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.
The Detroit News, Nov. 15th:
Detroit— Residents say the strength of education in the city is one of the reasons they feel a connection to Metro Detroit, according to a new survey.
One thousand residents of a six counties in the Metro Detroit area, who were part of the three-year Knight Soul of the Community survey, identified education as a positive in the city and perceived schools and colleges as doing well. Residents in 25 other communities polled by the survey didn't feel the same way about schools in their areas. The survey — conducted by Gallup and funded through the Knight Foundation — was released today.
Crain's Detroit Business / Nov. 15
Surprisingly, social offerings, openness or how welcoming the community is and its beauty are far more important to Detroit residents than their perceptions of the economy, jobs, basic services, leadership and safety, Gallup said.
Detroit residents pointed to education as a strength of the local community, but their perceptions of both K-12 schools and local colleges and universities are lower this year than in 2009.
In the digital age, where one can easily connect with likeminded people half a world away, technology is redefining the concept of “community.”
So at Knight Foundation, with its focus on community building, we wanted to ask: Does a sense of place really matter anymore?
As it turns out, place does matter greatly – and could have an impact on the local economy.
At MSN's Real Estate site, MarketWatch's Amy Houk writes:
People like where they live for any number of reasons, but there are several standout qualities that ignite residents' passion for their communities — and how the area is dealing with the recession isn't one of them, according to a report released recently by Gallup and the Knight Foundation.
Meredith Hector, Knight's program director in Bradenton, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Bradenton Herald this morning. Here's a taste:
Soul of the Community is a study of perceptions. Unlike the latest unemployment figures, we can change what people think and how they feel. That is why we can be experiencing one of the worst economic declines in recent memory, and still have a large percentage of residents who love where they live.
Shortly after the 2009 results from our Soul of the Community study were released, the Center for the Future of Arizona released a Gallup study of community attachment in Arizona that built on our report's findings. The report, titled "The Arizona We Want," echoed our finding that the three things that do the most to bind residents to their communities are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. It also reinforced the connection between community attachment and GDP growth.
In addition to publishing thoughts from our program directors in the 26 Knight communities, we’re also reaching out to other local civic leaders. These remarks come from an email interview with Johnette Isham, Executive Director of Realize Bradenton.
What jumped out at you from the results of the study?
Soul is a feeling, feeling deep within
Soul is not the colour of your skin
Soul is the essence, essence from within
It is where everything begins
So declares Van Morrison in “Soul” on his “Keep it Simple” album, released in 2008. That’s the same time the Knight Foundation launched its project to find the “Soul of the Community” in 26 cities, including Bradenton.
In addition to publishing thoughts from our program directors in the 26 Knight communities, we’re also reaching out to other local civic leaders. These remarks come from an email interview with Debra Hensley, a community activist and insurance agent in Lexington.
What jumped out at you from the results of the study?
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?