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April 03, 2012

Paula Ellis interviewed by The Community Foundation on Boulder radio

Paula Ellis

The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County discussed community attachment one of the key principles of Knight's Soul of the Community research on "A Public Affair" this month. Morgan Rogers and Max Tappet of the foundation interviewed Paula Ellis, VP for Strategic Initiatives, at KGNU Community Radio. (click on item No.3 in the play list)

November 26, 2012

Ohio: Eric Anthony Johnson: A sense of ‘place’ matters to Akron

By Eric Anthony Johnson

During all the political conversation of recent months, Americans heard precious little on the national stage about the vitality of our cities. Yet our cities are key to future prosperity and job creation due in large part to the proximity of local economic anchors within their boundaries. These are the places where people live, work and learn and where the art of placemaking will be at the center of building competitive advantages.

Placemaking is the ability to identify the unique assets of a community to create and develop strategies and outcomes around quality of life and economic sustainability that best connect people with their place. As such, all community and economic activity must be grounded somewhere in the community that is connected to its greatest assets, not disconnected.

In Akron, the benefits of visionary planning by local leaders such as Mayor Don Plusquellic and University of Akron President Luis Proenza are visible in significant stretches of new investment in Akron. Visit the Akron area if you haven’t recently. Look around and see the progress for yourself. What you’ll witness is a solid foundation emerging for future prosperity.

Urban planners across the country envy what is already in place in Akron. Where other communities are stifled by the difficulty of coordinating community leaders toward a common vision, Akron’s leaders have mobilized for years. And today, work toward developing a vibrant urban core is emerging in a compact area around Main Street and circling around the University of Akron and the main campuses of three local hospitals.

Akron’s emerging urban core has benefited in recent decades from nearly $2 billion of investment in projects and infrastructure, mainly by the city of Akron, The University of Akron, Summa Health System, Akron Public Schools and Akron Children’s Hospital. Minus such investment, the canvas for building a strong urban setting would be blank.

University Park Alliance has focused the past two years on strategies that build on this investment to create an urban core with vitality and civic activity. In 2013, our efforts will continue toward fulfilling the promise of a livable urban neighborhood. The work at UPA is about becoming a market leader in creating a great “place” to spur community and economic opportunity that grow organically, having a long-term impact on the soul of the Akron community.


Copyright © 2012 The Akron Beacon Journal

August 16, 2012

Community: Taking care of neighborhood is a gift to all

South Lido Beach (cc) by Timothy Valentine on Flickr

By Chelsea Clarkson and Allison Pinto in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune

With the recent death of Andrea Rody, our community has lost an everyday community changemaker. We are touched by the way in which her neighbors have been coming forth to celebrate her memory, and as fellow residents of the broader Sarasota County community, we want to acknowledge the significance of her contributions as a neighbor, too.

Ms. Rody took it upon herself to care for her own home community. She joined other neighbors in the simple act of beautifying their surroundings, by tending to their own yards and also by occasionally mowing the shared space of the neighborhood when it needed attention. It is clear that her neighbors appreciated the work that Ms. Rody did and recognized how it contributed to neighborly spirit.

In a recent national study conducted by the Knight Foundation called "Soul of the Community," it was revealed that attachment to the place where we live is profoundly affected by the following three qualities: "openness," or the welcoming way in which neighbors treat one another; "social offerings," such as local meet-ups; and "aesthetics," or the physical beauty of the area. In other words, we are more likely to feel attached to the communities in which we live when there is a naturally occurring sense of neighborliness, when there are spaces in which to regularly convene and when our physical surroundings are tended to with care.

This means that taking the time to look after shared spaces within one's own neighborhood, as Ms. Rody did, is precisely the kind of action that can lead to community attachment. When people feel attached to their home community, they are more likely to feel connected and committed to the place in which they live. It is within communities like these that neighbors share their skills for the sake of personal and collective benefit, which ultimately contributes to the economic thriving of the area, as well as other aspects of community well-being.

Ms. Rody has been described by her own neighbors as someone who was warm, helpful and friendly. That is noteworthy, especially these days when so many people are connected to others through work or other networks but may not even know the names of their next door neighbors.

Robert Putnam describes the importance of social relationships among community members in terms of "social capital." Ms. Rody was undoubtedly generating social capital with her fellow neighbors.

Tending to one's surroundings, getting to know one's neighbors and being friendly are simple acts that can have lasting effects, both at the neighborhood scale and within the community as a whole. When people are neighborly like Ms. Rody, a sense of healthy abundance can be generated. As neighbors fall in love with their immediate communities, it becomes more natural to rebuild the tradition of looking out for one another and the shared physical space in which they live.


Read more in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

July 02, 2012

Finding ways to better describe, measure and replicate community engagement

Photo Credit: Flickr user callumscott2

While engagement is widely seen as a core feature of the best solutions to community challenges, there isn’t yet an agreed upon way to describe it, copy it, measure it - or even know if it’s spreading.  

A yearlong study of collaboratives found that nearly all of them struggled with how to engage residents as co-producers of change. The study, which examined 100 such community-wide efforts and identified 12 as best of class, looked specifically at how institutions engage with each other and how community members themselves engage to produce impact.

Armed with this body of research on what works and with newly announced support from Knight Foundation, the Aspen Institute is launching a Forum for Community Solutions to do two things: share practical tools and skills that can be put to use immediately and build a community of practice that digs deeper.

To accomplish these goals, they’ll host roundtable discussions around the country with mayors, community leaders, philanthropists and businesses to walk through successful “needle-moving strategies.” The institute uses the term needle-moving to help determine impact. It refers to instances when at least a double digit improvement occurs  based upon an agreed measure. They’ll launch a media campaign to publicize what works and provide support to communities with promising, impact-driven engagement projects.

Support for this project goes to the heart of Knight Foundation’s belief that community engagement is necessary to produce lasting, visible change. There is a growing recognition that investing in programs alone is not sufficient given the complexity of the social challenges and opportunities.  Large-scale transformation requires the engagement of all sectors in a community, nonprofits, businesses, philanthropies and governments all pulling in the same direction through collaborative efforts.

The Aspen Institute is also placing a particular emphasis on engaging young people. A new Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund launched as part of the forum will support projects to help Americans ages 16-24 who don’t have a job and aren’t currently enrolled in school.

Melody C. Barnes, the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, will chair the forum at the institute, where it is supported by its president and CEO Water Isaccson.

The goal is ultimately to increase the level of authentic community engagement by developing the tools and knowledge necessary to support it.  It’s also to help institutions more effectively collaborate.

We are excited about taking the best-of-breed ideas identified by the forum, matching them with the communities that can do the most with them and sharing what we learn about community engagement across the country. This partnership gives Knight, The Aspen Institute and community collaboratives the chance to learn together and help share this knowledge with others.

By Paula Ellis, vice president/strategic initiatives at Knight Foundation

May 16, 2012

Placemaking: A Blueprint for our Future

On April 26, Charlottesville Tomorrow held its annual community conversation. This year’s topic was “Placemaking: A Blueprint for our Future.” Over 130 community members turned out to hear Dr. Katherine Loflin present her findings from the Knight Foundation's Soul of the Community project on how attachment to place drives a community’s economic vitality – and how understanding those attachments can direct the ways in which we as a community choose to change and grow.

The top-4 attachment factors (full study):

Social offerings

If you weren't able to attend, here's a little background: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup recognized that there had long been a connection between employee satisfaction and business productivity, and they wondered if the same could be applied to communities. So they set out to see if there was any connection between people’s general feelings of satisfaction about where they lived and the overall productivity and economic health of a community.

The resulting study of 26 communities, called the Soul of the Community, ended up drawing clear parallels between what they call “attachment drivers” and the growth of a local economy. Purposefully emphasizing those drivers in community-wide decision making and keeping place central to decisionmaking is what they call placemaking. Download the latest results from the project here.

Read more in Charlottesville Tomorrow.

November 08, 2011

Ellis: Libraries are respected brands that can help create strong, resilient communities

Gia Arbogast, branch administrator for the Miami-Dade Public Library System describes how YOUMedia Miami will engage teens in building digital literacy skills

Libraries have a fundamental role in how attached people are to where they live, Knight’s Paula Ellis, vp/strategic initiatives, told a gathering of library and civic leaders last week.

That’s particularly important because how residents feel about their community may lead to greater economic vitality, the Knight-funded Soul of the Community study found.

The study identified three factors that drive why people are emotionally attached to their neighborhoods and cities. They include: openness, or how welcoming a place is, its social offerings and aesthetics, Ellis said at The Urban Libraries Partners for Success Conference 2011:

“Openness is at the top of the list of what drives people to love where they live. What is more welcoming than a library? Being welcoming is what gets people in the door and then people can form this emotional attachment to the library as a true community center and place for personal transformation.”

According to the study, communities with the highest number of attached people had the highest rates of economic growth over time.

Ellis and a panel also discussed a second study, that looked at the civic health of Miami and St. Paul, Minn. - two cities on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to being civically engaged.

In fact, research shows that Miami is the least engaged major city in the country, said Nancy Jones, vice president for public affairs and communications at the Miami Foundation. For example, only 7% of Miami residents reported working with an elected official on an issue relevant to their community. Minneapolis-St. Paul on the other hand, was the most engaged metropolitan area. Its residents were more than twice as likely to volunteer as Miami’s (37% vs 15%) and nearly twice as likely to trust their local government (42% vs 24%). Twin Cities residents also had stronger social networks than residents of Miami, including being more likely to use the Internet to connect with their family and friends, talk to neighbors and have meals with other members of their households.

Paul Williams, deputy mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota and Katherine Hadley, library director of the Saint Paul Public Library system, discussed what may explain their city’s higher levels of civic engagement, including having strong public institutions and a thriving nonprofit sector.

Hadley also cited examples of how city’s libraries are playing a strong role in creating civic engagement. One St. Paul program library program hopes to increase residents’ digital literacy skills. The library is currently taking up to ten laptops out into the community to offer digital literacy classes in Spanish, Somalian and Karen. The program trains native speakers in digital literacy so they in turn can train other community members.

Raymond Santiago, director of Miami-Dade Public Library System, said that although he was surprised that Miami was rated so low for civic engagement, one factor behind the numbers is that Miami’s residents are are highly mobile and transient. Because there is such a large influx of various ethnic groups and residents still have a strong connection to their home countries, they often have a lack of ownership over Miami.

Santiago said that this actually brings an opportunity for libraries to help build the brand of civic engagement and community involvement. One way Miami-Dade’s libraries are doing this is through YOUMedia Miami, a program set to launch later this year that will empower teens by building their digital literacy skills.

Ellis concluded the session by encouraging participants to think of libraries as one key way to build the public trust for citizen and community engagement:

“In world of decaying trust, one brand remains highly trusted and respected and that’s the brand of the community library. Embrace the reach of that and help us to all create more resilient and strong communities.”

—Elizabeth R. Miller

October 05, 2011

'Place Matters' program a fresh venue to discuss community engagement; tune in this morning

Video: Dr. Katherine Loflin worked with leaders from community foundations to find place making opportunities in the results of Knight's Soul of the Community research. Now her radio program will explore similar themes.  

soul of the community


The Knight Soul of the Community project is a groundbreaking study that explores what makes people love where they live, and why it matters. Using primary survey research gathered in 26 U.S. communities by Gallup for Knight from 2008 to 2010, Lead Consultant Dr. Katherine Loflin helped identify a strong correlation between how citizens feel about their local community and economic output of that community.

Katherine Loflin, Ph.D. speaking at the Council on Foundations Fall Conference for Community Foundations. 

Ultimately, if you love your town, prosperity follows, and it even shows up in the GDP for that town.

In the wake of these findings, Knight funded Dr. Loflin to build higher, and take a look at the implications and opportunities for U.S. communities. The result is “Place Matters,” a new weekly radio program focusing on place making and its connection to community engagement.

“The field of placemaking is really booming right now,” Loflin says. “I have a ready and hungry audience from the Soul of the Community work, and people with an avid interest in placemaking work in a variety of sectors all across the country. They are seeking the show out and tuning in the podcast. The show is really a public home for the placemaking conversation by bringing in research, thought leaders from around the country and inspiring stories and ideas from everyday citizens.”

On the first show, her guest was Fred Kent, one of the founders of the placemaking movement. He started his career with Margaret Mead in observing human behavior within city. Today Kent is the president of the Project for Public Spaces, which boasts of training thousands of participants each year in the concepts of placemaking.

The next show – set for today, Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. EDT, will take a look at the implications and opportunities of the Knight Soul of the Community project.

Future shows will showcase successful ideas from everyday citizens in placemaking; profile the innovative placemaking work of a couple of cities; have a mayor or two on who are using placemaking as a foundation of their leadership; and perhaps someone from United Nations Habitat to explain the placemaking push around the world.

If you’re in the Miami area, you can tune in the show Tuesdays on WZAB, 880-AM and everywhere else you can listen live on the Internet or fetch the podcast from iTunes. Katherine says she keeps an open line to listeners during the show through a Facebook page, and follows tweets marked #placematters and #placemaking. Follow her show on Twitter @katherineloflin.

September 21, 2011

Knight Foundation heads to the 66th Annual Conference on Citizenship to discuss civic health and Soul of the Community


This afternoon Knight Foundation will help lead a discussion on measuring civic health at the 66th Annual National Conference on Citizenship, an annual event that explores the revised roles of citizens, nonprofits, and governments in a 21st century democracy. The theme for this year’s conference is “Redefining America’s Social Compact.”

The Civic Health Index, funded in part by Knight Foundation, is an annual report that elevates the discussion of our nation’s civic health by measuring a wide variety of indicators. This effort to educate Americans about civic life also seeks to motivate citizens, leaders and policymakers to strengthen it.

Tomorrow on Sept. 23, Paula Ellis, vp/strategic initiatives at Knight Foundation will present on a panel titled “Best Practices in Creating Civic Strategies” from 10 - 12:15 p.m. The session, moderated by Lattie Coor, chairman, Center for the Future of Arizona will bring together local, regional and national leaders to talk about civic strategies that help communities thrive and discuss the future of our nation’s civic information infrastructure.

During the panel, Ellis will discuss Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community project, a three-year study designed to determine the factors that make residents love where they live. According to Ellis, the role that community engagement plays in an area’s economic growth and well-being is vital:

“It matters if people are attached to and passionate about the place they live. We know that engagement matters because through Soul of the Community we’ve demonstrated in 26 cities over three years that communities that have more engaged people do better as measured by five years of economic growth.”

Many of the events over the next two days will be live-streamed, see the agenda to access livestreamed content. If you want to follow the conversation on Twitter @NCoC will be live-tweeting the conference using the hashtag #NCoC.




February 07, 2011

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Aberdeen Implications

The purpose of Knight Soul of the Community is to provide communities a roadmap for understanding what attaches residents to their community and why it matters – not to be prescriptive on what communities should do with the information. However, the findings do point to some general implications and suggestions, some of which the community may be already undertaking, or provide new opportunities for consideration. 

Like the other 25 communities studied in Soul of the Community, Aberdeen’s key attachment drivers are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. However, it is not as simple as identifying best practices in each of these areas and replicating them everywhere.  Instead, as the name implies, Soul of the Community encourages a conversation about a community’s soul or essential essence as a place around these key drivers. Some possible questions to ask are: What is it about our aesthetics/social offerings/welcomeness that is unique to our community? Where do we excel or struggle in those areas? Using that information to optimize those drivers to encourage resident attachment—and potentially local economic growth – is what Soul of the Community seeks to accomplish.

Attachment to Aberdeen has increased during the three years of the study.  This finding alone helps to demonstrate that attachment to place is about more than jobs and the economy.  The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the general rating of these areas by residents overall have remained basically unchanged during all three years of the study.

A consistent and clear strength of Aberdeen in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, specifically the parks, playgrounds and trails.  The community scores significantly higher than its comparison group of communities in this area.  This is a central strength Aberdeen should leverage.

An additional strength is how Aberdeen’s residents rate their caring for one another, an aspect of social offerings.  Only Grand Forks, N.D., scores significantly higher in this area.  However, resident caring is rated significantly lower this year meaning that the community is losing ground in this important quality that is uniquely Aberdeen.

Despite its high ratings of resident caring, social offerings remains a challenge area for Aberdeen, specifically in the areas of local night life and arts and cultural events.  This must be addressed as these areas are particularly important to young people. Over the past three years of the study, Aberdeen has made significant gains in attaching young people 18-34 years old to the community.  Imagine what could be possible with more attention to these aspects of social offerings.

Additionally, the community’s perceived openness is another challenge area.  Although residents rate it as fairly welcoming to families with young children and the elderly, it has significantly lower ratings in welcomeness to all other groups including minorities and young talent. For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come and stay in Aberdeen, all residents must feel welcomed there. The fact that it scores highly on resident caring, but lower in aspects of welcomeness to specific groups may indicate that the community is “tight knit” – it may appear closed to outsiders, but once a person is part of the community and personal relationships develop, so does the generalized caring.  This process is something to deliberately foster – first presenting itself as a welcoming place to all by showcasing its small town caring culture as a key aspect of the community brand through the chamber of commerce, local elected leadership, etc.

Other opportunities to leverage strengths and address challenges include providing park-based activities that are accessible to all residents. Perhaps a park-based arts event that features local residents of every age, group and demographic.  Aberdeen also seems like a prime community to try current third space innovations that capitalize on their unique quality of resident caring but boost their nightlife offerings. One example is DIY dining, which is an intriguing trend in dining, especially for the 30-and-under group, where the customers either bring their own food or buy on-site and cook it themselves together. One such restaurant is the Turf Supper Club in San Diego. Such successful innovations should be considered for Aberdeen.

February 07, 2011

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Biloxi Implications

The purpose of Knight Soul of the Community is to provide communities a roadmap for understanding what attaches residents to their community and why it matters – not to be prescriptive on what communities should do with the information. However, the findings do point to some general implications and suggestions, some of which the community may be already undertaking, or provide new opportunities for consideration. 

Like the other 25 communities studied in Soul of the Community, Biloxi’s key attachment drivers are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. However, it is not as simple as identifying best practices in each of these areas and replicating them everywhere.  Instead, as the name implies, Soul of the Community encourages a conversation about a community’s soul or essential essence as a place around these key drivers. Some possible questions to ask are: What is it about our aesthetics/social offerings/welcomeness that is unique to our community? Where do we excel or struggle in those areas? Using that information to optimize those drivers to encourage resident attachment—and potentially local economic growth – is what Soul of the Community seeks to accomplish.

Attachment to Biloxi is trending downward during the three years of the study, with Biloxi starting as the second most attached community studied in 2008 and falling out of the top 10 in 2010. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the general rating of these areas by residents have remained basically unchanged from 2009 to 2010.

A strength of Biloxi in the eyes of its residents is its social offerings, particularly in the areas of the availability of social community events and perceptions that residents caring about each other. The community scores higher in social offerings than its comparison communities. Though overall social offerings is trending slightly lower in 2010, it remains a strength of the community that community should be leveraged.

Trending upward all three years of the study is the rating of local aesthetics, now becoming a  strength  of the community for the first time during the study.  This is great news that should be exemplified by community leadership as a real achievement considering the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina.  Recognizing that the community is making real progress in such an important area for community attachment may help reinforce and grow this momentum, which could help feed local optimism and ultimately increase attachment.

Though Biloxi scores higher than its comparison communities in openness, it remains a challenge area for the community.  Specifically, young talent continues to be perceived as the least welcomed group and ratings declined during the three years of the study.  This is troubling as many young people left their jobs in other places and returned home to Biloxi after Katrina to help rebuild their community.  However, upon returning, they report not feeling fully welcomed back in all aspects of community life. The findings reflect that the 18-34-year-old group’s attachment took a sharp drop in 2010, and they are now the least attached age group. 

Two things are apparent for Biloxi: (1) success around aesthetics should be highlighted to motivate continued work in this important area for attachment and (2) the community should take every advantage of the young people who moved back to the community after Katrina and use their talents, skills and leadership abilities: Make them feel welcome, included and wanted in the community.  This means providing opportunities for them to assume leadership positions in the community and with the projects that matter most in connecting them to place, specifically social offerings and community welcomeness. Showcase this boomerang effect of young people returning to attract business and jobs to the area.   Target young people and give them a recognized voice in Biloxi’s continued rebuilding. In turn, their attachment to the area will again grow, they will contribute to the local economy, provide a talent workforce and be the leaders that take Biloxi into its desired future. 


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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