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What Attaches People to Place?

In November the Knight Foundation released findings from their Soul of the Community study, a three-year project aimed to understand resident attachment to place, what drives it and why it matters in 26 U.S. communities. Of the 10 attributes studied, the top three were:

  • Social Offerings – Places for people to meet each other and the feeling that people in the community care about each other;
  • Openness – How welcoming the community is to different types of people, including families with young children, minorities, and talented college graduates; and
  • Aesthetics – The physical beauty of the community including the availability of parks and green spaces.

According to the study:

Residents generally give their communities high marks for aesthetics, and they gave their best ratings this year. Four in 10 residents rate the availability of parks, playgrounds, and trails in their communities positively. They are slightly less positive about the beauty or physical setting of their communities, with more than one-third giving positive ratings.

In other words, 40% of residents rated the availability of Parks, Playgrounds and Trails as influencing community attachment, and 35% of residents rated Beauty or Physical Setting as influencing community attachment.

An interesting disclaimer to this finding is the following:

Generally, demographics are not the strongest drivers of attachment. In almost every community Gallup studied, attachment is more strongly related to certain perceptions of the community than to residents’ age, race, income, or other demographic characteristics. In other words, whether a resident is young or old, wealthy or poor, or black, white, or Hispanic matters less than his or her perceptions of the community. This reality gives community leaders a powerful tool to influence residents’ attachment to the community, no matter who they are.

But what does the study mean by attachment? According to the Knight Foundation it is the psychological connection of loyalty and passion residents have with the community in which they live.

One of the other major findings from the study showed that the communities with the highest levels of attachment also had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth.

The Overview also goes on to say:

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. This is not to say that communities should focus on building parks when jobs aren’t available. However, 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.

But of course we know this to be true. Residents resonate with the community they live in. When a community is aesthetically pleasing, people choose to move there.

The Soul of the Community project was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in partnership with Gallup.

As the year comes to a close, we think back on the many accomplishments for the urban parks movement in 2010. We’ve reported upon new parks opening across the country, learned about innovative ways to create parkland in crowded cities, seen how federal transportation funding can be used to create trails, and discussed ways parks can help combat climate change.

We hope the results of the Soul of the Community project and the accomplishments over the past year will be used to strengthen our cities and ensure a brighter future for all people and communities.

On behalf of staff in the Center for City Park Excellence as well as the City Parks Alliance, we want to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year! Thanks for reading 🙂

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