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, Bradenton’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 the Bradenton area has fluctuated over the three years of the study. It was significantly higher in 2009, placing the Bradenton area as the most attached community studied, then attachment decreased slightly in 2010, placing the community in the top five. 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 Bradenton in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, particularly the natural beauty. Being a coastal community, this is perhaps not surprising but is a defining feature of this community that should be leveraged to drive attachment to the area.
The Bradenton area also has the highest attachment among high income residents. Organizations with contact to this group, like the community foundation and chamber of commerce, should continue to foster their attachment to the area.
After a boost in ratings in 2009 that helped drive increase attachment to the area, perceptions of social offerings decreased in 2010, making it a challenge area for the community again. Although Bradenton residents are more likely to say that residents care about each other than in its comparison communities, this is still the weakest aspect of social offerings for the area.
Openness continues to be another challenge area for the community. Though the Bradenton area outpaces its comparison communities in perceived welcomeness to older people, all other groups are perceived significantly less welcome in the community. Young talent continues to be perceived as the least welcome group, which is troubling as Bradenton reports itself to be a “boomerang community.” That is, young people leave the community to get their education, but tend to return to raise their families. Bradenton should take advantage of this enviable position to improve perceived welcomeness to young talent to re-attach them to the Bradenton area and assure them that their return home was the right decision.
The community should market its clear strength in aesthetics as a hallmark differentiator between it and comparable communities. Social offerings that take advantage of the aesthetics is warranted. The Bradenton area may be a prime community to try current third space innovations. An example is DIY dining, loved by the 30-and-under set, 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.
The community should continue to provide arts and cultural opportunities and social community events, but it should focus more on using them to build resident caring in the community. For example, have the young professionals lead a series of community events in the arts district or along the riverfront or beach and volunteer their professional expertise to other groups in the community (tax help for young families, English as second language service for new local citizens, showcasing local bands, etc.). This will improve perceptions of openness to all, while also potentially improving the perception of residents caring for each other.