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

Read the full story.

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 Then come back and give us your thoughts.

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.

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 02, 2009

Soul of the City -

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.

October 01, 2009

Grand Forks a good example for us to follow -

From the Winnipeg Free Press:

Grand Forks got a huge boost in confidence and prestige this week by ranking second-highest out of a group of 26 U.S. cities in a large survey gauging community attachment.

The purpose of the study done by Gallup and the Knight Foundation was to show the correlation between communities with strong community attachment (CA) scores -- essentially loyalty and passion for the community -- and those with the highest economic growth.

More research is to follow that organizers hope will show even more conclusively such loyalty and passion will actually create stronger economic growth in a community.

The findings are interesting and probably surprising to some. Who knew the good people of Grand Forks were as engaged and committed to their community as they are?

October 01, 2009

Hometown pride points to growth potential -

From the Bradenton Herald:

Manatee County’s determination to diversify the economy and attract new business received a major boost this week. Bradenton’s top ranking in a Gallup study, funded by the Knight Foundation and entitled “Soul of the Community,” should help convince business prospects that this is indeed the right place to locate their enterprise.

Gallup surveyed 25 other American communities to identify the reasons why residents become emotionally bonded to their town. Thanks to a surge in community passion and loyalty in 2009, the Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice region scored highest of all for emotional attachment. The rise in ratings for three key factors fueled that score: our appreciation of local social offerings, the area’s natural beauty and our friendly and open nature.

Not even the sour economy, the worst in decades, could dampen our enthusiasm — even though unemployment took the top spot as the most important problem among survey respondents.

September 30, 2009

Smaller U.S. cities generate more loyalty and passion -

From Gallup:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new Gallup study of 26 American cities, conducted in conjunction with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that residents of smaller cities such as Boulder, Colorado, and Charlotte, North Carolina, are more likely to recommend their city as a place to live than residents of larger cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit. Overall, residents in Bradenton, Florida, were the most likely to recommend their city, while residents in Detroit and Gary, Indiana, were the least likely.

September 30, 2009

The top three things that make people love where they live

Matt Thompson is Knight Foundation's Interim Online Community Manager. He edits the Soul of the Community blog.

Image courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr.

Over the past two years, we've asked almost 28,000 people from all over the U.S. how they feel about their communities. Are they satisfied with where they live? Would they recommend it to others? Is it perfect for folks like them? Are they proud to live there?

We also asked them a ton of other questions about their community. How are the highways and freeways? How well do community leaders represent their interests? How safe is it to walk around their neighborhoods? How's the local economy?

From their answers to the second set of questions (regarding different aspects of their community), we tried to figure out which of those questions did the most to predict their answers on the first set of questions (regarding their own feelings about the community). And in place after place, knowing how they perceived three key aspects of the community told us the most about how much they cherished the community overall.

3. Aesthetics

Image courtesy of Яick Harris on Flickr. 

In each community, Gallup researchers asked residents two questions about its attractiveness - how they rated the area's parks, playgrounds and trails and how they rated its overall beauty and physical setting. It turns out a pretty city is a lovable city.

You might have suspected this. After all, an area's aesthetics are one of the first things we talk about when we say why we love a place. Urban design has become a huge topic nationwide over the past few decades, well-reflected in the online conversation through popular sites like Inhabitat and Worldchanging. We intuitively thrill to projects like Manhattan's High Line - turning an abandoned rail line into a public park - because we recognize that these aesthetic enhancements are important for a community's well-being.

But would you have expected that our feelings about our community's aesthetics play a bigger part in our attachment to a place than public safety or highways and freeways? That surprised me, and it suggests to me that as much as we talk about urban design and green space, we might still be underestimating its impact.



2. Social offerings 

Image courtesy of fabbio on Flickr

It sometimes seems as though every city in America is working on a neverending downtown revitalization project. In recent years, a lot of emphasis has been placed on creating vibrant social cores for our communities, dense places where diverse groups of people can interact. Our study suggests these efforts are valuable.

Researchers asked residents questions about how fun and social their communities are - Is there vibrant nightlife? Is it a good place to meet people and make friends? How much do residents seem to care about each other?

Responses to these questions did a lot to indicate how attached people are to where they live. I think this is especially interesting considering the study covers residents from a number of demographics, not just the young, single urbanites that we think of when we hear words like "nightlife."

To be a top-three characteristic overall, social offerings had to be important to people of a wide range of ages, marital statuses and incomes. And in fact, it's an ascendant community trait whether you're looking at a relatively older community like Bradenton, Fla., or a relatively young community like State College, Pa. - both areas where social offerings are actually the leading indicator for community attachment.


1. Openness

Image courtesy of Luiz Felipe Castro on Flickr.

The number one trait we identified as decisive in determining residents' attachment to a community was openness. To get at this trait, researchers asked whether the community was a "good place for" different groups of people - senior citizens, racial and ethnic minorities, families with kids, gays and lesbians, college graduates, and immigrants from other countries.

In community after community, residents' responses to these questions told us the most about how attached they were to their community.

Urban scholars such as Richard Florida have been talking for years about the economic benefits of tolerance - a community's friendliness to different groups of people. Our findings underscore the value of these characteristics and add some strong empirical weight.

But this leaves me with some questions. Openness might be the most significant trait in determining community attachment, but of all the areas researchers asked about, this is also one of the most personal and subjective. After all, civic leaders can fix up highways and freeways, create parks and bike trails, make housing more affordable, encourage the development of fun nightlife corridors, and work to lower crime - we have recognized public policy levers to address all of these community needs. But how does a community make itself more welcoming? Laws and policies can only go so far in addressing this perception.

Might it be that one of the community's most important traits is also the most difficult to improve? This post is republishable under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share alike license.


September 29, 2009

What keeps us here: Gallup study identifies Lexington's allure -

From Business Lexington:

LEXINGTON, KY - There is nothing like the validation of consensus, gathered scientifically, to reassure community leaders that they have been on the right track as they have invested uncountable hours, immeasurable brainpower and draining energies to the task of placing Lexington on course for competitive 21st century economic development.

Lexington residents rank "social offerings" (fun places to gather) as one of the most important factors in connecting them to their hometown, according to research conducted by the Gallup organization for the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation. Openness (how welcoming a place is) and basic services (community infrastructure) rounded out Lexington's top three assets in the view of its residents.


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