Study Looks At Why People Love Where They Live

Amy Hoak
The Wall Street Journal

People like where they live for any number of reasons, but there are several stand-out 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 Tuesday by Gallup and the Knight Foundation.

Residents are most attached to their communities when they have fun places to gather, there's a welcoming atmosphere and there are beautiful and green spaces to enjoy, according to the "Soul of the Community" survey. The study looked at 26 communities and surveyed a random sample of more than 10,000 people earlier this year.

"While the pain from the recession is deep, other factors far outweigh economics when it comes to determining how emotionally attached people are to their communities," said Warren Wright, managing partner for Gallup, in a news release.

Positive feelings about a community, however, do have a connection to local GDP growth over a longer-term period, according to the report.

The study, in its second year, explores the connection between economic growth and residents' emotional attachment to their communities. Gallup has shown that increasing an employee's emotional connection to his or her company leads to better financial performance of the organization; this study works to see if the emotional connection to a community similarly drives economic growth.

Why People Love Where They Live

The report also is meant to help local leaders and residents identify what people want out of their communities, and how to create desirable environments.

"Have you ever gone somewhere and said 'I could live there?'" said Katherine Loflin, lead consultant on the project, in a phone interview. "It has to do with the welcome-ness, and if it's nice to look at," not "because they're building new business complexes or there are tons of want ads in the paper."

What keeps residents passionate about their communities are some of the things they'd show off to visitors: elements that make for a fun social life, beautiful features, or the historic town square - things that root people in a community, she said.

The research also found:

* A perception that a place is open and welcoming to college graduates is important in order to prevent "brain drain" that can occur when students graduate and leave a place to seek employment.

* New residents are the least attached to their communities of any demographic group, even less attached this year than when the survey was conducted in 2008.

* Residents more satisfied with their jobs are more likely to have an emotional connection to their community.

   Engaged Residents

Bradenton, Fla., Grand Forks, N.D., State College, Pa., Long Beach, Calif., and Aberdeen, S.D., had some of the highest percentages of engaged residents, or those who felt highly passionate about where they live. Areas with some of the lowest percentages of engaged residents were found in Gary, Ind., Detroit, Mich., Macon, Ga., Akron, Ohio and Wichita, Kan.

While Detroit was in the bottom five, the city does have some momentum building to change that, especially with growing enthusiasm of residents between the ages of 18 to 34, Loflin said.

"People think a certain thing about Detroit and the area," she said. Residents are trying to turn that around. "They're saying we're not done with this community."

In Tallahassee, Fla., social offerings - having fun places to gather - were the No. 1 driver of community attachment. There, the Knight Foundation funded the first Tallahassee Film Festival and the Get Gaines Going project, to revitalize a main thoroughfare. Residents of the area are working to create a sense of place, in an effort to get local college graduates to stay and build a career, according to the release.

"A creative and diverse workforce is the key to Tallahassee's future. With guidance from the Soul of the Community study, we can continue to find ways to get there by attracting new talent and keeping our local college graduates in town," said Mike Pate, Knight Foundation's Tallahassee program director, in a news release.

Other communities studied were: Biloxi, Miss.; Boulder, Colo.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ga.; Duluth, Minn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Lexington, Ky.; Miami, Fla.; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; San Jose, Calif.; and St. Paul, Minn.


Catherine said...

Pleasant Ridge meets the requirements for me. I've never felt so connected to my community...I just love it here. An added bonus is being centrally located to everywhere in the Detroit Metro area. Not to mention great neighbors, community gatherings, diverse residents and walking distance to great area restaurants!

Erin Rose said...

I am your neighbor to the south in Fab Ferndale and I totally understand why you love living there. My biz partner lives on Wellesley and they have a block party once a month. My friend who lives on Devonshire just had a pot luck last Sat with her neighbors. It is awesome to see a local city define what "community" is all about!

Bongotones said...

I hope Detroit and it's citizens are able to overcome.

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