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Nashville, seen and unseen

I’m flying back from Nashville today, and I keep thinking about what I saw—and what I didn’t see. Let me explain: there are now many places that, in demographic, income, and related terms, don’t look like a normally distributed curve, with a big hump in the middle and trailing, small tails of the very rich and very poor. There are still of course some places that are nearly all poor and nearly all rich; we write about some of the former, for obvious reasons, and pretty much none of the latter. Unlike where Apple Stores locate, we primarily work where the affluent aren’t.

Many places, however, increasingly see a bimodal distribution, like this:

In these places—and we’ve written about a lot of them for clients—more and more people are well-off. These places are often gentrification stories, in which once-poor or marginal areas are taken over by college-educated high-earners looking for a reprieve from big-city housing prices.

But there’s often a second, shadow story as well, and in that story far more people are simply not making it—but not showing up in data like median household income. They’ve fallen out of the middle class or never quite made it there in the first place. Their lives were okay until opioid addiction or an accident or a factory closure turned those lives downwards. They’re making it every month until draconian zoning laws increase their rent to unrealistic levels, leading to eviction.

Those people are part of the data too, but the bifurcation means they can get lost from a cursory glance at Census or similar data. At the city or county level, data can look pretty good, even if at the zip code or Census Tract level reveal many pockets that aren’t doing well. We’ve seen that kind of data reappear over and over again as we write needs assessments for proposals, most prominently in L.A. and New York, but this bimodal dynamic appears elsewhere too—and I’m confident that Nashville is one of the places where a “two worlds” story can be told.

One of those worlds is downtown and near Vanderbilt University, with no shortage of trendy coffee shops like Crema, where sublime, rococo $6 pourovers are available.* In that world, construction cranes are seemingly everywhere. I checked a couple of new apartment buildings where one-bedroom apartments are almost $2,000 a month. For that price, I’d take Brooklyn or Queens, but someone must be willing to pay—however absurd those prices seem to me. I suspect the next recession will be an interesting experience for those building developers/owners.

The other world is not very far away, and I found some evidence of it off West End Avenue: the mom-and-pop nonprofits renting storefronts, cheap ethnic restaurants (which I like!), and halfway houses/treatment facilities. I’m guessing that a lot of downtown and Vanderbilt residents only rarely wander into those parts of town, even though they’re pretty close, geographically speaking.

Almost every Nashville native I talked to mentioned traffic and parking problems. To me that’s hilarious; I saw no traffic issues whatsoever, or nothing that I’d consider real traffic, but my internal calibration comes from Seattle, NYC, and L.A., with those last two being the biggest cities in the U.S. Urban planners like to say that every place worth being has a “traffic problem,” so I tend to discount those complaints. And parking problems make sense too, due to the hidden high cost of free parking. But most people don’t think in terms of systems; they think in terms of what’s immediately in front of them. To fix the “problem” at the forefront, it’s often necessary to think about the system as a whole—exactly like most people don’t.

To my eyes, I didn’t see traffic in Nashville; I saw underutilized roads that were empty almost all the time. Empty parking spots could be seen almost everywhere I walked and rode. The city seems to have lots of space for growth, and there are even plans for a rail network that will make the transportation system more functional. I have no idea if that’ll come to fruition, but if Nashville voters are smart they’ll think about the future and avoid Seattle’s errors.**

I write about transit here because transit issues are linked to housing issues, and housing is becoming (or has become) a major issue driving poverty, problems with the middle class, and other economic challenges that grant-funded programs are supposed to ameliorate. Without addressing them, many job training and housing are doomed to fail, much like L.A’s Prop HHH for homelessness services.

Some other thoughts, less cogently developed: Vanderbilt dominates the educational landscape. There are also some HBCUs in the city, but it’s striking how this single university sprawls almost everywhere. In Seattle, the University of Washington plays an analogous role, but Seattle seems to have more community colleges in it, along with the private Seattle University and the University of Puget Sound in nearby Tacoma. I don’t have a huge amount to say about what this means, but as someone who likes to teach as well as write proposals, it’s noticeable.

There’s a lot of “sir” and “ma’am,” or at least more than I’m used to. It’s charming. Coming from NYC, it’s hackneyed to say it, but people really are more polite in the South!

Most city ads and slogans are, uh, BS—or at least overstated. Nashville bills itself as “Music City” and lives up to the name. Guitars are everywhere, as is live music. The guy who played at my hotel on a random Thursday night sounded really good. Most of the time, where I hear “live music” at a bar, I want to go elsewhere. Not so in Nashville. I kept chatting with people and asked, “What made you move here?”, and many said, “music.” I stopped to listen to many singers in random bars and most of those singers were good.

Of the new residents who didn’t say “music,” many were from smaller towns elsewhere in the vicinity. One hostess, for example, was from a small town in Arkansas, and she had the charming accent to match. Another guy said he’d moved from Mississippi for “opportunity.”

The bike share program is so small that its utility is limited, and I don’t think I saw anyone apart from myself on a bike for the first few days. If traffic were truly bad, that would change. The city is ripe for Ofo, Spin, and Limewire: dockless companies that make the bike pickup and dropoff experience far simpler. Sidewalk space is copious, too.

While I visited, a fire department conference was going on, so I spontaneously pitched grant writing to some of the fire chiefs I met for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program. We’ve done a fair amount of work for fire and police departments over the years, although we don’t emphasize that on our website or in general marketing.

Austin is the next city on the visit list. I already have one person lined up for a meeting there; if you’re in Austin and want to talk grants, teaching, and related matters, drop me an email.

* While I was writing this post, a hipster-looking dude in a checked shirt and glasses came over to ask if I knew the wi-fi password. I didn’t—I often like to write “offline,” so to speak, and away from the endless carnival of the Internet—but somehow the experience is emblematic of the nerd economy.

** Briefly, Seattle had various rail plans that by some estimates date back to 1912; in the ’70s, Seattle almost started a rail system funded with federal money, but cutbacks at Boeing made people wonder if the city was going to shrink into itself. Then the city began to recover in the in the mid ’90s and began planning its current light rail projects. Unfortunately, the early parts of the project were ill-managed, but there’s now a light rail line stretching from the SEATAC Airport in the south to the University of Washington (“U-Dub” in local lingo) in the north. Still, no train lines cross Lake Washington to Bellevue (home to many Amazon execs) and Redmond (Microsoftville)—yet. The next major line is supposed to open in 2021 or 2023. The slowness of the projects is notable.

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Surfs Up: Seliger + Associates Is Back Where We Started From (More or Less): California

A guilty pleasure during the mid-2000s was watching The O.C. with our then-high-school-age twins. Between the typical nighttime soap opera plot twists, the series produced occasional insights, had appealing actors and perpetuated the “endless summer” mythology of Southern California that we mine with good effect in counterpoint when writing needs assessments for LA-area clients. But best of all were the indie rock songs, and best of these was the theme, “California.” From an aerial position, the camera pans over incredible Newport Beach bluff-top houses during the opening credits as one-hit wonders Phantom Planet cries:

We’ve been on the run
Driving in the sun
Looking out for #1
California here we come
Right back where we started from.

After leaving California on the day of O. J. Simpson’s slow speed-speed chase in 1994, Seliger + Associates has come right back where we started from. Well, not exactly—it’s Huntington Beach in SoCal, not Danville in NoCal, but close enough. Faithful readers will know that we and our business have migrated over the years from NoCal to Seattle to Tucson to Surf City.

When I was at Sandburg Junior High in Golden Valley, a beach-deprived suburb of Minneapolis, I was a big fan of the Beach Boys. I was even bigger fan of Jan and Dean, who recorded Surf City. To paraphrase Brian Wilson, who wrote the lyrics, now that we’ve gone to Surf City, we hope it’s “two grants for every client.”

Faithful readers will also know that when I travel by car, I observe the passing scenes of Americana with a grant writer’s eye. This relatively short move confirms that, like Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of the Great Recession are greatly exaggerated. As I did when I drove from Seattle to Tucson two years ago, I saw many signs of economic dislocation on my way to Surf City a few weeks ago—vacant and abandoned buildings and folks in broken down cars at rest areas that evoke the the Joads, although it was hard to say whether they were fleeing from or to California. Even in LaLa Land, it is obvious from empty retail and office space, car lots with few vehicles and fewer shoppers, $1 meal deals, and a dearth of help wanted signs that good times have not arrived outside the precincts of the New York Times and Federal Reserve spokespeople.

Bad economic news is, of course, good news for grant writers, as I’ve been blogging about for the last three years. Seliger + Associates has been busy churning out proposals, which is the primary reason readers have not seen a post from me for a few weeks. Now the move is more or less complete, and we’ve just about caught up with deadline obligations. I will get back to writing at least a post every two weeks or so.

There is lots of interesting news that impacts grant writers and grant seekers. Perhaps the most important is the incredible number of RFPs on the street, which will be true throughout the summer, and the reality that Congress will significantly decrease discretionary spending for FY ’12 as part of a debt ceiling deal with the Obama administration. I’ve written about the former repeatedly in recent months and will write about the latter soon. But, now, I think it’s time to power down the iMac, leave the office, go home, put on my baggies, and take the puppy to the Huntington Dog Beach, easily the best dog beach in the world, to see if the Surf’s Up:

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I’m in a New York City Recession State of Mind: Quick, Hand Me a Burger and Fries

As I write this, K and I are flying back from a 12-day vacation in New York City, AKA the Big Apple and the City so great they named it twice. I knew from New York, New York, it’s “a hellava Town, the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down,” so getting around was not a problem. A grant writer’s vacation in NYC is something of a busman’s holiday in that I was overwhelmed by the never ending implications of the city and its residents for writing. Other than a few days about 100 years ago as a 16-year old, my scattered trips to NYC have been confined to brief business trips. Hard as it is to believe, and although I’ve written lots of proposals for NYC clients, my direct impressions are pretty much based on movies,* Law & Order, and Seinfeld.

Walking uptown, downtown and seemingly all round Manhattan, interspersed with lots of subway rides, put me in a New York [Recession] State of Mind. If one looks closely, even in such tony neighborhoods as the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Central Park South, Chelsea, etc., the signs of the lingering Great Recession are everywhere. We were able to easily buy 1/2 off seats to a fairly big name Broadway musical and opening night seats for Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera. The latter should not have been possible at the last minute.

Virtually every restaurant we visited was offered some kind of deal, and New Jersey Transit is discounting their AirTrain service into Manhattan by 25%. Casual conversations with assorted New Yorkers confirms that the Bronx may still be up, but business is decidedly down and optimism is hard to find. We saw plenty of vacant store fronts and many ads for apartments with “asking price” rents that imply negotiation. As I gazed at Central Park from our 32nd floor room at the wonderful Le Parker Meridien, I thought about the impact of the tough economic times is having on the army of tip-dependent service workers who make it possible for the swells to glide by in town cars and tourists like us to move seamlessly from world-class Jazz at the Village Vanguard to low-down Blues at Arthur’s Tavern. I know that hard times for the working poor means equally hard times for the nonprofits that provide services to them and to the even less fortunate, who are without jobs or are entirely dependent on safety net services.

Since Manhattan is probably the best walking experience in America and the NYPD’s reverse community policing** policy means that tourists can feel quite safe in the neighborhoods they are most likely to visit, it was easy to get an exceptional street level view of the City. As a grant writer, I was struck by the almost complete lack of obvious homeless and panhandlers. The homeless seemed confined to church steps, while most begging took place on subways (perhaps a captive audience is best). I assume the relative lack of visible homeless in touristy areas is due to a combination of the City’s aggressive police presence combined with hefty funding for homeless services agencies. It can’t be due to an absence of actual homeless, because the dire economic times means they must be somewhere. Perhaps a reader who works for a NYC homeless services agency can shed some light on this.

Walking around Manhattan, I was also struck by the dichotomy of schools. While in Central Park, we saw squadrons of prep school kids in snazzy uniforms jogging and otherwise using the Park, generally under the very close scrutiny of staff. Basically, junior Holden Caulfields, who were a particularly startling sight near the Dakota Apartment Building at which John Lennon was killed by a self-professed Caulfield wannabe. In contrast, we saw several public schools, all of which were multi-story affairs with tiny playgrounds, generally surrounded by concertina barbed wire. Public school students are stuck behind fences, while their much more affluent peers are free to roam what is the most spectacular “public” park in the country. This curiosity will give me new perspective in writing proposals for at-risk youth in Manhattan. It seems to me that they may be most at risk of being injured trying to escape their educational compounds. While we were in New York, the ever non-ironic New York Times reported that City schools had once again turned in lower scores on state standardized tests. More bad news for citizens and good news for grant writers.

NYC is a town of sidewalks, at least this time of year, and much of the life of the City flows along them. It was startling to encounter hoards of furtive smokers on virtually every sidewalk. This is despite the fact that cigarettes cost $14/pack in the City! Apparently, astoundingly high taxes and draconian restrictions on where one can smoke have not had all that much effect on smoking. About 20% of all Americans continue to smoke, but I suspect the rate is higher in NYC. Oddly, the poor and the well-off are more likely to smoke these days than middle income folks. Mayor Bloomberg frequently rails against smoking and junk food. But New York sidewalks confirm that he hasn’t exactly succeeded with smokers and has had even less success with junk food. Endless food carts and wagons, dispensing hot dogs, shawarma and various other greasy delights.

The City is also filled with all manor of high-end fast food enterprises, like Shake Shack, Burger Joint, and Five Guys & Fries. Additionally, it seemed like every neighborhood had some sort of street festival going on, which meant even more junk food for sale. My favorite was an “Apple Festival” on the Lower East Side, which featured apple sausage, sauerkraut with apples, mashed potatoes with apples, apple fritters, apple pie and just about every other apple concoction except plain apples!

Apparently because of Mayor Bloomberg’s obsession, all fast food outlets post the calories of their fare (I think the winner was the double bacon cheeseburger with large fries at Nathan’s in Coney Island weighing in at 2,200 calories or so—I opted for the Coney Dog at a modest 300 calories and shared fries). None of the upscale restaurants we visited lists calories on their menus, so only fast food frequenters are confronted by the unhealthy reality of what they are about to eat. In part because of a new national consciousness about childhood obesity and related problems highlighted by First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and similar efforts, we’ve written many anti-obesity and pro-nutrition proposals in the last few years. No one in NYC seems to have gotten the memo because I did not see a single Tofu on a Stick and Carrots in a Bag stand in all of Manhattan.

My tour of Manhattan convinces me that the need for grant writers will only increase in coming months. Economists may nod gravely to one another that the Great Recession ended last year and elected officials may pontificate about what is good for us. On the streets of New York, however, tough times are evident, while much of Manhattan is covered in a pall of smoke from cigarettes and french fries frying. I visit LA often enough to know that things remain pretty grim there and now I can confirm the situation is similarly hopeless, but not extreme (or is is extreme, but not hopeless?) on the East Coast too.

* Best recent movie featuring Manhattan as a backdrop is the great thinking man’s monster movie, Cloverfield.

** Rather than using community policing, the NYPD floods selected areas like Times Square with a huge number of uniformed officers. Since they can’t do this in every neighborhood at all times, non-targeted areas must have almost no police presence. While I was in NYC, the NYT reported that the City’s gigantic Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant application was rejected by the Department of Justice, with much fulminating from Mayor Bloomberg’s office. Having written lots of COPS proposals over the years, I am not surprised, as it is pretty obvious that, whatever the NYPD is doing, it is not community policing.

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Graffiti, Windmills, CAP Agencies, and an Answer to the Question As to Whether This is 1975 or 1965

After six months of Stimulus Bill madness, I felt like Bob Dylan in Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues: “I do believe I’ve had enough.” So my wife and I decamped for two weeks in Paris and Berlin, leaving Jake with a whip and a chair to deal with hordes of would-be grant applicants wanting “some of that Obama money,” as one recent caller described it.

As usual, I can’t travel anywhere without contemplating the wonderful world of grant writing. Between fabulous meals and wonderful wine in Paris and Berlin, one fact stood out: the overwhelming amount of graffiti covering many public spaces. I am not a fan of graffiti, so my view is biased, but even someone who appreciates this “art form” would likely be taken aback by the shear volume. The complexity and layers of the graffiti tell me that public officials have given up trying to get rid of it. In contrast, most American cities fight a constant battle against graffiti, which in many cases seems to have worked.

The most famous example was then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s application of the “broken window” theory of fighting urban decay in the 1990s. Overall, I think such efforts have been reasonably successful in most American cities I visit, but as Borat and Jon Stewart would both say, not so much in France and Germany. This is too bad because anti-graffiti programs are great for nonprofits, which can approach the problem at both ends of the spectrum by hiring the people who put up the graffiti at night to paint it out during the daytime, while adding a soupçon of art instruction to spice up the grant application to pay for this cycle. The Arizona Star just reported on such a program trying to get going in Tucson (“Red Tape Stalls Graffiti Cleanup“). The County Court system wants to use juvenile offenders to do the clean-up, and I’m certain many of the young people working in the project are also pretty handy with a spray paint can. In the US, anti-graffiti programs are typically funded by local government agencies, such as this Tucson example, or business groups.

In Europe, we took several day trips from Paris on the TGV. One could see the beautiful French land zipping by at 150 MPH and imagine a knight or two partially hidden in a copse of chestnut trees. The countryside looked timeless.* In contrast, as soon as we entered Germany, the bucolic views were ruined by tons of 400 foot tall wind turbines on every hill. It seems the French value their views by generating electricity with nuclear power plants, while the Germans have decided to solve their electricity needs with wind turbines.

Leaving aside the political aspects of nuclear versus wind power, since both alleviate the global warming problem, and to paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days who said, “Between your faith and my Glock nine millimeter, I’ll take the Glock”—between nuclear power and windmills, I’ll take the nukes. I am not alone in my dislike of giant windmills, as Jeffrey Ball recently wrote in in Renewable Energy, Meet the New Nimbys for the Wall Street Journal. Many people aren’t too keen on sacrificing beautiful vistas on the altar of renewable energy. We are working on a couple of solar and wind projects, which, even if they are funded, might get tripped up by a rowdy band of nimbys.

My final observation about our Europe ’09 tour is that I saw almost no evidence of nonprofits. This flummoxed me until I realized that this is likely because France and Germany are social democracies with extensive social safety nets. In Europe, most human services are provided by an army of social workers employed directly by the government, instead of through nonprofits, as is done in the US. I may be wrong, but I believe the US system of funding nonprofits through grants to conduct human services is an accident of history resulting from the frenetic pace of deploying War on Poverty programs in 1965, when the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) was set up to find a way to quickly get the federal funds to local communities. OEO was the brainchild of Sargent Shriver, special counselor to LBJ, first OEO Director, father of Governor Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria, and Senator McGovern’s running mate in 1972. Shriver decided the fastest and best way to alleviate poverty was to contract with local nonprofits, rather than using the New Deal model of having the government run local programs directly.

In an effort to keep poor folks in the loop and in keeping with the concept of maximum feasible participation of the poor contained in the enabling Equal Opportunity Act that authorized the War on Poverty, Shriver hit on the idea of forming legions of new nonprofits, called community action programs, usually referred to as “CAP agencies.” About 900 of the CAPs survive around the county, running Head Start, Weatherization and a plethora of other programs. We often work for CAP agencies. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, garden variety nonprofits got hip to applying for government grants and the system as we know it developed. When services are provided directly by government agencies, nonprofits are back to surviving on donations and selling bratwurst as Jake described in Bratwurst and Grant Project Sustainability: A Beautiful Dream Wrapped in a Bun, which isn’t nearly as lucrative as government grants.

This brings me back around to a question I posed last March in The Office of Community Services Rides the Stimulus Wave with Funding for Community Economic Development Projects, But Is It 1965 or 1975 Again?

While thinking about what I had seen in Europe during the long flight back, I have concluded that it is more like 1965 because the feds are in a state of hysteria about trying to shovel Stimulus Bill money out the door, very similar to Shriver’s OEO in 1965, while nonprofits, alternative energy companies and your Aunt Martha are frantic to get a piece of the stimulus pie. In the background looms never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a specter of Vietnam. I am just old enough to remember President Johnson failing in his attempt to balance a progressive domestic agenda with foreign commitments, or, as it was called then, the “guns and butter” dilemma (I’m hardly the only person to notice: the New York Times recently asked “Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?“) Since this ended badly for Johnson, my advice to nonprofits is to go after the butter while it’s on the table. This really is the best of times for grant applicants, so let’s all party like its 1965.

* The best take on Americans visiting Europe remains Mark Twain’s wonderful The Innocents Abroad, Or, the New Pilgrims’ Progress. Not a great deal has changed in 150 years.

** In the Small World Department, and as I was thinking about writing this post last week, the Executive Director of a nonprofit in Kentucky called for a quote on writing a proposal for the CDC HIV Prevention Projects for Community-Based Organizations program. When she told me she was in Eastern Kentucky, I asked her if the Job Corps Center in Breckenridge was still operating and it turns out it is, much to my delight.

In early summer 1965, my older brother got a job right of college as a Residential Counselor at something called a Job Corps Center, which was being set up in a WWII-era army camp by something called the “OEO” that was implementing “the War on Poverty.” He got the job because one of his professors at the University of Minnesota happened to be a pal of one of Shriver’s aides and OEO was desperate for personnel (I see shades of the recent Stimulus Bill ramp-up). My brother went off to become one of the original foot soldiers in the War on Poverty and later that summer I took the Louisville & Nashville Railroad’s famous Hummingbird train to visit him for two weeks. It was quite an experience for a 14-year old kid from Minneapolis to spend time in a southern state just getting past Jim Crow and it started me down the road to spending the last four decades soldiering myself in various ways in the never-ending War on Poverty. I gave the Executive Director, a “War on Poverty” discount on her fee quote for reminding me of why this is really 1965.

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Talk of the Nation, The Department of Education’s Arne Duncan, and Stimulus Slowness

On the way to Seliger + Associates’ new Tucson offices last week, I listened to Neal Conan conduct an interview with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that illustrates problems with both Stimulus Bill (ARRA) passthrough funding and media coverage of contentious issues.

Issue One: Stimulus Bill Distribution

Conan said that education stimulus funding to states had become entangled in bureaucratic morasses. Well, he actually cited NPR education reporter Claudia Sanchez’s reporting on how little stimulus money had gone anywhere because of disagreements about distribution, but I think my first sentence is more accurate. Duncan countered said that 25 states had applied and that more than $20 billion had gone “out the door.”

But neither number means much: which 25 states had applied? The big ones, or the small ones? How much had they distributed downwards? Why are states turning down federal money? And what does this say for the timeliness of the stimulus bill? In a February 16, 2009 post, Isaac wrote:

… despite the best intentions of our President and Congress—it’s going to take quite a while to get the money to the streets. Most Federal agencies usually take anywhere from three to six months to select grantees and probably another three months to sign contracts. My experience with Federal employees is that they work slower, not faster, under pressure, and there is no incentive whatsoever for a GS-10* to burn the midnight oil.

We’re now in June, and Duncan is proud that 25 states have applied and/or been approved for Stimulus Bill funding by the Department of Education. But “applying for or being approved” is another fairly pointless metric. It’s analogous to the Secretary saying that he’s proud that 25 million teenagers are in high school, when the actually important metric is how many graduate.

It seems likely that the inevitable bureaucratic snafus accompanying efforts like the Stimulus Bill are occurring as predicted in our Blog, since no the Feds seem unable to accurately detail the only metrics that matter, how much Stimulus Bill money has actually been spent and what jobs resulted.

Issue Two: The Need for Precision

The second big issue is what else Duncan talked about, or rather didn’t, regarding education: specifics. Many of his points were platitudes that anyone can agree with. Who doesn’t want high-performing schools, excellent teachers, demanding curricula, and so forth? Can I see a show of hands? Will the party against those features please say so on its platform? This is symptomatic of the larger focus on “what” people want, rather than how it is to be accomplished.

The big contention regarding education and so many other programs operated by government or nonprofit agencies aren’t about the “what” we want done—good schools, etc.—but on the how. Will yet another round of educational reform mean being able to hire and fire teachers at will? Convert more schools into charter schools of offer vouchers? Pour more money into existing systems? Train teachers? Lower class size? Fragment existing school districts? At least in the fifteen minutes I heard, Duncan answered none of these questions. This holds an important lesson for grant writers: if you’re working on a problem, it’s not enough to emphasize the “what”—you need to cover the “how” as well. If you’re not telling the funding source what Project Nutria will do, you haven’t told them anything useful.

A Bonus Link

(As a side note, I later heard “Funds would brighten solar industry” on the subject of delays in stimulus funding for that sector. The piece quotes Mike Finocchario, president of Schott Solar, saying, “There’s a slowdown in the marketplace, people basically waiting to see what the stimulus package is going to provide for them.”)

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Seliger + Associates Hitches Up the Wagons and Heads Out to Where the Pavement Turns to Sand

We’ve more or less completed our move to sunnier climes in Tucson, AZ. This is the fourth location for Seliger + Associates in 16 and a half years in business, starting in Danville, CA, before migrating to Bellevue and then Mill Creek, WA. So it’s goodbye to coffee and mold and hello to incredible Sonoran food and unlimited mountain/desert vistas. As Neil Young said in Thresher:

It was then I knew I’d had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand

Faithful readers will remember that whenever I go on a road trip, a blog post integrating grant writing and my innate desire to see what is around the next curve follows. In preparation for the 1,700 mile drive, I read William Least Heat-Moon’s latest book-length paean to the American thirst for the open road, Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey (see Blue Highways: Reflections of a Grant Writer Retracing His Steps 35 Years Later for earlier thoughts on Least Heat-Moon’s Ur-travel essay Blue Highways).

Although we had planned to drive south on US Highways 95/395 through Oregon and California, an excellent blue highway route, our mover decided to drive like the World War II Red Ball Express down US 93 from Twin Falls, ID to Tucson—another great blue highway. He is better at his job than we are at his, so he was going to arrive before us, leaving us to the tender mercies of I-5. But all was not lost, as we were able to take CA 58 east from Bakersfield over the Tehachapis through the Mojave Desert, where we found our long lost US 95, going from Needles to Blythe on 100 miles of roller coaster two-lane highway before our own race to Tucson on I-10 through Tonopah, AZ. Least Heat-Moon would be proud. The upshot of this rambling paragraph is that, 35 years after seeing Lowell George and Little Feat perform for the birthday party of a minor LA celebrity a friend of mine knew at the celebrity’s Malibu “ranch” in 1974, I finally got to drive from Tehachapi to Tonopah, as immortalized in Little Feat’s Willin’:

I’ve been from Tuscon to Tucumcari
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
And if you give me: weed, whites, and wine
and you show me a sign
I’ll be willin’, to be movin’*

I only need to find time to drive from Tucson to Tucumcari for the circle to be complete.

This blather does have something to do with grant writing: as I have observed before, at their most basic level, grant writers are simply story tellers who often tell stories about places they have never seen. Long distance driving, preferably on blue highways, is an exceptional way to stay in touch with America—not the America of CNN or Fox News or the New York Times and Washington Post, but the America that is really being blasted by the Great Recession. As we rolled through small towns in the Central Valley and Mojave Desert, we saw endless Main Street desolation: forlorn vacant restaurants with fading “For Sale” signs, car dealers, either closed or with the few cars they had spread out across expanses of display lots with balloons tied to antennas in a sad attempt at normalcy, and, perhaps most troubling, piles of broken stuff—cars, appliances, farm equipment and mounds of unidentifiable crapola that apparently no one wants.

Perhaps no one cares enough to haul this junk away, or maybe there is no place to haul it to. Although politicians from Washington D.C. to Seattle chatter on about the “greening” of American and the importance of using resources wisely, to me it seems more like the “rusting” of America. Least Heat-Moon found the same disturbing panorama in Roads to Quoz, preventing him from seeing the scenery beyond the roadway:

Miles of abandoned buildings, of decaying house-trailers steadily vanishing under agglomerations of cast-off appliances, toys, rusted vehicles (autos, busses, riding mowers, tractors, trucks, a bulldozer, a crane, a forklift), and a plethora of cheap things.

Least Heat-Moon wrote about Oklahoma, which I discussed in the “Blue Highways” post noted above, but the junkification of rural America has worsened considerably in the last year, presumably because of the enervating effects of the recession. If any interested rural nonprofits are reading this, Project JUNC (Joint Undertaking to Negate Crap) would be a great Stimulus Bill grant concept; JUNC would train unemployed folks to pick up stuff, haul it, sort it, and recycle it. I’ll even provide a 20% discount to write the proposal because, like Least Heat-Moon, it’s hard to admire a 19th Century courthouse or church when you have to look past blocks of detritus. It pains me to see much of rural America being buried in kipple.**

I am about to write a HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 (NSP) proposal for a rural city in California, which involves rehab of vacant, foreclosed houses. Since endless newspaper stories describe how vacant houses get stripped of copper plumbing, appliances, etc., I was going to include this idea, as I usually do when writing about housing rehab, in the proposal. But my recent sojourn through rural OR, CA and AZ, gives me pause. Why would anyone bother breaking into a house to steal metal, when tons of metal are piled along rural roadways, there for the picking? This is a real world demonstration of how road trips benefit grant writers. Grant writer readers should get out of your Aerons, fire up your Prius (in my case, a BMW ragtop), and unleash your inner Kerouac by going On the Road.

* Not to worry: no weed or whites were abused on this drive—just a little wine to take the edge off after the the day’s drive after finding a motel that would take our golden retriever.

** Kipple is the accumulated junk of modern society and is best described by Philip K. Dick (one of my favorite SF writers) in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was made into the nearly perfect 1982 movie, Blade Runner. For cognoscenti of this film, Harrison Ford’s despairing Deckard is actually a replicant.