The Soul of the Community Survey: What Attaches People to Their Community and What Does It Mean?

If those surveyed in Ft. Wayne, IN, a city I am very familiar with, can cite “social offerings”, “aesthetics”, and community “openness” in that order, as having the greatest influence on community attachment and report that they feel as attached or more so than the majority of other communities surveyed, I have to question the meaning of the findings.

The Knight Soul of the Community survey report purports to shine a light on many things: drivers of community attachment, a correlation between resident attachment and GDP growth, new approaches to improve local economic vitality and more. Reading the study, none of these things are clear to me. Maybe I just got lost in the overly glossy, bar-chart filled report chalk full of stock photos, but I can’t comprehend a clear narrative.

The survey asked residents from 26 communities as varied as Ft. Wayne, Boulder, CO, Miami, FL and Duluth, MN, what most attached them to their community. “Social offerings”, “aesthetics”, and community “openness” were universally cited, but of course actual attachment varied. Gary, IN showed 68.6% felt “not attached” to their community, 60.8% of those in Detroit said the same. At the other end, Boulder, CO had just 20.9% “not attached” and Grand Forks, ND, 20.4%.

So what does this all say? To be honest, I don’t know. The survey has been reported as having “identified community strengths,” but it’s unclear to me that is the case. Perhaps the survey points to what people most easily identify as “community” factors. Perhaps survey respondents were aspirational.

Gallup deputy director Jon Clifton said in a released statement, “This survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves to attract businesses, keep residents and holistically improve their local economic vitality. 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. The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community.”

What is that knowledge community leaders now possess? That residents care more about “aesthetics” than “safety”, “education”, or the “economy”? If I were a community leader I may choose to take these results with a salt lick that would do an Allen County deer hunter proud. Then again, maybe I’m just missing something…anyone?

[Read: Knight Soul of the Community 2010]

Knight Foundation – Soul of the Community OVERALL 2010 Findings by on Scribd