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, Lexington’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 Lexington area remained fairly consistent over 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 have remained basically unchanged during all three years of the study.
A consistent strength of Lexington in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, specifically its natural beauty. Social offerings, particularly residents caring about each other, and openness, particularly to young talent and immigrants, remain a challenge worth focusing on. The community should mobilize its clear strength in natural beauty to serve as a backdrop for social offerings and events that appeal to a broad range of people in the community. Locate social offerings near areas of natural beauty to allow residents opportunities for positive social interaction. This will be particularly important to engaging young residents in the community, which is important because 18-34-year-olds are the least attached age group in the community.
Overall, two of the three key drivers for attachment – aesthetics and social offerings – are rated higher this year. However, resident perceptions of openness is declining, and special attention should be given to this area. For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come to and stay in Lexington, all residents must feel welcomed there and cared for. This must become part of the community culture.
Make sure all groups feel welcome in the community by providing events as well as businesses and services that are specifically designed for them. For example, have the young professionals lead a series of community events in popular parks or volunteer their professional expertise to other groups in the community (tax help for young families, English as second language service for new residents, showcasing local bands, etc.). This will improve perceptions of openness to all and engage young people in the community in a meaningful way while also potentially improving the perception of residents caring for each other.
Lexington also seems like a prime community to try current third space innovations to boost peoples’ perceptions of resident caring and 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 it 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 Lexington.
Lastly, the Lexington area must improve perceptions of key drivers for attachment aomng young residents. Investigate what older and long-term residents are experiencing in the community with these three key drivers that young residents are not. Replicating that community experience for young residents is critical for attracting and keeping young talent in the area.
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?