $25 trillion into the US economy.

Or a few may get scooped up by community marketing organizations tasked with generating visitor-centric economic and cultural development by guarding and leveraging sense of place.

Judging by Gallup’s calculus, that means for those community DMOs wanting to scoop up an exec with talent for innovation and entrepreneurialism, there would currently be about 15 in the entire U.S. currently at the helm of community marketing organizations.

I know of two and possibly even three running DMOs in North Carolina which matches Gallup’s calculation.  Most communities won’t despair because they don’t value those traits anyway beyond lip-service.

Even those that do and are fortunately to land someone with those talents must be eternally vigilant against some in the community who instead will try to undermine them.

Hopefully, my friends in the program at Appalachian State University are fostering students with natural talent for innovation and entrepreneurism in quantities sure to increase that pool beyond just replacing those who retire.

Gallup ascertains that we are born with certain talents but rarely would anyone be born with very high levels of each of the 10 talents found in high-performing entrepreneurs.

Training, support and development such as education won’t create a talent where it doesn’t exist but they can move someone with those traits up the scale.

That’s why, for instance, I was only able to get one of those traits up to average while some that came easier moved much higher on the scale.

But the challenge for educators seeking to generate a new generation of DMO execs with these traits, it is a challenge.  The typical management program may find that 17% are interested in tourism including 4% who are inclined to DMO management.

Between 2.5% and 5% will have the innate talents to work with that will make them highly successful in as entrepreneurs and innovators. 

Of course, many communities only give those qualities lip-service but for those seeking leadership with those capacities, the odds are very tight.

I hope that colleges now use tests such as Gallup’s StrengthsFinder to help students understand their particular latent talents so they can work at improving them and avoid thinking these can be accumulated merely with coursework or certifications.

When he was younger, one of my grandsons used the term “talkers” to describe news and sports analysts and commentators. Perhaps I am considered one in retirement (smile.)

Many communities now have boosters capable of being “talkers” about the importance of drawing talent.  Being a “talker” is a talent in and of itself.

But this doesn’t mean these people realize how rare entrepreneurial talent is let alone understand the community attributes and values people with those talents find most essential and appealing.

More can often be ascertained by the values a community consistently exhibits across each and every touch point than from any volume of marketing materials.

When it comes to fostering community brand appeal, it is as much about “storydoing” as “storytelling,” and many who are only “talkers” when it comes to attracting talent are betrayed as otherwise by their “storydoing.”

Hubs such as American Underground with two sites in Durham nurturing 158 startups and a satellite in Raleigh with 32 are pivotal.

But venture capital and nurturing become less relevant to retaining entrepreneurial talent when communities fail to exhibit other core values and traits that are important to them.

Only with that understanding and alignment at every touch point across both public policy and every organization related to economic and training will the best and most consistent decisions be made.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Folkloric Key to Telling a Community’s Story

My former field of community marketing is storytelling that involves weaving the history and culture as well as the inherent and distinctive traits and values of a place into a coherent narrative.

The objective is to safeguard a community’s unique sense of place by giving it prominence while helping prospective visitors, which includes more than 8-in-10 newcomers and relocating executives decide if it is a good fit for them while secretly shopping a community.

The trick is not just to be appealing but appealing to the right prospects.  There are several reasons a grasp of folklore comes in handy.

Folklore involves much more than legends and myths.  It begins orally but a good deal of folklore eventually makes it into news stories and sometimes even contaminates any official record before being re-injected back into folklore once again.

This process may be the result of our need as humans to, adapting the words of journalist Bill Moyer, harmonize or re-harmonize our lives from time to time with our stories.

Shaping a community’s story requires not only understanding this process but then relentlessly drilling down through layers of modifications and contemporized revisions to get at the most authentic roots of the story of a particular place, an almost temporal strain.

At about 10 p.m. on October 27th, a mutual friend emailed me with the news that former Durham City Council member, Chuck Grubb, had passed away unexpectedly a few hours earlier.

Chuck and I were only eight months apart in age in 1989 when he was elected to office a few months after I came here to jump start the community’s official marketing organization.

We continued to work on projects from time to time for another two decades during which he repeatedly made me promise that one day I would tell the real story of how Durham saved the Bulls.  More recently, our contact was via social media.

I could never find a time that was right but it will have to come soon.

Now there are only two of us left who really know how much that narrative has been truncated over the years, who know the full story first hand.

Over the years, It always gnawed at him when accounts including those in news reports would neglect to mention this essential piece of the story or when some who were only later involved would have so much to say.

But we also knew that, in part, we were to blame.

Once the turnaround had been achieved, the three of us agreed that first and foremost, it was vital to moving forward for us to help people save face.

Each of the three of us took an assigned role and mine was to absorb any fallout or retribution but we didn’t realize that wouldn’t be entirely possible or how long those resentments would last.

Keeping my promise to Chuck is for another essay.

Patti Sanchez, who graduated from college about that same time, has spent the last 25 years helping organizations such as Apple, Adobe and Oracle tell their stories.

Last summer, she blogged on Harvard Business Review that like the storytelling organizations I led on behalf of three different communities, all businesses and organizations need a designated folklorist on staff.

She describes folklore “in a cultural sense” as “the sum total of anecdotes, artifacts, and rituals that unite a group of people – the common language that creates shared meaning.”

As you can tell, I am not much of a storyteller myself but during my now-concluded career, I led organizations officially tasked with that mission and I had a knack for how to ferret out a community’s story.

In January of 1972, I took an upper level English course in folkloric research at BYU where I studied, in depth, and documented a specific seven month period in 1969 and 1970 and how variations of a story had flowed through a society in the west, even migrating into news reports and back again.

It also works the other way around.  When editors establish a premise before assigning a reporter, even when the facts don’t seem to fit, the story and subsequent headline will still echo the original premise leaving only the few consumers who read in-depth to ferret out the full story.

When I studied folklore, I had my sights on being a lawyer, but it is a course I would highly recommend for anyone who by intent or serendipity finds themselves in a career in community marketing as I did.

There are many ways an understanding of folklore is useful in that career besides finding the common threads that tie contemporary community traits back to their distinctive roots.

One example where understanding folklore came in handy in Durham was unwrapping image issues driven by word of mouth in rival communities or water-cooler myths dispensed by commuters.

These people were literally hijacking Durham’s story and holding it hostage.

A decade before I took that course, a folklore researcher named William Hugh Jansen coined the term “Esoteric-Exoteric” factor.

Esoteric refers to the mystical, subjective conception we have of ourselves [or our community] vs. the exoteric or objective, external conception we have of others.

Another influence in that class were some writings by Joseph Campbell who was just then retiring from Sarah Lawrence College and would continue until his death the year before I came to Durham to write about mythology, the human impulse to create stories.

By the way, last summer Sanchez posted a series of interviews with Christopher Vogler, the author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Writers and Memo from the Story Dept.

He is a Hollywood veteran and disciple of Campbell who lectures and consults on organizational stories.  The videos are approximately 2 to 6 minutes each and a great introduction to consistent elements in folklore.

Sanchez would probably point to a documentary commemorating the 10th anniversary of the adaptive re-use of the old Lucky Strike Factory in Durham, which aired last week on the Raleigh TV station owned by the same company.

It is an excellent example of a firm that fully understands the importance of folklore.

I am amused now from the vantage point of retirement as I read or hear of things that happened long before being repurposed and attributed to contemporary actors, events or developments.

It is very natural for people to reweave narratives to fit current perceptions.  An example is when the story of Yankee soldiers writing back for resupplies of the tobacco they had used while waiting for the culmination of the surrender here that effectively ended the Civil War.

The story about the letters was later rewoven into the story of a person who later came to prominence.  That is an example of one generation reweaving a legend to give contemporary meaning to events and people.

The era we’re in now isn’t the first time this has happened during the course of Durham’s history, nor will it be the last.  But I remember how confusing it could make distilling the community’s narrative.

Maybe that’s why, occasionally with these essays, I try to leave “bread crumbs” for future Durham generations trying to drill down through these conflicting narratives for a longer view.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Raleigh Best Practice

There are several reasons why a community won’t seem to have or value its distinctive sense of place.

The most common is that its boosters and politicians may place emphasis not on what is unique or distinctive but instead on the promotion of mainstream venues and events, chasing after the appearance of seeming “major league.”

The reference was coined as a way to be distinctive but the reality is that a community then becomes just one of many.  For a classic essay on this, click here for a 1997 essay Garrison Keillor penned for Time Magazine.

But research reveals that even visitors, convention planners and relocating executives who may seem to be enthralled with the ubiquitous are always drawn more to authenticity in a place.

Below the surface though, while at risk of being suffocated, these communities usually have pockets of ardent “stayers” vs. “boomers” who work tirelessly to breathe oxygen into its sense of place before it really is too late.

Communities such as Durham, North Carolina can seem to have more of their sense of place remaining, because their community marketing organization hones in on distinctive ingredients and used them as leverage to outperform counterparts in other communities that don’t.

But even in these communities, sense of place remains at risk if it isn’t also embraced by other boosters and politicians.  In fact, taking it for granted, they may be in greater danger of being complacent.

Raleigh, North Carolina, a metro area distinct from Durham with which it shares a co-owned airport located in a community midway between, is one of those places that to many, has seemed to surrender its sense of place.

But below its “mainstream” hype and veneer, there is a valiant cohort fighting to save its soul and because it is so much more at risk, possibly making up with desperation and determination what the community’s distinctiveness lacks in promotional materials and visibility.

Raleigh may look generic because it often gives promotion emphasis to aspects you can find almost anywhere including mega-facilities, but below this mainstream veneer are some incredible sense of place best practices.

Far ahead of Durham, officials there have steadily funded historic assessments not only inventories by neighborhood but by period.  Of course, having a unique sense of place is about far more than just history or historic structures.

For instance, Raleigh had not done as well when it comes to growing indigenous festivals, seeming more interested in importing them or in the natural elements of sense of place, e.g. its tree canopy, which has now shrunk to just 36%.

Evidently, Raleigh failed to heed the unsolicited observations published by America’s soon-to-be foremost architect of sense of place when in the early 1850s it was a village of only 2,500 souls:

“It is hard to admire what is common; and it is, perhaps, asking too much of the citizens of Raleigh, that they should plant for ornament, or even cause to be retained about such institutions as their Lunatic Asylum, the beautiful evergreens that crowd about the town…”

These things are all emblematic of sense of place, which at its core is about values and traits that while not unique are distinctively manifest.  Unlike Durham, Raleigh has not yet plumbed that deep.

When, or if, it does, it may find that placing the ambitions of “boomers” above the values of “stayers,” to adapt the words of Wendell Berry, has always been one of its near-temporal but fatal values.

But I want to share a study just completed for Raleigh that is the envy of many communities concerned about retaining sense of place.  It is a plan unveiled a few months ago that quantifies the value of its historic assets and its cultural identity as part of its economic development, at least on the traditional supply-side.

The study quantifies the role of its historic districts as havens and magnets for creative class workers (knowledge workers) and enterprises as well as various measures of livability including walkability, property values, ownership, stability, diversity and tax base contribution.

It was conducted by a team of real estate and economic development experts led by Donovan Rypkema at PlaceEconomics.  Click here to review slides from a presentation Rypkema made on this topic a few years ago in Mississippi.

What caught my eye is how much more powerful and effective historic tax credits have been as a self-funding form of economic stimulus.

Most of the areas studied in Raleigh have undergone gentrification, yet the analysis documented that historic districts there, at least collectively, have retained a healthy mix of household incomes.

Raleigh is much less diverse than Durham, which no longer has an ethnic or racial majority.  But the historic districts there are more diverse when it comes to whites and African Americans than the Raleigh is as a whole.

For anyone seeking secondary research, a good amount can be gleaned from this report as well.  One reason Raleigh is now the second largest city in North Carolina has been its ability to sprawl out into one of the largest counties in the state, three times larger than Durham County’s footprint.

Before the recession, a friend in economic development there told me that the area surrounding and including Raleigh had been developing at a rate of an acre a minute.

That is far too fast a rate for rational decisions to be made about sense of place.  In fact, in the thirty years prior to the great recession of 2008, The county including Raleigh increased impervious surface by 7.6 acres a day.

Ironically, Durham may owe some of it sense of place to Raleigh.  A third of Durham was set aside in watershed and a huge reservoir that fueled Raleigh’s much-too-rapid growth, while incessant bad-mouthing of Durham may have also helped tap the breaks on Durham growth.

But it was interesting to note in the PlaceEconomics report that a little more than a hundred years ago, Raleigh’s population density was three times what it is today.  Development such as this puts incredible pressure on taxes.

This is not only because residential development does not pay for itself but because with sprawl, while the tax paid by individual units is higher, the tax revenue generated per square foot and per acre plummets.  Meanwhile, the cost of replacing infrastructure is much higher in newer developed areas than it is in historic districts.

Myrick Howard, a native of Durham who lives in Raleigh as head of Preservation North Carolina recently penned a very thoughtful piece entitled Ten Reasons Historic Preservation Matters for North Carolina.

He touches only briefly on tourism.  But I know from the metrics, that communities, such as Durham, that put their authenticity and distinct sense of place forward in their community marketing are outperforming those that focus instead on mainstream facilities and events.

Even more intriguing, those that do the former also outperform or at least hold their own for visitor participation in less authentic areas such as performing arts, sports and conventions.

Want the best of both?  Always lead with what’s distinctive and authentic about a community.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mesmerized By A Storytelling Image In Uncle Albert’s Store

One of my earliest influences for my career may have come from gazing at old posters in my Uncle Albert’s sporting goods store on visits to St. Anthony, population 2,700 and the “big city” in Fremont County, Idaho, back when I was coming up.

It was an image I had first found on an old tin in a landfill not far from an abandoned house about 14 miles upriver on our ancestral ranch that had belonged to my great-grandparents that first tweaked my interest.

In those days, my friends and I would self-identify with brands but not just those such as the HB branding irons used on our ranch.

We tended to affiliate with either Farmall or John Deere, Winchester or Remington, Percheron or Belgian, Ford or Chevy, Yankees or Dodgers, cow-pie-kickers or potato-heads (smile) and when re-enacting the Civil War, either Blue or Gray.

My preferences were Farmall, Winchester, Belgian, Ford, Yankees (baseball,) Pie-kicker (rancher,) and Blue because, well, they were familial preferences, except when my renegade dad was an outlier, e.g. De Soto and Oliver.

One particular image, the one I found in that land fill and then saw hanging near the entrance to the back room in my uncle’s store came back to me recently when I saw a logo on a made-to-look old and weathered label hung from the button on a made-to-look worn shirt.Remington Poster The Right of Way

The illustration, entitled “Right of Way” had significance to me because my great (x3) grandfather Graham had been killed by a Grizzly Bear in 1864 when he was 57 years old.

Shown in the image in this blog, it was created for Remington which is signified not only by the logo but because that is a Model 8 rifle in the hand of the figure shown.

The image was one of many created during the golden age of illustration by Phillip R. Goodwin, a contemporary of all of my great-grandparents.

So what does this have to do with my preference for Winchester rifles back then?  Goodwin also created that company’s famous “horse and rider” logo shown at this link.

Winchester and Remington both wanted images that would tell stories.  They not only used them in print publications but on much more effective content marketing, as we call it now, such as those calendars and posters.

Content marketing is when the advertiser provides something of value to the consumer to draw attention rather than just yelling at them to buy their product, as is done so much in traditional advertising.

Websites when they are well done, are a type of content marketing.  So is sharing research findings.

Goodwin was from Connecticut and schooled in Rhode Island and New York but he specialized in the far west and wildlife and insisted on visiting the places he depicted,

He was also a stickler for using accurate detail down to the clothing worn.

At only 22, he illustrated the first edition of Jack London’s Call of the Wild but my earliest experience with that book was repeatedly paging through the 1952 Classics Illustrated version illustrated by Maurice De Bourgo while my parents or grandparents read the captions to me.

For many of my generation, these comics ignited a love of reading similar to how books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid did for my grandsons.

I fondly remember sitting in the bay window of the tiny IGA store near where we lived and paging through the new arrivals while my mom picked out groceries.

My family’s predilection for Winchester’s vs. Remington’s probably had to do with the former’s focus on saddle guns vs. shotguns at the time.

I still treasure a hand-me-down heirloom Winchester Model 1894 .32 WS Saddle-Ring Carbine (similar to this one) that graces one of the walls in our house.

I haven’t fired a live round in more than 25 years but holding that old family artifact reminds me that another reason I liked Winchesters was because most, including that hand-me-down carbine, were designed by another contemporary of my great-grandparents, John M. Browning.

Browning was a devout Mormon from Ogden, Utah who had a gift for designing firearms including that Remington Model 8 in that image above by Goodwin.

If he didn’t know any of my great-grandparents, his father would have known nearly all of their parents as a few thousand prepared during the mid-1840s for the journey into the Rockies.

His father had a gun smith shop in Nauvoo, Illinois a few blocks from where one of my great-great grandfathers was a wheelwright and another great (x3) grandfather served as the town’s chief of police.

J.M. Browning garnered 128 patents before he died but he had a special connection with Winchester. But from the day they arrived in the Rockies, Mormon settlers exhibited a genius for economic development including “buy local.”

My great (x3) grandfather Graham most likely used an earlier Henry Lever Rifle by Winchester but it didn’t matter because he leaned it against the tree while gathering wood when the Grizzly got him.

The story of his fatal encounter might be the stuff of family legend, had it not be verified in books and news accounts, the later of which my grandmother Adah left for me in her genealogical archives.

Coincidentally, I found out only after I relocated to Durham that both he and my great (x3) grandmother had parental roots in North Carolina before meeting each other along the Alabama-Mississippi line and heading west over the Rockies.

Browning designed his first rifle in 1878, and soon Winchester formed a twenty year collaboration with him beginning with the Winchester Model 1886.

My old Model 94 dates to 1910, three years after my great-grandfather bought a ranch in that right-angle nook of Idaho where the Northern Rockies reach across to be joined by Yellowstone Park to the Tetons.

It has been handed down three times since then and even lost for a time before I tracked it down using the serial number.  It will be again to my grandsons one day.

But it was always a working rifle on the ranch and shows a lot of character such as few nicks and places where the bluing has rubbed off, lessening the value to collectors, I’m sure, but making it priceless to me.

It was popular because it was easy to carry on a horse, easy to handle, more powerful than a 30-30 but with less recoil. The saddle ring was so it could be hung from the saddle right behind the rider’s leg or from a sling but mostly we just used a scabbard like the one shown here.

The original illustrations for both Winchester and Remington have been preserved, the former donated to the Whitney Museum in Cody and the later curated for display from time to time including a virtual museum with some donated to the National Sporting Arms Museum.

Winchester went through so many owners after my time that it kind of lost its way but Remington not only still uses the materials in catalogues for a new lifestyle apparent brand but exhibits a deft ability to stay authentic.

In my now concluded forty-year career in community marketing, desktop publishing didn’t exist in the first two decades.

My experience of trying to outsource this function while ensuring consistency had taught me that it was tough not only for the organizations I led but on the vendors, too.

So in 1989 when we jumpstarted the community marketing agency for Durham we moved as quickly as possible to bring graphic design ability in-house.

It became one of our core strategies and quickly set us apart.  Today that is common but even more cost-effective.  If I were starting another community DMO tomorrow, it is one of the first capacities I would secure.

We would still go outside help from time to time for a campaign, but marketing materials are about consistency and it is very hard for an agency or freelance designer to be in synch as things move and evolve so rapidly on a day to day basis.

Companies that thrive still strive for authenticity like Winchester and Remington did in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

I guarantee you that Starbucks, a company that treasures its roots and authenticity isn’t going back to stores that are more authentic just for a change.

Nor did Filson when it opened a “restoration department” last month where old bags that have been returned by customers taking advantage of lifetime guarantees are repurposed by craftsmen into items that are just created to look pre-worn but are truly vintage.

If it has it in its DNA, the challenge for any enterprise, especially as it becomes ubiquitous is to retain or regain its authenticity, as Remington is by repurposing its collection of marketing art.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Switching Over Mid-Career

Up until I moved to Durham, North Carolina I was left handed when it came to handwriting.  I changed over to writing right handed when I turned 40 because Essential Tremor in my hands made it harder and harder with the left.

Now it is equally hard with either hand and I avoid handwriting altogether.

Actually, on the inventory of handedness I was barely (1st decile) left-handed overall, meaning very close to the line between left and right handedness in the population overall.

I always played sports right-handed and for many associated activities had no preference such as batting in baseball, swinging a tennis racquet or shooting a basketball.

In batting it was an advantage and sometimes in tennis but it was often a curse in basketball.

In a couple of other areas, I was always purely right-handed such as turning a key to unlock a door and holding a cup while drinking, so when I switched to writing with that hand, it didn't feel entirely foreign.

The Mormon culture in which I was raised is what is called Christian “restorationist,” contrasted with “reformationist” Protestant, but Mormons still borrowed many things from the Catholic Church, such as the Franciscan tradition of sending missionaries out in pairs.

Growing up, I never heard using your left hand described as the “the mark of the beast” as Catholic schoolteachers apparently often did, but perhaps to be safe, Mormons stipulate that you always take sacrament with the right hand.

Obviously, those who translated the Bible had a right-hand bias (smile.)

So in rebellion I guess, no matter the decile, I have identified as left-handed and taken pride when lefties excel far beyond their proportion of the population such as being elected President.

Actually, while lifting tiny sacrament cups of water from a tray that had been purposely overfilled by annoying 12-year-old Deacons was one of the first times others witnessed my Essential Tremor.

Statistically, in Durham, where I still live in retirement, there are likely  2800 people with Essential Tremor but more than 30,000 who are left handed.

The genes related to ET have not yet been identified, although because both my daughter and I manifest it at such a young age, I plan to make sure my brain makes it to a related research center when I pass on.

Click here for an overview of research beginning in 1861 into handedness published on the fascinating website Brain Pickings, a website my daughter turned me onto.

Human beings have been leaving written records about tremors for thousands of years and the Greek physician Galen of Pergamon (129-216 A.D.), who served Roman emperors also cared for patients at the time with ET.

Genes are also thought to play a minor role because studies of identical twins show they often favor different hands.  But humans are the only species to show a strong bias in handedness.

Last year researchers published that they have identified a variant in the gene Pcsk6 (depicted in the image in this blog) associated with handedness, but they haven’t been able to fully explain the mystery of handedness yet because the genes play such a small role.

No data is available on how many lefties have ET such as me, but while people with the condition almost always have it on both sides, it is asymmetrical, meaning studies show it to be more severe in the non-dominant hand.

Being barely left-handed probably made that a toss-up for me.  I know from experience though that having ET and being left-handed definitely made it a challenge to learn to take off, fly and land an airplane, something I learned just enough to do after I retired five years ago.

Lefties learn at a young age to reverse instructions given when being taught by right handers so it isn’t uncommon for them to confuse left and right when giving or taking directions, or in the case of an airplane throttle, the different reactions anticipated by pushing in vs. pulling out.

ET is often confused with Parkinson’s which is a much, much more serious cousin.  ET occurs during the initiation of movement while Parkinson’s occurs when a limb is at rest.

Researchers now know that ET is progressive, not benign, as once characterized (no it isn’t why I retired.)

They both worsen over time, but Parkinson’s is degenerative.  ET is mostly embarrassing unless your occupation requires steady hands, e.g. a surgeon or nurse, or occupations that simply require filling out a lot of forms that must be read by other people.

I lost any ability to fill out forms legibly somewhere in my 20s.

Treatments for ET are either medication or invasive surgery like probes that are inserted into your brain to break that feedback loop or ultra sound which is like burning a hole to do the same thing.

The first approach fixes both sides, the second, so far, only one.

Alcohol also works great (smile.)  But not too surprising, doctors don’t recommend that.

Monday, December 08, 2014

A Backdoor Influence on Sensibilities

When they learn that I grew up just outside of Yellowstone Park in the Idaho shadows of the Tetons, people usually ask me when the best time is to visit.

Views of those icons were readily available literally from the front yard because our ranch house, a log home built by my grandfather’s brother, faces that direction,

They mesmerized me each morning as I waited out by the mail box for the school bus.

But early influences on my appreciation of sense of place were just as likely to be to the west of the ranch which had a strikingly different landscape.  But before I get to that, let me respond with two answers to that question about the best time to visit Yellowstone.

My top-of-mind answer about the best time to visit is “fall” which was my favorite season to go there growing up.  But possibly the very best time of year to see wildlife now such as moose, bear, buffalo, elk and wolves, is in the winter.

Until 1948, the year I was born, there had been only a few snowshoe tourists in Yellowstone.  But that year the first snow planes entered the park.  Our neighbor and father of one of my schoolmates had one similar to the one shown in this video.

By the time I was in second grade, visitors toured Yellowstone in the winter aboard Bombardier R12s, mini-buses with skis (instead of tires) in front and tracks in back. 

Very cool and yes, this is the very same company that makes very cool business, and commercial jets and high-speed trains.

It took root back in the 1930s when 15-year-old J.A. Bombardier began invention of these vehicles in the years before snowplowing of rural roads was mandated in his native Quebec, Canada.

I was that age before the first snowmobiles entered the park which soon became a problem that has led to limitations, in part, to preserve tourism quality for all concerned.

Snowcoaches today are much quieter and far more comfortable but not far removed from those old R12s.

My earliest roots in Idaho go back to 1860 and creation of the first permanent settlement there.  This was more than a decade before Yellowstone Park was created and before Idaho was even a territory.

How we came to be located much further north in that nook of Idaho even traces to that period, when one of my great-great grandfathers was a “freighter” to the gold fields in Montana, meaning he drove a stage coach designed to carry supplies up that 250 mile route.

But that is for another post.  Lets just say I am as Idaho as it gets.

Many of my sense of place influences there were also formed when I ventured west out the back of that ranch house during unstructured exploration and play time on old buggies, a deserted Power-Wagon and in abandoned ancestral houses including treasure-filled landfills.

I was also drawn further along a nearly hundred mile stretch to the west beyond the hills and meadows of our rangeland, through a landscape that was much more subtle but just as dramatic as the much closer Tetons and Yellowstone were to the east.

The ranch lies along the cusp of a sagebrush steppe west of the Tetons.  Eight miles west just and beyond our rangeland was the northern reach of a towering range of sand dunes that stretched southwest parallel to the Henry’s Fork River, past St. Anthony where my grandparents lived to the Egin Bench.

By towering, I mean that some of the dunes reach 250+ feet.  They are a mini-Sahara.  There was even a resort and swimming pool at the time but I think they got buried as the sand dunes migrated up against a series of mini-volcanoes called the Juniper Buttes.

Between the ranch and those dunes is the refuge for Elk I have written about.  They winter there before migrating past the ranch and back into a remote Idaho corner of Yellowstone to summer.

On the other side of the dunes lies the Camas National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1937 as a resting place for 50,000 migratory ducks and 3,000 geese.

Basalt columns underlie this entire region.  Our ancestral ranch lies at the intersection of where the Northern Rockies and the Teton Range of the Central Rockies meet.

The steppes slope gently down before rising in elevation past the refuge to meet other fingers of the Northern Rockies stretching southeast out into Snake River Plain.

One of those fingers is the Lost River Range, about a hundred miles west of the ranch and midway to one up between Stanley and Challis, owned until recently by singer-songwriter Carole King.

Two namesake rivers, the Big Lost River and the Little Lost River run down each side of this range, which contains the highest peaks in Idaho.

They are named “lost” because they abruptly disappear into a “sink,” recharging the vast Snake River Aquifer, a giant underground river.  Opposite 12,668 ft Borah Peak on the east side of this “sink” is a pre-historic archeological site called Wasden.

Here, when I was beginning my senior in high school just 29 miles east and more interested in music such as Satisfaction, Help and California Dreamin , Idaho archeologists uncovered thousands of prehistoric artifacts in caves created by collapsed lava tubes.

All I knew is that we had a record early snowfall that September but scientists now date the finds at the Wasden caves as between 10,000 and 12,000 years B.P. (before the present.)

Sixty miles southwest of the caves along American Falls Reservoir, archeologists from ISU just uncovered the skeleton of a 70,000-year-old Mammoth.

Just to the southwest of that “sink” along the mountains and stretching down to just above the reservoir, for nearly 15,000 years, there have been eight eruptive periods or lava flows that lasted anywhere from a few years to a few hundred years and spaced between by 2,000 years of calm.

This area lies along an alternative route that wagons along the Oregon Trail took called Goodale’s Cutoff beginning a few years after my Idaho roots were first established and almost two decades after my ancestors settled west along the Rockies.

Wagon trains didn’t end with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869.  They continued along that route until 1900 when they finally gave way to the motor vehicle era.

In 1926, Republican President Calvin Coolidge set this eerie tract of eruption aside as the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  In preparation for landing on the moon, Apollo astronauts visited the area in 1969 to study its mosaic of flows, splatter cones, craters, monoliths and other Moon-like geologic features.

It wasn’t the first time the area would be used for research.  The area immediately northwest of the monument had been used during WWII as a proving ground by the Navy to sight-in battleship guns and by the Army for testing munitions and for bombing practice.

Then after the war, it was chosen as a site for research on the first atomic submarine including a prototype for the USS Nautilus.  This is also where crews for atomic subs were sent for training until the mid-1990s.  Yup, in Idaho.

In fact, that isn’t the full extent of land-locked Idaho’s naval prowess.

Further north in the Idaho Rockies, the Navy also had a training station for other ships during WWII at Farragut on Lake Pend Oreille.

By then a state park, the year I started my community marketing career in Spokane and my only child was born, Farragut was the site of the 1973 National Boy Scout jamboree.

But even today, at a more remote part of that huge lake, the Navy tests acoustics down 1,000 feet or more using huge scale models of submarines.  Yup, in Idaho.

Sorry to get sidetracked onto research but you can see what I mean when I say that the influence my native state has on my appreciation for sense of places, goes far beyond its spectacular rivers, mountains, lakes and parks.

So anytime you cut through that part of Idaho on I-15 running north-south between Idaho Falls and Dillon, midway between the Teton and the Lost River ranges, if you find yourself complaining that it just seems like miles and miles of sage brush, take a detour for a closer look.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Food for Thought

Reading a new McKinsey analysis of the most effective ways to fight obesity made me remember that if it weren’t for an inability to metabolize sugar, I would probably be struggling with a weight problem, if not on my way up the first wrung of obesity.

The study quantifies the effectiveness of interventions including areas of personal responsibility as well as education and environmental factors such as labeling, portion control and subsidies and taxes, all of which have spawned a huge “sugar” lobby.

I first felt the hypoglycemic reaction that my body has to the levels of sugar in foods, mostly added, when I was 11 years old, going on 12 and weighed about 84 pounds on a 4’8” frame.

But it wasn’t fully diagnosed for another ten years when by that time I touched the scales at 150 pounds and nudging 6 foot tall.

I descended from a long line of “white food” eaters on both sides, who when they weren’t drawn to sweets and foods that quickly convert to sugar such as mashed potatoes, macaroni and milk, corn, fruit salad laced with whipped cream and bread, even bread and milk.

To my mom, who was a great cook having learned from her mother-in-law, even oatmeal wasn’t right without a layer of sugar across the top.  Maybe it is little wonder that my parents struggled with weight and sought comfort from these foods their entire lives.

Actually, our weight and happiness are on opposite “u” curves during our lives, one with the u bending upward and the other bending downward, but looking at how sugar affects the brain, they seem related.

Our relationship with food is apparently linked to both.

One of the interesting findings in the McKinsey analysis is that obesity is a condition shared now by 30% of the global population.  It is projected to increase to 41% by 2030, but already has the same economic drag as tobacco and armed conflict.

It is far more costly than alcoholism, for instance.

The interventions McKinsey finds most effective can lower obesity by 20% within a five year period when deployed together.

Portion control and reformulation of foods have the greatest impact followed by limiting access to high calorie foods, weight management programs and parental and school education.

A high-sugar tax can also play a role.

In the United States, obesity is the second most significant social burden.

In 1750, sugar consumption was about 3-4 kg or less per person.  It took off in the United States in the late 1800s and then skyrocketed about the time I was born.

About the time I retired five years ago, Americans were powering down 28 kg of “added” sugar alone or about 60 pounds per person.

The obesity epidemic is no surprise.

Normal weight, according to the McKinsey study means keeping the body mass index below 25.  My doctor tries to get me to stay below 19.  Overweight is between 25 and 29.

Obesity comes in three stages beginning at 30% and ranging to more than 40.

Those of us who are overweight push medical costs up 31%, and obesity, depending on the level, pushes costs up anywhere from 58% to 86%.  Click here for the latest pie chart showing where America’s $2.9 trillion health dollars go.

I’ve learned to limit my intake of added sugar to between 6 and 9 grams (about two teaspoons) per day and stay away from foods naturally high in sugar.

Still I am not deprived.  My diet averages around 30-40 grams a day.

One of the advantages to logging my meals, often vetting them in advance using an app called myfitnesspal, is being far more aware of foods high in sugar.

Whenever we eat breakfast at Bob Evans, I like the Border Scramble, substituting a fruit plate instead of potatoes and without bread.

But even without the fruit, that dish has 7 grams of sugar.  The fruit plate has another 13.  Way over my threshold and even with the protein involved risking where, for me anyway,a hypoglycemic reaction would kick in.

My sweet tooth is fed by two glasses of wine with dinner - only red - and on the more “minerally” side.  Each glass has only 1.8 grams of sugar each but is much weightier in calories overall.

But the apple a day I snack on later has 11 grams which is possibly why even when I was young, I learned to eat this fruit as my dessert after dinner, a time of day when any adverse reaction would occur only while I am asleep.

Also being certain to drink two quarts of water a day on top of the water in about 60 oz. of coffee is crucial in my case.  But my point is that even religiously avoiding foods with added sugar, I get a lot in my diet.

Obesity increases in countries along with prosperity.  In in the U.S., the CDC finds it at the same levels for men regardless of income level but in women it affects 42% of low income vs. 29% at high income levels.

This may give finger-waggers more ammunition to lecture the poor about personal responsibility, but it is clear the correlation is to only being able to afford or easily access unhealthy foods and eating leftovers while caregiving, I suspect.

This is another reason that making certain low income people have healthcare insurance is smart.  When it comes to healthcare costs we’re in this together when it comes to our pocketbook regardless of partisan leanings or feelings of superiority.

So whenever someone asks for the mashed potatoes to be passed during holiday meals, we need to be aware of just how incredibly powerful the “white food” lobby is in this country and give thanks if we are less impacted, but less judgmental of those who are.

New research shows that it is more than with fitness and caloric diary apps that smartphones are impacting the way we buy food.  A study shows that 79% of women alone now use their smartphones in stores.

Of those, 35% do it in grocery stores alone, 23% to check barcodes to learn more about products than may be revealed on labels.  By the way, the same percentage use GPS via smartphones to find the store greatly reducing any tiny remnant of rationale remaining for billboards.

I suspect, without my reactive hypersensitivity to blood sugar level, I would be among those judged.  I love mashed potatoes and not just because I’m from Idaho where it is patriotic or because “red states” are more prone to obesity.

Retirement agrees with me.  Although I seem to be getting shorter, I also dropped about 25 pounds (intentionally) over the past six months, more a credit to walking daily and cutting calories, not just a diet low in refined carbohydrates (smile.)

Now for some comic relief about the determination of the sugar lobby, click here to see John Oliver propose that all food labeling regarding sugar added be put in terms of “circus peanuts” (which have 5 grams each.)

Actually, a Gallup poll showing what Americans spent on average for this past Thanksgiving week reveals that it certainly isn’t peanuts nor is it just on food.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Prospect of Being Overrun

A few months ago a friend told our Rotary Club that 17% of all of the new apartments then under construction in North Carolina were within two miles of Duke University here in Durham.

It brought to mind a comment a professor made to that same group twenty-five years earlier.

I had just been hired during my former career to jump start Durham’s community marketing agency and after his speech, Dr. Clay Hamner, a professor at the Fuqua School of Business who also co-developed Brightleaf Square was asked what we were going to do with all of the hotels under construction.

“We should blow up half of them,” he quipped in a chacteristic growl.

Hotel developers back then, without a local destination marketing organization generating data to inform feasibility studies, were prone to use and reuse the same studies of forecasted supply and demand, even if horribly outdated.

Risky, but you would be surprised how often projects, even today, come out of the ground without factoring changes in supply, perhaps even some of these residential complexes.

Sitting in the audience that day, I knew we were already correcting that condition by providing Durham-specific market research but I also knew that we would fill many of those new guest rooms by retrieving Durham visitors who through misinformation at the time were being misdirected to stay in other communities.

The same thing will happen with all of the new apartments opening in Durham, many of which are downtown in developments inspired by Clay and his partner Terry Sanford Jr. when they set the adaptive reuse standard here more than three decades ago.

In other words, many people who will rent those apartments probably meant to be in Durham all along but were dissuaded by Realtors elsewhere or by water-cooler folk tales that it wasn’t cool enough (or safe enough.)

The same is true of all of the new hotels opening downtown.  Hotels don’t generate demand, they harvest it.

Think about it.  People don’t wake up in the morning thinking they want to go and stay in a hotel.  They stay in a hotel because it is in the destination and near the things they want to visit.

But many of the visitors who will stay downtown have probably been coming here for related reasons, but for lack of options had been overnighting elsewhere in Durham or even further away because a certain level of lodging was full here.

But relocating these visitors and renters is only the beginning of the process of “onboarding” them.  The fact that they were susceptible to misinformation in the first place, means they will take a good while before fully embracing Durham values.

After she read a recent post of mine entitled Mitigating Halloween and Our Obsession with Risk, a neighbor asked me if Durham is in danger of being overrun.

On our listserv, a group of longer established neighbors had unsuccessfully tried to reason with some newer arrivals set on blocking off streets.

To no avail, these neighbors were trying to “onboard” the newer arrivals to intrinsic Durham values such as being open and welcoming.

Self-righteousness prevailed.

The challenge any community marketing agency has, such as the three I led during my now-concluded career, is not just to draw anyone and everyone to visit and live here (more than 80% of newcomers secretly shop a community first as a visitor) but to help prospects make the decision that is right for them, even if it isn’t the community you represent.

That’s not only good business because it leads to higher customer satisfaction, but it also protects a community’s sense of place from being overrun by people who won’t like it here or aren’t apt to appreciate and adopt the core traits and values that distinguish it.

It is also why it never makes sense to lead promotional efforts off with mainstream facilities and events which, by nature, are not distinctive or authentically representative of a particular place, even to the people drawn to them, because they are identical to those in hundreds of other places.

It is also the reason any community’s best cultural investment is in a local history museum.  Researchers have found that these places uniquely give children, students, visitors and newcomers, including relocating executives a place to get in touch with a community’s story, a sense of its soul, and its “there” there.

This is the best investment in community attachment and sense of place any community can make.  As a side benefit, history museums also draw participation from the same proportion of visitors to a community as facilities for performing arts or sports events do.

If and when Durham finally builds a museum fully capable of showcasing Durham’s history, it will uniquely interpret that one of the organic values Durhamites have is being drawn to people who are diverse rather than to tribes who are just like they are.

It is the latter that has led to bigotry in many places over the years as well as the wholesale homogenization of many communities.

Certainly not everyone drawn to Durham or even born here is in synch with Durham.  I’ve even known several elected to high office over the years as well as counterparts in other areas of economic development who weren’t.

This isn’t just because political campaigns often focus on what’s wrong with a community or because some people in these roles view themselves as the “cavalry,” but because they just don’t value or even sense Durham’s intrinsic distinctiveness.

It was easy for me.

It was part of my job to tease out and leverage what makes places distinctive so I became a quick study on which communities would be a good fit for me.

We’re living in a time of downtown revitalizations across the nation and nowhere is that more evident than in Durham.  But experts fear that in the process most are in danger of simply becoming playgrounds for the well-to-do erasing the socio-economic diversity that gave them appeal in the first place.

There may be a fine line, as I am quoted as saying, between organic and funky and merely seedy, but there is an even finer line between being authentic and merely a shell of a real place.

The former attributes in each case are hallmarks of sustainable sense of place.

As I read the new book entitled The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community by Marc J. Dunkelman, a quote by famed jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis kept crossing my mind.

In an interview here on NPR’s The State of Things, when asked why he and his family chose to move to Durham, Marsalis responded eloquently with one of the values and traits that has made Durham distinctive since its founding.

"Durham is everything I ever wanted in a City. It's fair…You can find everything… people who are wealthy, people who are not wealthy, blue collar workers, white collar workers, farmers.

They are all hanging out together. You go in the grocery store and you see people talking. It's not like the farmers on one corner and the lawyers are in one corner. In Durham, you don't have those stringent class lines."

In his book, Dunkelman identifies this trait as crucial to a sense of community and the ability to coordinate, not with cliques or inner circles, but across class and racial distinctions with those with whom we may not always agree.

In one part of his book, there is a brief history of how communities evolved in America, the anchor of what early observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville saw as key to our exceptional nature.

Dunkelman’s book weaves together numerous other studies and books over the years and he reminded me of one I read in the early 1980s by Dr. Claude S. Fischer entitled To Dwell among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City.

It was about the time I first read Wallace Stegner’s essay coining the term The Sense of Place and among the earliest influences I had in getting my head around how communities evolve organically and how even landscape and other traits help shape them and make them distinct from those even close by.

One was scientific, the other lyrical and combined they led me to my first grasp of community attachment and what made some communities worth loving and visiting and others not so much.

Today, sociological researchers such as Dr. Jeni Cross at Colorado State University focus on unwrapping sense of place and its relationship to attachment.

Cross breaks our relationship to a particular place down into biographical (historical and familial,) spiritual (emotional and intangible,) ideological (moral and ethical,) narrative (mythical,) commoditized (image of desirable physical traits) and dependent (when someone has no choice.)

She finds a cohesive sense of rootedness and attachment with ideological, spiritual and biographical.  The tragedy of becoming cool is that many drawn last in by that attribute alone will also be first out, leaving sense of place diminished. 

In the words of Wendell Berry, another of my influences, most will be boomers vs. stickers.

If Durham’s sense of place is sooner or later overrun, it won’t be solely the fault of poor public policy or gentrification gone amuck or blocking off streets by helicopter parents but because, as Dunkelman explains, the social architecture of communities is in transformation.

Preserving what makes Durham Durham is not just the job of politicians or agencies, even ones such as DCVB which is charged as a guardian.

It certainly won’t be about “thinking big” or “monumental” or “institutional,” all of which in the words of Jane Jacobs “have the attributes of a well-kept, dignified cemetery” and deaden places.

It will also not be just about preservation or change but rather how a community blends both.

It will all come down to how badly grass roots individuals and groups want to keep coordinating across differences to find Durham solutions to Durham problems, just as those founders did and generations have done for decades.