The Best Urban Revitalization Formula for 2018

Neighbors Uniting + Nature and the Great Outdoors + Empty Lot Beautification = Urban Revitalization! 

creating-more-with-less-imageIts happening everywhere in the U.S. now–and even in Akron, Ohio!

I was so honored to write this article highlighting this formula for TURF DESIGN-BUILD magazine a few months ago.  Here it is in its entirety:

Opportunities To Green Up Small Urban Spaces












Ever had a work project that drove you crazy?

RV Tour1One of the few times in my life when I was unable to complete a work assignment, definitely due to lack of skills, was the time when a unique media relations project landed on my desk while serving as Information Officer for the State of Minnesota’s Tourism Office.

I was told to host a group of recreational vehicle (RV) travel writers on a six-day excursion throughout the state. The purpose was to feature the state’s finest RV campgrounds with adjacent tourist attractions for the travel writers to experience, ultimately resulting in a splash of positive feature articles that would appear in popular RV publications.

This particular tour proved unique in that I had to be the official driver of travel writers experiencing the state first-hand in a RV donated by a local dealer who also happened to be a top supporter of the Minnesota Governor. Overall, I was excited about the assignment, but a bit nervous about the fact that I had no previous experience driving “oversized” and “over-elevated” vehicles. This inevitably became my downfall!

Here’s how it all went down, down, down:

On Day Two, I sheared the large antennae and AC cover clean off the RV’s roof while driving under a local bridge without enough clearance. On Day Three, I backed into a parked delivery truck, taking the rear bumper off the RV and annihilating the truck’s passenger side. On Day Three, I forgot to set the parking brakes when stopped on a steep bluff, resulting in the RV rolling backwards downhill, pitching over an embankment and lodging into a grove of mature pine trees.

Needless to say, the RV was totally trashed. Halfway through the tour, I decided to cut my losses and dispatched a passenger van to drive the writers back to the airport so they could fly home early.

Back at the office, the aftermath was brutal. I had to explain everything to my angry superiors and RV owner–as well as the Governor himself. Not only had I run up tens of thousands of dollars worth of damages to the outside of the vehicle and the ill-fated delivery truck, but I also destroyed the engine, forgetting to re-fuel with diesel instead of regular gas. Luckily, the RV was insured, engine replaced and body repaired.

travelwritertour1I wasn’t fired. Believe it or not, all of the resulting travel articles were overwhelmingly positive, although they did include mention of the misadventures and mishaps of an untrained and unlucky chauffeur.

The only lasting consequences were acquiring the nickname of “Crash Crain” and only allowed to drive a small and cheap 15-year-old state-sanctioned Chevy Nova while on any official business.

IABC Heritage Conference 2013 Elevates My Game

IABC Heritage Conf TitleLast month, I had the privilege of attending the International Association Business Communicators (IABC) 2013 Heritage Region Conference in Indianapolis.

At first blush,  I wasn’t much enamored with visiting a city in a “Red” state nicknamed “India-No-Place” nor do I spend much time sports fanning (conference theme was “Elevate your Game,” and Opening Night Reception was held at the NCAA Hall of Champions).

But, whIndy Canalen I found out  that my fellow IABC Cleveland/Akron Board Member Kavita Sherman was one of the instrumental conference organizers;  that I was being offered a nice stipend to cover the majority of my costs; the location was just one state over and less than a five hour drive; and that coincidentally I could “Priceline” a top hotel overlooking the Central Canal Culture District that I covered in a recent article I wrote on “stormwater management”  for Turf magazine,  I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m pleased to report that my preconceived notions about the conference were blown away quickly after experiencing the incredible hospitality of the city and conference hosts together with the quality of the conference programs and presenters.

Chapter Leaders Forum

IABC Cleve logoMy first encounter at the conference was attending the Chapter Leaders Forum.  Here,  I picked up a lot of great tips for working on building and retaining memberships serving on the Board as Membership Director for the IABC-Cleveland/Akron Chapter.*

Key Take-aways:  Try “Tour and Talks” by holding your meetings at members’ workplaces; keep age differences in mind when programming; consistency (time, place, etc) and quality of speakers is paramount; mentoring and buddy systems for new members; guest coupons; robo reminder calls mixed with personal calls; assign special short-term projects for members to feel involved and special–joining Board can come later.


 McClearyWhat’s Your ‘It’   Tim McCleary, The Involvement Practice, Sandy Hook, CT.

Tim was backed up by “graphic recorder (aka mindful artist)  Breah Parker,  who continually synthesized verbal content into detailed graphic charts, bringing the words and interactions in the room to life for participants– way cool as I never experienced that before. Key Take-away:  When influencing, your constituents will only remember 50% when you dialogue, 75% when immersed, 90% when involved.

SiteLogoWhats in it for Me?  Cindy L. Graham, Goodwill Industries, Indianapolis, IN.

Key Take-aways:  The customer is the boss; be available to the customer 24/7 and reach them wherever they are on multiple channels; the customer conversation never stops; create communities where they can dialogue with you back and forth; people love loyalty programs.

 Break-out Sessions

SmithJump Start Small Business Communications  Will Smith, EScreenz, Entre Computer Systems, Rochester, NY.

Key Take-aways:  Small businesses with small marcom budgets represent 50% of working population and generate 65% of the new jobs for marcoms.  Spend time and money on making a killer world-class website with lots of links; use the newswires.  Case studies:  Small bank offered community free meeting space, Manufacturer developed fan base for snowplow lovers with killer YouTube videos and online chat sites.

 WilliamsWhy Reptation Risk is More Than a PR Issue  Sean Williams, Communication AMMO, Cleveland OH.

Key Take-aways:  Technology, data security, regulatory compliance are types of risks; the “reputation” economy is growing all the time; Good measures of reputation include (1) direct feedback from relevant publics (2) positive share of social media (3) positive share of media coverage; Communicators notoriously fall flat on knowing numbers, regulations and business; content analysis is too much on “boiling the ocean.”

ImmEleven Ways to Rock Your Communications Career  Tracy Imm, Charm City Chicks, Baltimore, MD.

For someone like me in “Career Mid-life Crisis,” clearly experiencing age discrimination in job searching and straddling the two worlds of corporate employee (though part-time) and freelancing–I was at full attention sitting in this one. I walked out with no less than a dozen books and blogs I need to read in order to keep moving forward! Key Take-aways:  Discover your “Why”  and don’t start with your “What”; check out Ralph Marston’s “Power of Purpose” and subscribe to his “Daily Motivator”; the reason you may be unhappy at work is that you have a “Values Conflict”; Be an early adapter, stay relevant and never stop learning–at least one hour a day!; luck happens when prep meets opportunity; ask the universe for what you want, own that room and then you’ll be sure to get it.

 EnslenWrite Normal  Samantha Enslen, Dragonfly Editorial, Tipp City, OH.

Why can we not write like we talk?  The best writing is simple–like you are targeting it to a clueless kid–but most writers can’t do that.  Key Take-aways:  Use “The Universal Story” template and you can’t go wrong–“Once Upon a Time,” then “Suddenly,” then “Luckily,” and finally, its “Happily Ever After;” readability needs to be at the 7th grade level; vary the length of your sentences.

 DemoBarattanstrating ROI: How Public Relations & Social Media Drive Business Metrics  Melissa Baratta, Affect, New York, NY.

Key Take-aways: 30% of us are not tracking ROI; Setting realistic goals include grounding in reality, knowing the limitations of resources and commitment from executive leadership; you’ve got to keep a good mix of PR, social media and marketing going; Social media audiences–LinkedIn is for the B-B commercial and industrial, Twitter is for small business tips and Facebook is for consumers; quality over quantity.

Student Involvement: Key to IABC’s Future?

On either side of the conference, I had the opportunity to taxi a Kent State University student to and from the conference.  She was put through the ringer by competing on one of three student teams whose challenge was to come up with a full-fledged marketing communications campaign for a new sports service within a few hours. She indeed survived the challenge and had a great time at the conference. But. she was the last student standing for our Cleveland/Akron chapter and was now checking out for good.  I learned from her that IABC needs to ramp up student involvement.  Makes sense–after all, they are our future!

* The Cleveland IABC chapter hasn’t officially “slashed on” Akron, but since half the Board works and lives in Akron, and we’re re-introducing programs and focusing on recruiting there, I add it on whenever possible.

Design-Build magazine COVER STORY: 2014 Trends for Home & Garden

Design Build Trends Word CloudI had the privilege of providing the cover story again for October 2013’s Design-Build magazine.  It’s all about “Bold & Balanced,” Rise of the Millennials and Incredible Edibles.  What a great year for home and garden in 2014.  READ ON:

Colors are vivid, edibles are erupting, men and millennials are influencing designs, and balance is more important than ever.
By Tom Crain

Few landscapers can argue the fact that one of the most important things they can do for their businesses to ensure long-term health is to keep up on trends in their areas of expertise, fields and industries. Only by doing so can they prepare themselves for changes and ensure they have the proper resources and skilled operators in demand in a constantly changing work environment.

“In this current economy in general – and landscaping, in particular – you have to know how to connect the dots, understand your customer, drive consumer sales and build your brand,” says Suzi McCoy, owner of Garden Media Group, Philadelphia. She is also author of the annual Garden Trends Report, one of the most published garden studies in trade and consumer news.

Canete Landscape Design & Construction in northern New Jersey has an essential need to keep up with the trends. “We have large commercial clients who ask us to change the landscape look of their properties every few years,” says owner Tom Canete. To hold onto these accounts, Canete needs to know what the most cutting-edge, contemporary look is during new installation periods.

Turf DesignBuild delves into the major trends that will heavily influence 2014 landscapes.

Location, Location, Location

Current landscaping trends tend to reflect more on regional economic and practical needs, and less on the happy-go-lucky across-the-board whims and desires of the past. Much of it is due to landscaping’s new social and economic-minded demographic taking the helm.

“Landscape design trends tend to be regionally based most of the time,” explains Stacy Zimmerman, communications director of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), Harrisburg, Penn. “What works in the Northeast usually is not the trend in the Southwest.”

In north Texas, Chris Lee, president of Dallas-based Earthworks, says the biggest trend is moving toward more sustainable landscapes and efficient water use. “We are doing a ton of designs and installations based on native plantings and xeriscape concepts, primarily due to the ever-increasing water restrictions and shortages.”

That’s the typical story in the South where landscapers are dealing with rising drought issues while a rapidly increasing population places extreme pressures on local water resources. “While some areas of the South have been dealing with this for years, it’s relatively new to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, believe it or not,” adds Lee.

Lee says his customers are looking for native and sustainable planting options beyond succulents and rocks. “If you can bring native plants into the landscape that extend beyond what people normally consider xeriscape and show them that sustainable can be beautiful, you will have great success in this market.”

In the Northeast, landscape designers are dealing with a completely opposite climate scenario: flooding. Most Northeast-based landscapers agree the recent bout of extreme weather will dictate more sobering trends in the industry for years to come. “The only thing I have to say about trends in the next few years is that it’s all about drainage corrections, garden renovations and tree replacements after Hurricane Sandy,” explains Susan Olinger, Sterling Horticultural Services, Flanders, N.J., and immediate past president of APLD.

Most landscapers agree the trend crossing all regions is the increasing concern for handling stormwater runoff. More and more municipalities are instituting stricter ordinances, and water fees are rising along with the creekbeds after a downpour. As a result, ecological concerns for the pollution of groundwater, rivers, lakes and bays are climbing higher and higher in clients’ consciousness.

“I’m being asked more and more to come up with design approaches that incorporate the handling of stormwater runoff with native plantings and natural stone,” says Terri Long, an Asheville, N.C.-based landscape designer in the Blue Ridge Mountains where many creekbeds wind through high-end properties. “Rather than collecting water in catch basins and piping it away in drains, resulting in a generic, sterile look, the use of the dry creek bed becomes not only a beautifying, natural-looking feature with a functional purpose, but also a green solution.”

millennials at homeMillennials Rule

It’s not only regional considerations driving current trends, but also the shifting demographics of those who are now purchasing homes and making the landscaping decisions. What used to be the realm of the Baby Boomers and DINKS (dual income earners no kids a.k.a. Yuppies) is now relegated to the Gen Y/Millennial WINKS (single women income earners with no kids) and DACKS (dads at home caring for kids).

“Millennial women are a larger buying demographic than female boomers; they are now 20 percent of all home buyers and representing one-third of the growth in home ownership since 1994,” says McCoy. “In addition, millennial men are taking an equal role as the homemakers in domestic duties and raising the children.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade due to the growing numbers of female breadwinners, men out of work, and the shift in men’s lifestyle and career choices.

Now that young women are paying for landscaping projects and young dads are having more say about design, what does this mean for trends moving forward?

mancaveMasculinity Reigns Supreme

“It’s a masculine and feminine balancing act in work, home and life,” explains McCoy. And that applies to landscaping installations. Homes, as well as outdoor living environments, are celebrating the masculine influence as the workplace did with women in previous decades. That means strong, bold statements, more simplicity, outdoor barbecue setups and man caves with techno entertainment options.

“Waterproof roof structures over the top of an outdoor patio space work great for this,” says Matt Corrion, president and landscape architect with Denver-based Outdoor Design Group. Corrion lists roofed patios, which blend indoor and outdoor living spaces, as one of the leading trends in home design. “Outdoor amenities can be protected by the weather. Flat-screen televisions, ceiling fans, outdoor kitchens, bar areas, speakers and lighting can all be incorporated into this outdoor space. Overhead roof structures also create a more intimate feeling space, creating an outdoor room at a much lower cost than adding a fully-enclosed indoor room to a dwelling.”

tulipsPastels Are Out; Contemporary Colors Are In

Stay-at-home dads are also influencing plant colors and combinations. Princess pinks, butter-soft yellows and lipstick reds are in retreat. Both Benjamin Paints, which trends paint color interiors, and Pantone, which trends fashion color choices, give a thumbs-up to bold blues, periwinkle purples and celosia oranges. “There has been a push to find new ‘orange’ options for the landscape lately, and I see that continuing,” attests Lee.

It makes perfect sense then that according to Garden Media, blue pansies and purple violas are the rage; and red geraniums and yellow marigolds are passè. Also popular are colorful edibles, including blueberries, grapes, orange peppers and purple eggplant.

Blacks, whites and grays continue to surge. These color trends align with contemporary landscape planting choices. McCoy says mono color and pairings of black and white in the garden will continue their popularity. HGTV selects white as the trendiest color for its bright light influence and enhancement of other colors.

Interesting geometrics are taking a leap, too. McCoy says “umbelliferous” shapes – those plants that carry flowers on the end of spoke-like stems – are popular. Circular plantings are back, and wildly-overgrown amorphous and perfectly-sculpted geometric are being fused together.

GAINSSustainability Continues

The landscaping trend continuing its full-steam boil across all demographics, particularly with millennials, is sustainability. Just ask any landscaper from the mainstream to the highly green circles about how difficult it is to operate a business without sustainable considerations.

“Across the board, it’s all about low-maintenance landscapes, drought-tolerant turfs such as meadows, highly-efficient irrigation systems, perennial planting designs inspired by nature, plant “communities” (as opposed to monoculture) and adding edibles,” says Zimmerman.

Brad Blaeser, president of Milwaukee-based The Green Team is hopping with requests for natives, water retention/bio-filtration/green roof-type projects and edibles since he opened his then “out-of-the-mainstream” deep green landscaping door in 2006. In addition, Blaeser is increasing his services in compost-type pickups, and for the first time he’s seeing a surge in demand for natural playscapes and outdoor learning classrooms in his hardscape side of the business.

Sabrena Schweyer of Salsbury-Schweyer, Akron, Ohio, agrees. “Edibles, not only as vegetable gardening but also edible landscapes and permaculture plantings like food forests, are growing in demand,” she says. Schweyer also sees a new intertwining of resiliency, sustainability and placemaking in urban landscapes, as evidenced in the wildly popular new public spaces including New York’s High Line and Houston’s Discovery Green.

How To: Keeping Up With the Trends

“The majority of gardening information still comes from family and friends (a.k.a. word-of-mouth), but websites, gardening blogs, Twitter and Youtube are gaining considerable ground” as places landscape designers and architects use to keep up with the latest landscape trends, says Suzi McCoy, owner of Garden Media Group, Philadelphia.

To educate his employees about landscaping trends, Tom Canete, owner of Canete Landscape Design & Construction in northern New Jersey, is constantly reading trade magazines and networking with his peers.

Chris Lee, president of Dallas-based Earthworks, finds it easy to keep up with the trends in Dallas. As he explains, “since our market is just a little behind, we can look at the residential trends in other markets to incorporate here later.”

Homesteading Is Here To Stay

Both Zimmerman and McCoy can’t say enough about the current homesteading trend, with 80 percent of Americans concerned about the health of the environment around them. The focus is on zen and happiness in the garden, emulating a mini slice of the hobby farmer. That means heirloom varieties, plants that attract the “B” critters (birds, bees and butterflies), chickens, overgrown and oversized hanging baskets, windowsill herb garden planters, and, of course, sensory, fragrant and community gardens.

And for the “New Age” millennial men seeking their true inner happiness, fermentation gardens for homemade beer and wine are trending high.

tomatoesIncredible Edibles

On a recent visit to London’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Tracy DiSabato-Aust couldn’t help but realize that worldwide, gardeners are salivating for edibles.

“When the Kew’s iconic Palm House has stalks of corn growing in front of it, you know there is some kind of shift going on,” she says. DiSabato-Aust is an Ohio-based Euro-trained landscape designer who is also a well-known author, TV personality and triathlete.

DiSabato-Aust also experienced the “IncrEdibles” fall program at the Kew. “Incorporating decorative vegetables into the garden alongside herbs and cut flowers is really cutting-edge.” Popular for DiSabato-Aust’s clients lately is to mix festive vegetable plants like ornamental kale, heirloom tomatoes and multiple colors of peppers with traditional varieties of sunflowers, dahlias and zinnias for cuttings.

Blaeser agrees with DiSabato-Aust on American gardeners’ appetites for edibles. “We continue to sell existing clients with traditional plantings and the concept of swapping some elements out with edibles, including herbs, hot peppers and salad greens, to accompany some traditional annuals or even nontraditional perennials that can later be repurposed within their landscape or back into our yard production,” he says.

Corrion sees the urban gardening trend for edibles jiving perfectly with the “natural lawn” trend, replacing traditional bluegrass with alternative turfgrasses, xeriscape plantings, monocultures of spreading shrubs or perennials, native plants, natural meadows or a combination of these elements.

“Both can work well together,” Corrion explains. “Placing decorative paths between beds and installing attractive raised planters to keep the space looking a little more organized are both great additions.”