Kaid Benfield Archive


What attaches people to their communities?

Kaid Benfield

Posted October 16, 2009 at 1:00PM

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For the past two years, the John S. and James L Knight Foundation, working with the Gallup polling organization, have been taking the pulse, so to speak, of 28,000 residents in 26 cities linked to the Foundation.  Called Soul of the Community, the surveys explore "the emotional factors that bind people to place," what makes them choose and remain in their communities.  The cities are scattered around the country, from Long Beach to Fort Wayne to Tallahassee to Philadelphia.

The findings shed light on what planners and leaders in their communities should emphasize in building and sustaining the physical fabric of cities and towns.  According to the website, tolerance and diversity are very important:

"The number one trait we identified as decisive in determining residents' attachment to a community was openness. To get at this trait, researchers asked whether the community was a "good place for" different groups of people - senior citizens, racial and ethnic minorities, families with kids, gays and lesbians, college graduates, and immigrants from other countries."

Number two on the list is "social offerings," suggesting that investing in the kinds of districts and public spaces where people can interact is a winning strategy for a community.  community gathering places like farmers' markets help breed loyalty (by: Ed Yourdon, creative commons license)Coming in third was aesthetics, including parks, playgrounds, trails, and the area's physical beauty and setting, pointing to the importance of urban design and green space  The Knight Foundation's blog says that these elements trumped even public safety among matters important to the respondents.

I should note that the top three attributes were apparently determined not by direct answers to the survey but by the Foundation's analysis of the relationships between the answers to two sets of questions - one to determine how attached respondents were to their communities, and another to determine how respondents felt about particular community aspects.  The Foundation sought to discover which aspects identified in the second set of questions best predicted the results of the first.

Quality of education at all levels was also determined to be important.  Overall, Gallup reported that there was a stronger attachment of residents to their communities in smaller cities such as Charlotte and Boulder than in larger cities.  Gallup also found that, in communities with higher community attachment, recent GDP and population growth were also higher.  The main website includes an interactive map that you can use to click on the various cities and compare their results.  Bradenton, Florida displayed the strongest loyalty to place of the 26 communities studied.