Gallup-Knight Foundation study finds unexpected factors cause people to love where they live; suggests new approaches to improving communities.

Detroit leaders already implementing the findings with new project

A three-year Gallup study of Detroit and 25 other U.S. cities has found that peoples’ love and passion for their community may be a leading indicator for local economic growth. Surprisingly, social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important to Detroit residents than their perceptions of the economy, jobs or basic services in creating a lasting emotional bond between people and their community.

The 26 cities in the survey with the highest levels of resident love and passion for their community, or resident attachment, also had the highest rates of local GDP growth over time.

“This study is important because its findings about emotional attachment to place point to a new perspective that we encourage leaders to consider; it is especially valuable as we aim to strengthen our communities during this tough economic time,” said Paula Ellis, Knight Foundation’s vice president for strategic initiatives.

“This survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves to attract businesses, keep residents and holistically improve their local economic vitality,” said Jon Clifton, deputy director of the Gallup World Poll, who conducted the survey with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Three community qualities – social offerings, openness and beauty – have consistently emerged as the leading drivers for community attachment in Detroit and in the other communities studied over the three years of research. They beat out other possible drivers such as perceptions of local economy, leadership and safety.

Detroit residents identified education as a strength of their community, making the city unique among the 26 cities included in the survey. However, residents’ perceptions of both K-12 schools and local colleges and universities are lower this year than in 2009. 

Detroit residents feel that the city needs to improve its social offerings and openness to different types of people.  Minorities are perceived to be the most welcome group in Detroit, but young talent is the least welcome. The availability of social community events is the highest rated aspect of social offerings in Detroit.

“I feel a strong positive force within Detroit, driven by its young people, and it is concerning that they are the same group who perceive young people to be the least welcome group,” said Trabian Shorters, Knight Foundation’s vice president for communities program. “I’m looking forward to linking up with the leaders in Detroit to share the results of this study and talk about ways we can make this community a more attractive place where people feel attached.”

Detroit leaders are already using the findings. Recently, with support from Knight Foundation, CEOs for Cities recently gathered urban leaders to discuss what attracts residents to Detroit, and to develop a list of big ideas to foster a robust public life. The top ideas will then be funded and carried out. For more on this project, funded by Knight Foundation, visit www.kflinks.com/sotcgrants.

The Knight Soul of the Community survey explores the connection between local economic growth and peoples’ emotional bond to a place. Three years of survey data clearly show a significant, positive link between resident attachment and local GDP growth.

“Our theory is that when a community’s residents are highly attached, they will spend more time there, spend more money. They’re more productive and tend to be more entrepreneurial,” Clifton said. “The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community.”

Within a smaller environment, such as a business, Gallup has been able to show that increasing employees' emotional connection to their company leads to improved financial performance of the organization. Experts continue to explore if the emotional connection to the place where one lives drives economic growth for these communities in a similar way. Gallup’s previous work in U.S. communities and abroad shows that in fact emotional connection does drive economic growth.

Despite declines in the economy since the study was begun in 2008, the researchers found some surprising constants:

•    The things that create the greatest emotional connection between people and a community – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – have remained stable for three years and are consistent among the 26 cities studied. These three things reliably had the strongest connection of the 10 community qualities that attach residents to place, which also included: civic involvement, social capital, education, perception of the local economy, leadership, safety, emotional well-being and basic services.

•    The link between local GDP and residents’ emotional bonds to a place has remained steady despite declines in the economy over the three years of the study. Communities with higher percentage of attached residents also show higher levels of economic growth.

•    Job seeking college graduates are perceived to be one of the least welcome groups across the 26 communities.

•    Perception of the local economy is not a leading reason residents create an emotional bond to a place.

The cities surveyed were chosen because the Knight brothers owned newspapers in those cities. They vary in population size, economic levels and how urban or rural they are. Gallup randomly surveyed 43,000 adults by phone from 2008 to 2010.

The following communities were included in the survey: Aberdeen, S.D.; Akron, Ohio; Biloxi, Miss.; Boulder, Colo.; Bradenton, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ga.; Detroit, Mich.; Duluth, Minn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Gary, Ind.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Long Beach, Calif.; Macon, Ga.; Miami, Fla.; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; San Jose, Calif.; St. Paul, Minn.; State College, Pa.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan.

For information or to share comments about the Detroit community results, contact Trabian Shorters, Knight Foundation’s vice president for communities program at shorters@knightfoundation.org.
For complete survey findings, visit www.soulofthecommunity.org.
Follow Knight Soul of the Community on Twitter: #SOTC.
Join us on Facebook: facebook.com/soulofthecommunity
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