WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A community's social offerings, openness, aesthetics, and education are the most likely elements to affect residents' attachment to it, according to a three-year study conducted by Gallup for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Views about these four factors have consistently outranked views about basic services, leadership, the local economy, safety, and more -- in terms of how residents feel about where they live.
The results are from the Soul of the Community study conducted in 26 communities nationwide selected by the Knight Foundation from May 27-Aug. 31, 2010. To gauge community attachment, Gallup asked residents five questions examining their level of attachment to their community, including their overall satisfaction with the community, their likelihood to recommend it to others, their outlook for the community five years from now, their pride about living in the community, and whether they feel the community is a perfect place for them.
To find out what drives attachment, Gallup then asked respondents a series of questions about various aspects of the community, including basic services, the local economy, safety, leadership, education, aesthetics, civic involvement, openness, and social capital. Gallup then analyzed the relationship between the overall level of community attachment and residents' perceptions of aspects of the community itself to reveal the strongest links. Previous Gallup research in these communities has found that places with higher levels of community attachment have higher levels of GDP growth. It is likely that more attached residents are more likely to actively contribute to a community's growth and success.
While one might expect the importance of different factors to vary in different communities, the study finds remarkable consistency in what matters most to residents.
The Key Drivers of Attachment
Social offerings are the top driver of attachment in 2010, not only across all 26 communities, but also in every community individually. This includes the availability of arts and cultural opportunities, availability of social community events, the community's nightlife, whether the community is a good place to meet people, and whether people in the community care about each other.
A community's openness is the second most important factor to residents. This is regarding whether residents view their communities as good places for different groups, including older people, families with children, young adults without children, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and young, talented college graduates looking for work.
A community's aesthetics -- in terms of its overall physical beauty and the availability of parks, playgrounds, and trails -- is the third most powerful driver of community attachment. A community's education offerings are the fourth most important driver, which include ratings of local colleges and universities and public K-12 education. In a handful of communities, basic services are one of the most important drivers, but overall, the importance residents in the Knight communities place on these factors is quite consistent.
The finding that softer metrics -- namely social offerings, openness, aesthetics, and education -- affect community attachment more than harder metrics -- such as leadership, the local economy, and safety -- provide valuable insights for leaders. While leaders should of course work to provide basic services, strong leadership, and safety for their residents, it is these other factors that are more likely to affect whether residents love where they live.
Leaders who actively increase social offerings, promote diversity, and improve public spaces can improve how residents feel about their community as well as their likelihood to actively partake in its success and recommend it to others. Further, while it may be difficult and take a lot of time to fix the local economy, broaden healthcare access, or to improve roads and highways, investment in social offerings, openness, and aesthetics may be easier to achieve and have a greater effect overall.
See page 2 for a listing of all of the items included in each category.
Read the complete results from the Soul of the Community survey and learn more about why community attachment matters.
To learn more, please visit https://knightfoundation.org/sotc/.
The Gallup study is a 15-minute telephone survey conducted in the 26 communities where John S. and James L. Knight owned newspapers. The survey is available in English and Spanish, and both landlines and cell phones are called.
Each year, a random sample of at least 400 residents, aged 18 and older, is interviewed in each community, with additional interviews conducted in selected resident communities. In 2010, 15,200 interviews were conducted from May 27-Aug. 31, with 1,000 conducted in eight resident communities.
The 2010 study also included 200 interviews among residents, aged 18 to 34, in the resident communities to give Gallup more information about that age group. Overall data were adjusted to ensure an accurate representation of the real demographic makeup of each community based on U.S. Census Bureau data.
Gallup also used U.S. Census classifications to choose the geographical area included in each community. For the most part, Gallup used the Metropolitan Statistical Area. However, in a few cases, Gallup used other accepted definitions of the community area. These census definitions allow Gallup to compare other information such as local GDP and population growth so that Gallup can more closely examine community attachment and key community outcomes.