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, Tallahassee’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 Tallahassee is the highest it has been during all 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 – have remained the same during all three years of the study, but some of these key drivers are rated significantly higher by residents in 2010, partially explaining the associated jump in attachment.
Tallahassee has many strengths to leverage. A consistent and growing strength of the Tallahassee area in the eyes of its residents is aesthetics, which was rated significantly higher in 2010. Also encouraging is that social offerings are rated higher by residents in 2010, making it a borderline strength for the area.
Even ratings of openness, which is still a challenge area for the community, are increasing. Both social offerings and openness are rated highest by 18-34-year-olds and blacks, indicating that something is going right with some groups in this area. However, there is a fairly big difference in perceived openness to the groups perceived as most welcome – families with young children and seniors – and other groups in the community, with young talent still perceived as the least welcome group. Leadership should try to better understand why perceptions of openness and social offerings for young residents and blacks are different from other resident groups and work to extend that momentum.
Although 18-34-year-olds are still the least attached group, their attachment is increasing in part because they are now rating key drivers for attachment higher. This is a very positive sign and rewards the community’s efforts to prevent brain drain. As the community starts to see results, these efforts should continue. Concentrate efforts on making the community feel welcoming to young talent in particular. Continue to provide events as well as businesses and services that are specifically designed for different resident groups. 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 may not only improve perceptions of openness to all, but it will engage young residents in the community in a meaningful way. Continue to provide off-campus social opportunities in the heart of the community that present the best the community has to offer so no graduate ever says again, “I’m not staying after graduation because I never got to know the community.”