Over three years, Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation set out to explore several key questions: What makes a community a desirable place to live? What draws people to stake their future in it?
The answers are important, especially in today’s world, where the most successful cities are able to attract and retain the talented workers that strengthen communities and local economies.
The Soul of the Community study – which interviewed 43,000 people in 26 communities asked a range of questions about personal satisfaction with community life, about pride in the community, and about optimism about its future, and looked at the connections between answers to these questions and people’s perceptions of many key community attributes.
When we analyzed what people said about how they felt about their community we found that positive attitudes about community didn’t vary much based on respondents’ perceptions of the presence of jobs or the quality of basic services in their city. People with the most favorable opinions of their cities also were more likely to have positive assessments of local social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness, or how welcoming a place is, and the area’s aesthetics, or its physical beauty and green space.
The study revealed a number of interesting patterns.
Looking across communities, it found that residents of smaller cities were more likely on average to express positive feelings about their community, and optimism about its future. And those communities that have experienced particularly hard economic times had lower levels of expressed satisfaction. Community satisfaction varied with demographic characteristics, too. Some demographic groups were consistently more likely to express satisfaction with their community: older, better-educated and higher-income people and retirees all gave their communities higher marks, on average.
The Soul of the Community survey also presented one apparent paradox: People who express high levels of satisfaction with their community are no more—or less) likely than other residents to be engaged in community activities such as voting, volunteering or attending community meetings.
The Soul of the Community survey raises important questions about how our communities are performing and how those perceptions vary among different groups of the population, and what perceived community attributes correlate with community satisfaction.
The Soul of the Community study was a starting point. The survey establishes that people who are satisfied with their community are likely to perceive that the community has great social offerings, is open and has great aesthetics. It also shows that satisfaction correlates with education and income. The Soul of the Community survey confirms the internal consistency of respondents’ rationale for community satisfaction. Our next steps are to further explore the physical environment of community to better understand the tangible aspects of place that attract and anchor talent and provide for opportunity.
As the Soul of the Community project enters its third year, relating the data to our readers has been extremely important for us. Some of the survey's concepts can be a bit tricky to understand at times. Also, with three years of data, there’s lots to digest. So this year, we’re using a new tool to help readers visualize how the factors we study change in importance and over time.
From Akron WKSU-FM Public Radio News, Nov. 16, 2010:
A new study of Akron and 25 other cities shows what people are passionate about in their communities. The three-year “Soul of Community” study focused on places where John S. and James L. Knight were passionate about their newspapers. The Gallup and Knight Foundation concluded people in Akron are passionate about openness and beauty and social life more than leadership and safety. Gallup researcher Katherine Laughlin says the survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves for economic growth. Laughlin says Akron residents feel that the city needs to improve its social offerings and job seeking college graduates are perceived to be the least welcome group.
From MinnPost.com, Nov. 16, 2010:
We feel the love for our towns — both here and around the country — because of softer issues, such as social offerings, openness to diverse groups, and the beauty of where we live. And when people care strongly about where they live, indications are that economic growth improves.
From EducationWeek, Nov. 16, 2010:
Americans like where they live for a number of reasons, including their local schools, even though this doesn't necessarily translate into either high regard for the schools or a proclivity to become involved in public education.
"Education tends to be one of the highest rated attachment drivers," according to the report. Social and cultural offerings, "openness" to people of all ages and backgrounds, and aesthetics were the other major reasons why people like where they live. Yet, just 22 percent gave high marks to the quality of local public schools. (The study did not disaggregate findings by whether or not one had children in school.)
The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Nov. 16, 2010:
Did the Twin Cities get more beautiful in the past couple of years?
That's what you might conclude from the results of a three-year survey of Twin Cities residents as part of a study funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on what makes people love and feel passionate about their hometowns.
From The Charlotte Observer, Nov. 16, 2010:
One sign that a community's economy is poised to grow: how much its residents love living there, according to the results of a new study.
Emotional attachment to the Charlotte area has held steady for the last three years and remains above the national average, despite the recession, a three-year Gallup poll of residents in Charlotte and 25 other U.S. cities found.
From Philadelphia Weekly, Nov. 16, 2010:
OK, we don’t want you to start your Tuesday off too sad: If you’re in Philly too long, this city will eat you alive – nah, just kidding, sorta. It’ll actually help you grow an “emotional bond” which will keep you here, forevermore. And that emotional bond, according to a new study conducted by Gallup and paid for by the Knight Foundation, found that social offerings, openness and beauty were more important to Philadelphians than, say, safety and perceptions about the economy. Therefore – keeping up? – the vague ideas of “social offerings” and “beauty” of the city are the only things that keep the slow, steady economic machine moving at all! [Philadelphia Business Journal]
From The Christian Science Monitor:
If you sometimes stop and wonder why you donate to your local school’s annual fundraiser, help plant trees on your town’s main drag or offer free hot cocoa at every street fair, the answer is because you're either very generous or you know what's good for your local economy.
At MSN's Real Estate site, MarketWatch's Amy Houk writes:
People like where they live for any number of reasons, but there are several standout qualities that ignite residents' passion for their communities — and how the area is dealing with the recession isn't one of them, according to a report released recently by Gallup and the Knight Foundation.
Meredith Hector, Knight's program director in Bradenton, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Bradenton Herald this morning. Here's a taste:
Soul of the Community is a study of perceptions. Unlike the latest unemployment figures, we can change what people think and how they feel. That is why we can be experiencing one of the worst economic declines in recent memory, and still have a large percentage of residents who love where they live.
Great schools, affordable health care and safe streets all help create strong communities. But is there something deeper that draws people to a city – that makes them want to put down roots and build a life?