Finally had a chance to read the Knight Foundation’s 2010 Soul of the Community report. Conducted by Gallup it identifies the attributes that most drive community attachment. What is of particular interest is the finding that the more attached an area’s residents are the better the region’s economic growth. Metro Detroit is one of the 26 communities included in the annual research. (You can watch a great overview of the study here.)
What Gallup found is the three characteristics that matter most to an area’s quality of place are: social offerings, openness and aesthetics. Other characteristics they tested include education, basic services, economy and safety. As the report’s authors write: While the study also measures perceptions of the local economy and basic services, these three factors are always more important in terms of their relationship to community attachment. … it does make it clear that these other factors, beyond basic needs, should be included when thinking about economic growth and development. These seemingly softer needs have an even larger effect than previously thought when it comes to residents’ attachment to their communities. More evidence that quality of place really matters to economic growth!
So what does Knight mean by the three key attributes: social offerings, openness and aesthetics? Social offerings are places for people to meet (what has been called third places) and the feeling that people in the community care about each other. Openness is what we call welcoming to all. How open/welcoming is a community to different type of people. Aesthetics is physical beauty including parks and green spaces. Certainly not the traditional list of drivers of economic growth. The studies’ message: regions had better pay attention to these attributes if you want a strong economy. If people don’t want to live and work in your community you can’t have a strong economy!
Using the report as his starting point, Jeff Meyers in Metromode wrote an interesting article entitled: What Makes Detroit Stick? Worth reading. It explores how well metro Detroit is doing on the Soul of the Community attributes. Not surprising it finds we have considerable work to do on all the top ranked quality of place attributes. I’m quoted in the article. Jeff concludes with my answer to the question “Will change come here?” My answer: The honest assessment is that the kind of attributes in the survey, and the kind of attributes we’ve been talking about, and the kind of attributes presented in your publication were not even part of the public conversation 10 years ago. So, we’re in the conversation. We’re making progress in getting people to think about these issues. But certainly we’re not yet at the point where people are willing to make it a priority. Lets hope we make it a priority quick.