Gallup-Knight Foundation study finds unexpected factors cause people to love where they live; suggests new approaches to improving communities.
Charlotte leaders already implementing findings with new project at Johnson C. Smith University
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Nov. 15, 2010) – A three-year Gallup study of Charlotte and 25 other U.S. cities has found that peoples’ love and passion for their community may be a leading indicator for local economic growth. Surprisingly, social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important to Charlotte residents than their perceptions of the economy, jobs or basic services in creating a lasting emotional bond between people and their community.
The 26 cities in the survey with the highest levels of resident love and passion for their community, or resident attachment, also had the highest rates of local GDP growth over time.
“This study is important because its findings about emotional attachment to place point to a new perspective that we encourage leaders to consider; it is especially valuable as we aim to strengthen our communities during this tough economic time,” said Paula Ellis, Knight Foundation’s vice president for strategic initiatives.
“This survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves to attract businesses, keep residents and holistically improve their local economic vitality,” said Jon Clifton, deputy director of the Gallup World Poll, who conducted the survey with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Three community qualities – social offerings, openness and beauty – have consistently emerged as the leading drivers for community attachment in Charlotte and the other communities studied over three years of the research. They beat out other possible drivers such as perceptions of local economy, leadership and safety.
Charlotte residents feel that the aesthetics and social offerings of the community are strengths, particularly ratings of nightlife, which are significantly higher than in 2009. The natural beauty of the physical setting in Charlotte also was perceived to be a leading factor in creating residents’ emotional attachment to the Charlotte area.
Charlotte residents feel that the city needs to improve its openness to different types of people, particularly families with children who are perceived to be significantly less welcome this year than in 2009, and gays and lesbian are perceived to be the least welcome group.
“Charlotte is a vibrant city with a thriving nightlife that is welcoming to young, talented people, and residents who have only lived here for a few years are the most attached group,” said Susan Patterson, Knight Foundation’s program director for Charlotte. “This survey reveals many valuable insights about Charlotte, and I’m looking forward to working with our leadership to put these learnings to good use for the improvement of our city.”
Already, leaders at Johnson C. Smith University are implementing the findings. The university will create a curriculum based on the survey, and a minor in the school’s community leadership program. The university will then recruit Knight Fellows to use the research as a guide to revitalizing the struggling area surrounding the school.
The Knight Soul of the Community survey explores the connection between local economic growth and peoples’ emotional bond to a place. Three years of survey data clearly show a significant, positive link between resident attachment and local GDP growth.
“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,” Clifton said. “The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community.”
Within a smaller environment, such as a business, Gallup has been able to show that increasing employees' emotional connection to their company leads to improved financial performance of the organization. Experts continue to explore if the emotional connection to the place where one lives drives economic growth for these communities in a similar way. Gallup’s previous work in U.S. communities and abroad shows that in fact emotional connection does drive economic growth.
Despite declines in the economy since the study was begun in 2008, the researchers found some surprising constants:
- The things that create the greatest emotional connection between people and a community – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – have remained stable for three years and are consistent among the 26 cities studied. These three things reliably had the strongest connection of the 10 community qualities that attach residents to place, which also included: civic involvement, social capital, education, perception of the local economy, leadership, safety, emotional well-being and basic services.
- The link between local GDP and residents’ emotional bonds to a place has remained steady despite declines in the economy over the three years of the study. Communities with higher percentage of attached residents also show higher levels of economic growth.
- Job seeking college graduates are perceived to be one of the least welcome groups across the 26 communities.
- Perception of the local economy is not a leading reason residents create an emotional bond to a place.
The cities surveyed were chosen because the Knight brothers owned newspapers in those cities. They vary in population size, economic levels and how urban or rural they are. Gallup randomly surveyed 43,000 adults by phone from 2008 to 2010.
The following communities were included in the survey: Aberdeen, S.D.; Akron, Ohio; Biloxi, Miss.; Boulder, Colo.; Bradenton, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ga.; Detroit, Mich.; Duluth, Minn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Gary, Ind.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Long Beach, Calif.; Macon, Ga.; Miami, Fla.; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; San Jose, Calif.; St. Paul, Minn.; State College, Pa.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan.
For information or to share comments about the Charlotte community results, contact Susan Patterson, program director for Charlotte at email@example.com.
For complete survey findings, visit www.soulofthecommunity.org.
Follow Knight Soul of the Community on Twitter: #SOTC.
Join us on Facebook: facebook.com/soulofthecommunity
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
Gallup has studied human nature and behavior for more than 70 years. Gallup's reputation for delivering relevant, timely and visionary research on what people around the world think and feel is the cornerstone of the organization. Gallup employs many of the world's leading scientists in management, economics, psychology and sociology, and our consultants assist leaders in identifying and monitoring behavioral economic indicators worldwide. Gallup's 2,000 professionals deliver services at client organizations, through the web, at Gallup University's campuses and in 40 offices around the world.
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Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.