Worth Noting

Last Updated: December 21, 2010

This article appeared in the December 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently issued its third annual “Soul of the Community” report.

The series is based on research that finds a correlation between the emotional attachment of residents to the city and the economic development of that city measured by its gross domestic product.

Specifically, the project interviews residents every year in 26 cities to understand what drives their attachments (or lack of attachment) to the places they live.

The report notes that these “drivers” are not jobs, economy, and safety as is usually assumed. Rather, it asserts that people across the cities studied form attachments to the place they live based on quality of life issues, specifically natural beauty, opportunities for socializing, and openness of the community to a diversity of people. These drivers held true for survey participants regardless of age, ethnicity, income, and city. Cities where a greater percentage of people rated the city highly on these three factors also had higher levels of emotional attachment and economic development.

The report is urban in scope. The smallest cities included in the surveys are Milledgeville, Georgia (population 21,000) and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (population 30,000).

It is also urban in content and does not begin to address many of the realities facing small rural or isolated communities. Nor does it address the public policy pressures that can limit what is or seems possible in some communities.

Even so, the report raises interesting correlations that rural communities working on local revitalization and economic development will be interested to note. In particular, the finding that many people want opportunities to socialize in communities that welcome and make a place for all kinds of people suggests a need for local communities to think how they do or could create such opportunities. Similarly, the finding that people prefer places that are beautiful also indicates that efforts to maintain natural beauty and to create public spaces that are attractive can make a difference in a community’s prospects.

The report does not seek to explain exactly how these drivers translate into economic development but suggests that people who feel connected to the place they live are more likely to invest in it, spend money locally, and work to make the community better.

You can find more information on the “Soul of the Community 2010” website at http://soulofthecommunity.org/ and download the full report at http://soulofthecommunity.org/sites/default/files/SOTC_2010_Report_OVERALL_11-12-10_mh.pdf.

Read more from the December 2010 Rural Policy Matters.