What makes a community a desirable place to live? What draws people to stake their future in it? Are communities with more attached residents better off?
Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Knight Soul of the Community project in 2008 with these questions in mind. After interviewing close to 43,000 people in 26 communities over three years, the study has found that three main qualities attach people to place: social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness (how welcoming a place is) and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces).
We’ve seen now why attachment is an important metric for communities, since it links to key outcomes like local economic growth (GDP). So, the next obvious question is: what drives attachment? After three years of research, the results have been very consistent, and possibly surprising.
First, what attaches residents to their communities doesn’t change much from place to place. While we might expect that the drivers of attachment would be different in Miami, Fla., from those in Macon, Ga., in fact, the main drivers of attachment show little difference across communities. In addition, the same drivers have risen to the top in every year of the study.
Second, these main drivers may be surprising. While the economy is obviously the subject of much attention, the study has found that perceptions of the local economy do not have a very strong relationship to resident attachment. Instead, attachment is most closely related to how accepting a community is of diversity, its wealth of social offerings, and its aesthetics. This is not to say that jobs and housing aren’t important. Residents must be able to meet their basic needs in a community in order to stay. However, when it comes to forming an emotional connection with the community, there are other community factors which often are not considered when thinking about economic development. These community factors seem to matter more when it comes to attaching residents to their community.
And finally, while we do see differences in attachment among different demographic groups, demographics generally are not the strongest drivers of attachment. In almost every community, we found that a resident’s perceptions of the community are more strongly linked to their level of community attachment than to that person’s age, ethnicity, work status, etc.
From Akron WKSU-FM Public Radio News, Nov. 16, 2010:
A new study of Akron and 25 other cities shows what people are passionate about in their communities. The three-year “Soul of Community” study focused on places where John S. and James L. Knight were passionate about their newspapers. The Gallup and Knight Foundation concluded people in Akron are passionate about openness and beauty and social life more than leadership and safety. Gallup researcher Katherine Laughlin says the survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves for economic growth. Laughlin says Akron residents feel that the city needs to improve its social offerings and job seeking college graduates are perceived to be the least welcome group.
From MinnPost.com, Nov. 16, 2010:
We feel the love for our towns — both here and around the country — because of softer issues, such as social offerings, openness to diverse groups, and the beauty of where we live. And when people care strongly about where they live, indications are that economic growth improves.
From EducationWeek, Nov. 16, 2010:
Americans like where they live for a number of reasons, including their local schools, even though this doesn't necessarily translate into either high regard for the schools or a proclivity to become involved in public education.
"Education tends to be one of the highest rated attachment drivers," according to the report. Social and cultural offerings, "openness" to people of all ages and backgrounds, and aesthetics were the other major reasons why people like where they live. Yet, just 22 percent gave high marks to the quality of local public schools. (The study did not disaggregate findings by whether or not one had children in school.)
The St. Paul Pioneer Press, Nov. 16, 2010:
Did the Twin Cities get more beautiful in the past couple of years?
That's what you might conclude from the results of a three-year survey of Twin Cities residents as part of a study funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on what makes people love and feel passionate about their hometowns.
From The Charlotte Observer, Nov. 16, 2010:
One sign that a community's economy is poised to grow: how much its residents love living there, according to the results of a new study.
Emotional attachment to the Charlotte area has held steady for the last three years and remains above the national average, despite the recession, a three-year Gallup poll of residents in Charlotte and 25 other U.S. cities found.
From LuAnn Farrar's Kentucky News Review, Nov. 16, 2010:
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has released its study results from "Soul of the Community." The organization's research included Lexington. According to a the foundation, the intention of the study is to identify "factors that emotionally attach residents to where they live. Some of these community characteristics that drive attachment were rated highly by residents, and are therefore community strengths while others were rated lower, making them opportunities for improvement.
From Philadelphia Weekly, Nov. 16, 2010:
OK, we don’t want you to start your Tuesday off too sad: If you’re in Philly too long, this city will eat you alive – nah, just kidding, sorta. It’ll actually help you grow an “emotional bond” which will keep you here, forevermore. And that emotional bond, according to a new study conducted by Gallup and paid for by the Knight Foundation, found that social offerings, openness and beauty were more important to Philadelphians than, say, safety and perceptions about the economy. Therefore – keeping up? – the vague ideas of “social offerings” and “beauty” of the city are the only things that keep the slow, steady economic machine moving at all! [Philadelphia Business Journal]
From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Nov. 15, 2010:
St. Paul residents are more attached to their city than folks in many other cities and that could mean good things for the local economy, according to a study released Monday.
The Soul of the Community report by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, based on three years of data, looked at 25 other cities to gauge people's passion for where they live.
From the San Jose Business Journal, Nov. 15:
A three-year study found that social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important to San Jose residents than their perceptions of the economy, jobs or basic services, according to a report Monday from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.San Jose residents feel that the city needs to improve its social offerings such as community events, entertainment venues, and arts and culture opportunities.Immigrants and job-seeking college graduates were perceived to be significantly less welcome in San Jose than in 2009.
From The Christian Science Monitor:
If you sometimes stop and wonder why you donate to your local school’s annual fundraiser, help plant trees on your town’s main drag or offer free hot cocoa at every street fair, the answer is because you're either very generous or you know what's good for your local economy.
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?