Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Soul of the Community Report from Knight Foundation

A very interesting report called Soul of the Community was issued late in 2009 by the Gallup Poll and the Knight Foundation. It can be found at http://www.soulofthecommunity.org

The study seeks to answer three key questions:

  1. What makes a community a desirable place to live?
  2. What draws people to stake their future in it? 
  3. Are communities with more attached residents better off?

The study was launched in 2008, and 28,000 people have been interviewed in 26 communities over two years (including Philadelphia – the five county region). One more year will be included in the study with a final report being issued in 2010. The study found that three main qualities bind people to place:

  1. Special offerings such as entertainment and cultural venues that serve as places to meet – the top factor in 21 of the 26 communities. 
  2. Openness – how welcoming a place is to different types of people.
  3. The area’s aesthetics – it’s physical beauty and green spaces

Access to quality education (at all levels, K-12 and higher ed) was also an important factor.

These top three qualities remained consistent over the two year period. Economy eclipsed crime as the top concern in 2008, but neither of these factors was primary in driving the emotional attachment citizens have to their towns and cities. The study also looked at the connection between how passionate and loyal people are to their communities and economic growth. Researchers found a significant connection between the two -  the most attached communities had the highest local GDP growth. With other research Gallup has already shown that at the micro level increased employee emotional connection to a company leads directly to improved financial performance of that company. The same holds true for cities.

I think this research can serve as a persuasive new public policy tool in helping decision-makers understand the role that arts and culture play in a community, including open space and parks, architecture and the built environment. Arts groups play a critical role in providing the connective tissue of a community, creating places where people can come together and share communal experiences. The "openness" finding is also in keeping with Richard Florida's correlation between how welcoming a community is to the LGBT community and how successful it is at attracting and retaining creative workers.

Locally, Philadelphia’s aesthetics are seen as a community strength. However resident perceptions of social offerings and openness both showed need for improvement. This is what has in part been driving Knight’s investments in Philadelphia, such as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway improvements to make it into a more pedestrian friendly cultural destination, and investments in making the community more welcoming to local college graduates. The overall community attachment index, even with these weaknesses, was higher than the comparison group of comparably sized cities. 

The less than stellar performance in perception of social offerings surprised me, and indicates we have some work to do getting Philadelphia's citizens to recognize the assets available in their community and to take advantage of them. The poor openness showing was less surprising, in that Philadelphia is notoriously  insular, a City of neighborhoods filled with families who go back many generations in the City. However - speaking as a relatively new arrival - this is clearly changing. I have found the city to be warmly welcoming. So I think here as well perceptions have not kept pace with reality. The self-image Philadelphians have of their own city tends to be considerably more negative than reality. This was verified in the recent Travel + Leisure magazine poll on American cities, in which Philadelphia was ranked much more highly by visitors than it was by residents.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings, Mr. Steuer:

    I encountered your blog as a "community" keyworded Google search result. I hope to contact Blogger.com community-focused bloggers and invite dialog via my new "Building Stronger Communities" blog site (http://buildingstrongercommunities.blogspot.com).

    I contacted you because your blog's focus seems categorizable as community creativity news and opinion and because "Building Stronger Communities" focuses on the philosophies undergirding the goals of community. Perhaps you might weigh in on how philosophies of the creative community and the larger community complement and conflict with each other.

    A rationale for "Building Stronger Communities" is based on my experience that philosophies review seems to reveal overlooked conflicts between what we want in our communities and what we do in them. Hopefully, better understanding of philosophies will enhance community goal and strategy effectiveness and community well-being.

    I thank you for your time and hope you'll stop by "Building Stronger Communities" to post a comment. I look forward to hearing, or reading, from you and wish you the best.