Matt's blog

December 18, 2009

From MSN: Selling a city's soul

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.

Residents are most attached to their communities when they have fun places to gather, there's a welcoming atmosphere and there are beautiful and green spaces to enjoy, according to the Soul of the Community survey. The study looked at 26 communities and surveyed a random sample of more than 10,000 people earlier this year.

Read more about the study at SouloftheCommunity.org.

Read the full story.

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November 19, 2009

The work of changing perceptions

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.

The economy is bad everywhere. Folks don’t appear to be blaming their financial troubles on where they live. Instead, there are other community features that drive people’s perception that the Bradenton area is a place they enjoy and recommend to others.

Luckily for us, these features also happen to be ones we can influence.

Two key features are perceived as community strengths in Bradenton: our social offerings (fun places to gather and meet people) and our aesthetics (the region’s physical beauty and green spaces).

But a third feature, openness — or how welcoming a place is perceived to be for different demographic groups — merits extra attention and work.

You can read the rest at Bradenton.com. Then come back and give us your thoughts.

October 20, 2009

Attachment in Arizona

Shortly after the 2009 results from our Soul of the Community study were released, the Center for the Future of Arizona released a Gallup study of community attachment in Arizona that built on our report's findings. The report, titled "The Arizona We Want," echoed our finding that the three things that do the most to bind residents to their communities are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. It also reinforced the connection between community attachment and GDP growth.

The study in Arizona provides an excellent counterpart to our Soul of the Community study because none of the communities we surveyed are in Arizona. Furthermore, the results found that in Arizona, much like the rest of the communities we studied, the three key drivers of community attachment remain ascendant across all types of communities, urban and rural, with a wide range of demographic profiles.

Here's an excerpt of what else Gallup found in Arizona:

  • Consensus: Arizona citizens agree on more than we disagree. There is remarkable consensus among Arizona citizens on a broad range of issues and policy positions regardless of where people live. There is also more agreement than we expected by gender, age, income, education and ethnicity. If this level of consensus can be translated into an action agenda for the future, we can achieve The Arizona We Want.
  • Attachment: Arizonans are surprisingly attached to their communities. When the Center began this study, we wondered if Arizona’s high rate of in-migration meant that citizens were a little detached. Apparently, that’s not true. The Gallup Arizona Poll measures the emotional attachment people feel for “place” and found that 36 percent of all Arizona citizens feel passionate about and loyal to their communities. The criteria is rigorous and Arizona’s percentage is among the highest of all geographic areas studied to date using this index. It is not significantly affected by gender, income, education  or ethnicity, and it increases with time lived here.
  • Aesthetics & natural environment: The state’s natural beauty and open spaces are seen by citizens as our greatest asset. Arizona landscapes matter — on both economic and emotional levels. It’s important that growth and development in the future respect the passion that citizens feel for their environment.
  • Leadership: Citizens are not at all satisfied with their elected leaders. Only 10 percent believe that elected officials represent their interests, and only 10 percent rate the performance of elected officials as “very good.” Of the six leadership qualities presented in the Gallup Arizona Poll, citizens strongly agree that leaders need to understand complex issues, but they also want elected officials who will work across party lines.
  • Job creation: Like the rest of the world, Arizona residents want jobs. Only six percent of our residents rate Arizona “very good” for job opportunities. A citizens’ agenda that does not address quality job creation and the educated workforce necessary to support it will not refect the concerns and opinions of citizens.
  • Openness: Arizona is not a great place for young college graduates. Only 11 percent of our residents believe their city or area is a “very good” place for young college graduates looking to enter the job market. This is not a result that can be easily dismissed. What attracts young professionals to a place? Why are some areas a magnet for talent? Beyond a good job, talented young people want nighttime entertainment and recreational opportunities. They like places that share their commitment to the environment and “green” thinking.

Read the rest of the report at TheArizonaWeWant.org.

October 16, 2009

Q&A with local official Johnette Isham on the findings in Bradenton (2009)d

In addition to publishing thoughts from our program directors in the 26 Knight communities, we’re also reaching out to other local civic leaders. These remarks come from an email interview with Johnette Isham, Executive Director of Realize Bradenton.

What jumped out at you from the results of the study?

WOW, the Soul of the Community survey results are a major point of pride for the Bradenton area. Not only does the Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area have the distinction of the highest overall community attachment score in 2009, the two-year results showed a "significant increase in residents' passion and loyalty for their community." From 3.79 in 2008 to 4.03 in 2009 is impressive since Gallup saw little overall change in community attachment in the 26 cities between 2008 and 2009.

Perhaps the major community engagement in the Realize Bradenton cultural planning process this past year helped to fuel the sense of connection people are feeling (although a direct causality is not indicated). Now that I have been on the job 10 days as the new Executive Director of Realize Bradenton (which grew out of the cultural planning process funded by the Knight Foundation), I have experienced a great sense of pride and enthusiasm in Bradenton mingled with “wait and see” anticipation.

I am a strong believer in the sentiment expressed by Peter Drucker that “the ageless essence of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”

Positive image, positive action. So the opportunity now for us is how to build on the Bradenton’s Soul of the Community results and strategically communicate to the various segments of the community its strengths, accomplishments, and the near-term plans for Realize Bradenton. This requires a coordinated strategic communications plan of key messages, information sharing, and multiple venues for dialogue (electronic, print, events, word of mouth). I will be discussing this initiative with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Realize Bradenton Board in the near future.

What do you consider to be the key takeaways from the findings?

This two-year study underscores the power of place and social connections to build economic development outcomes. Citizens who are attached to their community spread the word to prospective residents and tourists. Citizens who are proud become more engaged and informed. It produces results like the Jim Collins “Good to Great” flywheel—“success breeds support and commitment, which breed even greater success, which breeds more support and commitment—round and around the flywheel goes. People like to support winners!”

Do the findings reinforce the value of any local initiatives?

The Soul of the Community (SOTC) results will help Realize Bradenton build its relationship with:

Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB): For the first time the CVB has set aside a pool of funds from the tourist tax to promote arts and culture. SOTC positions Bradenton in a very positive light and the SOTC information has already be sent to the CVB. CVB has secured newspaper coverage on downtown Bradenton from a reporter from the Boston Globe in October 2009. I have passed on the SOTC results to the reporter and hopefully SOTC will be cited in the article.

The Manatee Chamber of Commerce: Mike Kennedy, the Executive Director of DDA and Board member of Realize Bradenton, is attending the chamber’s Leadership Retreat this month and the survey SOTC survey results may provide information on the relationship of economic outcomes to Community Attachment, as well as a road map of findings to help guide business-culture undertakings.

Development of the our next grant to the Knight Foundation: As indicated in SOTC, opportunities for greater engagement are residents who are younger, single and non-employed (including students). As indicated in SOTC, older, long-term, retired and higher educated residents have a strong connection to the Bradenton area and we will find additional ways to engage these segments in Realize Bradenton’s planning and implementation. What I am excited about is that this multi-year study will allow us to measure the progress of our efforts over time using behavioral economic measures.

What questions does the study raise for you?

How can the Net Promoter methodology and an e-survey tool interface with the Soul of the Community and be pilot-tested in Bradenton? I am interested in the Net Promoter concept introduced in 2003 in a Harvard Business Review article, “The One Number You Need to Grow.” The idea is that companies (and cities) should strive to create more “Promoters” and fewer “Detractors.”  Promoters answer affirmatively to the question: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company (our city) to a friend or colleague?” The Net Promoter score can be used to motivate an organization (a city) to become more focused on improving products and services for customers. With the power of the broadband to inform and engage customers and citizens, I wonder how the Net Promoter e-surveys can be adapted for use in civic engagement. Based on my experience using this method in a major franchise, I think it holds promise for community building.

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October 16, 2009

Project finds good in 'Soul of the Community' - BradentonHerald.com

From the Bradenton Herald:

Soul is a feeling, feeling deep within

Soul is not the colour of your skin

Soul is the essence, essence from within

It is where everything begins 

So declares Van Morrison in “Soul” on his “Keep it Simple” album, released in 2008. That’s the same time the Knight Foundation launched its project to find the “Soul of the Community” in 26 cities, including Bradenton.

Finding the soul of anything doesn’t sound simple. Yet it truly is where everything begins. And if the research of this three-year project holds true, the Bradenton area has a tremendous core for its future.

It was with more than a bit of skepticism that I went to the University of South Florida’s Selby Auditorium last week for the official presentation of the project’s second-year results. Let’s see: recession, home invasions, unemployment, record murder rate. Those have been beating up on our community’s soul for months now. How in the world could those traits coexist with a good soul?

Read the rest at BradentonHerald.com.

October 16, 2009

Q&A with local official Debra Hensley on the findings in Lexington

In addition to publishing thoughts from our program directors in the 26 Knight communities, we’re also reaching out to other local civic leaders. These remarks come from an email interview with Debra Hensley, a community activist and insurance agent in Lexington.

What jumped out at you from the results of the study?

I am not surprised by the more positive responses relative to education. I am not surprised that we old people feel more attachment and loyalty to our community. I am not surprised by the perception our community is welcoming to (white) families.

What do you consider to be the key takeaways from the findings?

Passion is alive and well in this community; however, we must find ways to nurture, develop, and identify the passion that exists in those who feel the least connected and loyal to Lexington. It is one thing to love your community because it has a beautiful landscape, lots of team sports for the kids and spectators, or to be passionate about UK Basketball, horses, our KY bourbon. How about people who have other passions? How do we tap into the human desire to feel heard and to feel connected and thus a sense of belonging? Give people a voice and you will get plenty of passion. We need to listen more and talk less. Lexington is a “polite” community. We do not like discourse and when we do, there is a sense of “us against them.” If we are open to the ideas, criticisms, dreams, and desires of the young adults who are most affected by this report, we will unleash a synergy of the collective that will create better results.

Do the findings reinforce the value of any local initiatives?

Yes, I believe the projects that are the most effective are those which have had a high degree of community engagement. Recent examples: The Lyric Theatre (finally it will happen), bike paths, Legacy Trail, Town Branch Trail, East End Small Area Plan (recommendations only, the challenge will be implementation).

What questions does the study raise for you?

I do believe this report underscores the tremendous opportunities for stakeholders, community leaders, and decision makers.

October 16, 2009

Q&A with local official James Bennett on the findings in Columbia

In addition to publishing thoughts from our program directors in the 26 Knight communities, we’re also reaching out to other local civic leaders. These remarks come from an email interview with James Bennett, Executive Vice President and Director of Public Affairs for the First Citizens Bank in Columbia.

What jumped out at you from the results of the study?

I was pleasantly surprised to see education and social offerings as our strengths. However, after I peeled back the onion, I discovered that the strength of education was with the colleges and universities, and K-12 scored much lower. Another indicator was that colleges and universities scored very well, but after graduation, a large percentage of our young folk leave the state. Social offerings was another pleasant surprise. I think that the Vista, the entertainment center of the city, really paid off with the addition of the new baseball stadium, home of the Colonial Center and fabulous restaurants.

What do you consider to be the key takeaways from the findings?

I was interested in the comparisons of African-American views vs. Whites. Again, I was pleasantly surprised as to how closely related the views were. In many instances, African Americans were more positive about their community than Whites. For example, African-American perception of openness of the community to different groups was higher among African Americans than Whites. Civic involvement was higher among African Americans than Whites, including voting in the last election and leadership. However, when the question was asked if this is a good place for racial and ethnic minorities, the response was lower among African Americans. This is a real positive for our community. It is hard to find strong positive engagement across racial lines.

Do the findings reinforce the value of any local initiatives?

I would have to give credit to the local leadership over the years that had the vision to create an environment that was conducive for all people to have a good quality of life. This community has had organizations like The Luncheon Club, Community Relation Council, Seven-Thirty Breakfast Club and Columbia Urban League. We fought side by side to pass a plan to get African Americans elected to the city council. African Americans empowered themselves by voting in the capital city and getting elected to the school board. The school board appointed one of the first African-American superintendents. We continue to improve today with programs like Project Blue Print and Leadership Columbia. The colleges and universities play a major role. Education goes a long way to tear down barriers.

What questions does the study raise for you?

I was a little disappointed, but not surprised, to see the low Civic Involvement scores. As I mentioned earlier, African American scores are higher than Whites. What I also know is that our city government is composed of 3 White council members, 3 African Americans and a Mayor who is White but votes the majority of the time with the African-American members. We also for the first time in the history of the city have a great opportunity to elect the first African-American mayor. I hope that these signs of progress do not create a wedge of racial divide!

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October 07, 2009

Q&A with local official Brad Dean on the findings in Myrtle Beach

In addition to publishing thoughts from our program directors in the 26 Knight communities, we’re also reaching out to other local civic leaders. These remarks come from an email interview with Brad Dean, President and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

What jumped out at you from the results of the study?

I was pleased to see that such a high percentage of people are engaged to our community. This measurement tool, offered by the Knight Foundation, is the only such tool we have, and we had expected it might show a smaller level of engagement with all of the negative news nowadays. We are pleasantly surprised that so many of our residents remain engaged and upbeat about the region.

What do you consider to be the key takeaways from the findings?

The economy is on everyone’s mind, which is certainly no surprise. While our local economy is beginning to rebound, our residents still see a need for the creation of new jobs, economic diversification and investments in our local infrastructure. We’re pleased because each of these issues is solvable, but it’s clear that these are the top concerns, and very consistent with the prior year’s findings.

Do the findings reinforce the value of any local initiatives?

Absolutely! The work that has been done on road improvements and airport expansion, which began years ago and continues today, is clearly a top priority for our residents and businesses. There’s an increasing level of awareness that we must work to diversify our economy, and that is a top priority for our local economic development agency. And while it’s not been easy or quick, there is a growing level of collaboration between the public sector and the private sector on strategies with impact to grow our local economy, particularly tourism.

What questions does the study raise for you?

While we’re pleased that so many residents are enjoying their quality of life in our region, there are still those that are looking for more involvement and more satisfaction. That’s helpful to know, but it’s important we seek to improve our community in a way that benefits everyone, not just a few.

October 05, 2009

Residents say county lacks social offerings - CentreDaily.com

From the Centre Daily Times:

Most Centre County residents think they live in a beautiful place with a good university, but aren’t as happy with the area’s openness and social offerings, according to a survey looking at residents’ attachment to the area.

Gallup conducted the telephone survey of about 400 residents for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It’s part of a larger project that includes surveys of 25 other communities where the foundation is active.

Marc Fest, vice president for communications, said the goal of the survey is to improve the quality of life in the communities. He said leaders can use the information when deciding where to invest resources.

October 02, 2009

Soul of the City - TheAtlantic.com

From Richard Florida in the Atlantic Monthly:

What determines the level of attachment people have to their communities? And how do those levels of attachment and community satisfaction affect local economies? These are big questions that cross the boundaries of urbanism, economics, sociology, and psychology.

For the past several years, the Gallup Organization, in partnership with the Knight Foundation, has conducted a substantial multi-community survey called "Soul of the Community." I worked on earlier versions of the survey and reported some results in my book Who's Your City? Here's a link to the study's website.

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Discover the soul of your community

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?

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