Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Remember When a Family Could Make It on One Income?

Remember when dads could work at the local hardware store and make enough money to raise a family decently? Remember when mom was a nurse or teacher and could keep a roof over her kids' heads, even if she was a widow? I'm old enough to remember when a one income household did just fine, and a two income home was comparatively affluent. What happened?

I was recently having a Twitter back-and-forth with someone who insisted that income inequality was not a problem and that deregulation of the financial world was a desirable thing. He was wrong, and here's why:


And many people still don't understand how income inequality has surged in the past few decades. See here:


I'm not pretending to have all the answers, but I do know that what we're doing is not working, and slashing the regulations that protect lower earners is not the answer. Trickle down does NOT work.

What does work is a large, stable middle class. A large, comfortable middle class is the engine that drives a strong economy. Without that, you have a small pool of ridiculously wealthy people at one end of the spectrum and an ever-larger mass of poor people at the other. The small, wealthy group wield an inordinate and disproportionate amount of influence over government and media. Not only can they influence politics, but they can influence how people vote, which ultimately influences what laws get passed (and repealed).

We as a society need to really think about what matters. I am FAR from being a communist or a socialist; I think capitalism is just fine, thank you. But I also believe in enlightened self-interest. When more of us prosper, then... more of us prosper. I think that's a pretty good deal.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Fun Trainings Ahead! No, really!

Interested in learning a little about social media, downtown design, visual merchandising, or neighborhood safety as they relate to community revitalization? If you're around Carlisle, PA on Monday and Tuesday, May 5th and 6th, we'll be conducting training for the Elm Street and Main Street programs, as well as anyone else who wants to join. We start at 8 AM on Monday morning at 53 W. South Street. Here's the lineup:

MONDAY, May 5th:
  • 8:00 - Websites and Social Media 
  • 10:00 - Visual Merchandising and Curb Appeal
  • 3:00 - Elements of Design
  • 4:00 - Anti-Crime Programs for Community Revitalization
TUESDAY, May 6th:
  • 8:00 - Anti-Crime Programs for Community Revitalization
  • 10:00 - Elements of Design
  • 3:00 - Visual Merchandising and Curb Appeal
  • 4:00 - Websites and Social Media
Leave a comment here if you have any questions. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Solar Roadways!

You must click this link right now to go to Indiegogo and help these folks create a whole new pavement. The Solar Roadways people say their new paving system can melt snow, light up, treat stormwater runoff, AND create energy.

Imagine the possibilities if this became a widespread technology? All the dead pavement lying inert throughout the world could be converted to an energy-producing network. I do wonder though, about the efficacy of a pavement that is shaded by cars all day long, such as in a parking lot, or even an urban commuter street.

Still, that doesn't mean it isn't worth pursuing this big dream. I've made a personal donation to this campaign and I hope other folks will, too. It could be a world-changer, and you can't often say that about new inventions.

Good luck, folks!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Couple of Book Reviews

If you're like me and you really REALLY care about the health of the planet, as well as the health of its citizens, then I recommend a couple of books that I recently read.

One is Happy City by Charles Montgomery. It's subtitled: "Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design," and the premise is that if we create the right places, people will naturally flock to them. Methods of transformation include changing pedestrian activity, but also the places -- apartments and homes -- where we live. Montgomery uses examples from all over the world to drive his point home; and that is, people are too isolated and sedentary. It's killing us and it's killing the planet. He is especially hard on Americans (rightfully so) for our gas-guzzling habits.

The second is Walkable City; How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, by Jeff Speck. Interestingly, both books use a lot of the same examples and have pretty much the same thesis, though they approach the subject from slightly different perspectives.

I found Montgomery's book to be inspirational, with its vivid examples of how people's lives are transformed by the form their communities take. In one chapter, he tells the melancholy story of suburban homeowners who believe they are buying the American Dream when they snag the big house in the suburbs, only to find that they have such long commutes that they barely get to enjoy their new acquisitions. Their social lives have been reduced to the fringes of their days. Montgomery makes a strong case for how valuable those accidental interactions are that take place on the urban street. Suburban commuters miss out on all that.

On the other hand, Speck writes from the experience of an urban planner. His book seems more research- and experience-driven. He's worked with communities first-hand and understands where they go wrong. Speck gives precise details about street width and sidewalk depth. He discusses how traffic engineers view trees as a dangerous impediment while studies show that trees slow traffic down, resulting in fewer accidents. It's the kind of information you can take to a council meeting in hopes of amending city ordinances.

Both books are richly researched and full of good information, it's just that Montgomery's takes a more human approach, and Speck seems slightly more analytic. I liked them both, and though neither of them told me anything earth-shattering, they've inspired me to start making the case more emphatically to the communities with whom I work to take substantive steps toward creating more connected and walkable environments. This is not just about economic development, though that is a strong incentive. It's also about making us all healthier. It's about cutting our fossil fuel consumption, and working toward a healthier planet.

Now go read something.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I know I haven't posted in awhile but I have a good reason for that. A mediocre reason, really -- been busy. But I have new pictures to share, so here we go!
Photo credit: Dan Fennick

So how's this for a spectacle on the sidewalk? The Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I'm not photogenic at all -- what can I say? But it was a blast being there.

It's a very conservative city, and IMHO, the rumored rudeness of the French is simple reserve. The customer service was no more rude than it is here in America; we just didn't speak the same language. In fact, as soon as we started to converse in schoolkid French, they'd jump in in English to help us out. "No problem," everyone says.

Photo credit: Dan Fennick

My advice, if you're going to Paris -- especially in colder seasons -- is to wear black and be friendly. You get back what you put into the world, is my mantra. 

We met some wonderful people, too. Our first dinner out we were seated next to a gentleman whose mother had been French, but his father was a Scot, I think. He spoke fluent French and the proprietor was generous to all of us once he felt comfortable conversing in broken English with French to fall back on. The other gentleman was a South African now living in Texas. They helped us navigate the menu and translate with the proprietor. The food was fabulous, the wine was superb (of course), and the company made it a night to remember. 


Monday, September 16, 2013

Who is this cowboy and what is he doing in Pennsylvania? 

Old train depot, Stoystown, PA.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bad Reputation

A bad reputation is more than a rock ballad by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.  A bad reputation can damage your credibility, your relationships, and your career. For a community, it can severely impair revitalization efforts because no one wants to invest in a town with a reputation for crime, filth, aging infrastructure, crumbling buildings, or political dysfunction.

How do you overcome a bad reputation? First of all, it’s important to accept the old saying, “perception is reality.”

It doesn’t really matter that your crime statistics are low and that the locals feel safe leaving their doors unlocked. If visitors don’t like the look of your community, or if they’ve heard negative reports of sensational crimes, they won’t come.

But what if you could turn that bad reputation into something positive? What if you could change how people perceive you?  There are a couple of ways to do this.

You can work very hard to clean up and beautify, bring in great shops and entertainment to attract visitors, and then market the heck out of it to attract new people to your town.

It takes a long, long time – decades – and lots of money to create this kind of change in a community. It’s gradual, but it can happen. To do this, you have to BECOME what you want people to THINK you are. You can’t lie and say you are a Disney wonderland if half of your storefronts are vacant, vagrants are on the street, and litter covers the sidewalks. Before you can market yourself as a great place to visit, you have to BE a great place to visit. If customers pay you a visit expecting quilts and candles and you have only empty storefronts, they won’t come back.

Can you wait until all the pieces are in place for people to accept your community as that mythical “great place to live, work, shop, and play”? Most of our communities need help NOW. Waiting until you can make your dreams a reality is not possible for most of us.

In marketing and in writing there is a concept called “target audience.” When I ask communities who their target audience is, I often get the response, “everybody.”

“Everybody” is not a target. That’s like saying I’m going hunting and it doesn’t matter where I aim because whatever I hit – duck, deer, rock, tree – will be fine. This is the way many communities use advertising. Whoever that ad reaches is fine. And then they wonder why no one attends to them.

Before you market your town, you have to know who you are right now and who might be interested in what you have to offer right now. Then you have to market in the places that those people look. By using the power of people’s perceptions, you can encourage them to accept your town just as it is. Take what you have and figure out who would appreciate it. That brings us to the second option.

Celebrate Your Bad Self!

Think of those performers, like Joan Jett, who have made ‘badness’ attractive. And Bruce Springsteen, whose whole persona is based on gritty, working class values. (This has nothing to do with his reality; he’s a multi-millionaire.) He cultivates the perception that he is still close to his blue collar roots. And that is obviously attractive to a huge population.

The first step in marketing under this “bad is good” scenario is to clean up and improve the things you can fix fairly easily. If you have vagrants, work with law enforcement and social service agencies to find alternatives for them. If you have litter, work with your municipality to clean it up.

The next step is to figure out what kind of people won’t be afraid of your town, or who might find its gritty reputation or blue collar appearance appealing. It helps if you have some association with that group already established, but you may be able to invent a connection through an event or by taking advantage of a local feature.

If you have a large population of high school or college students who identify themselves as “Goth,” you might appeal to them. After all, if YOU shouldn’t be judged by appearance, then neither should they. Have you considered hosting a Zombie Walk in your downtown?

You might appeal to bikers. It’s a fast-growing sector that is now better characterized by the “chrome cavalry” than by Hell’s Angels. Bikers often have money and they’re not afraid of a less-than-perfect town. Host a toy run or a charity motorcycle event to get them interested in a visit.

Music is another way to attract a specialty audience. Blues and jazz will attract both the highbrow aficionado and the down-home fan and you don’t have to be a quaint and perfect downtown to appeal to them; they’ll go where the music is good. Blues and jazz typically don’t attract a rowdy crowd so a blues or jazz music festival is a good start.

Athletes often pride themselves on being unafraid. What about hosting a taekwon do exhibition?

There are tons of other special interest groups that might be attracted to your town. Think creatively about those types of people and what they might find interesting or compelling enough to visit.

Once you’ve narrowed your audience, you then have to figure out how to get them there. It sometimes helps to picture in your mind just one or two people who are typical examples of the people you’re trying to reach. What do they look like? What do they enjoy? What do they read? Where do they hang out? What are they involved in? How do they communicate with each other?

By consistently targeting a specific group of people, before long, you will have developed a core group who love your downtown just the way it is. Then you can start to build toward those higher goals: full storefronts, beautiful streetscapes, fancy signage.

But never forget to “dance with the one whut brung ya.” You can’t ignore those people who helped build your town up when it was rock bottom, most importantly because businesses that come to your town may be geared specifically for them. For example, if you develop a reputation as a great blues venue, you may attract a half dozen blues clubs, a guitar shop, and a place that caters to those who love old vinyl records. You can’t later abandon that for something else without a lot of new effort.

Not everyone can be the quilts and candles capital of the country. But you can find or make something unique in your town. When you have developed a reputation for something special, then you can use that as a foundation for further growth. Remember, if you can’t be what you wish to be, you have to find an audience to appreciate who you are.