The information in our study covers the Aberdeen, South Dakota, Micropolitan Statistical Area.
In each community, the Knight Soul of the Community study identified factors that emotionally attach residents to where they live. Some of these community characteristics that drive attachment were rated highly by residents, and are therefore community strengths while others were rated lower, making them opportunities for improvement. This information can provide communities a roadmap for increasing residents’ emotional attachment to where they live, which the study found has a significant relationship to economic vitality.
Despite the continuing economic challenges, attachment to the Aberdeen area remains basically flat in 2010.
In the Aberdeen area, social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people), openness (how welcoming a place is to different kinds of people) and aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty and green spaces) continue to be the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to where they live.
Aesthetics continue to perceived as a community strength. Locals rated parks, playgrounds and trails higher than the city’s natural setting.
Social offerings and openness were both seen as areas needing improvement. Aberdeen’s nightlife offers the greatest area of needed improvement in social offerings. And while the community is seen by residents as being most welcoming to seniors, it is seen as least welcoming to gays and lesbians.
Demographic facts: Residents most attached to Aberdeen tend to be 55 years of age or older.
Perceptions of the local economy increased significantly in 2010, however the economy still was not an important factor in determining residents’ emotional connection to place.
Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Aberdeen Implications
The purpose of Knight Soul of the Community is to provide communities a roadmap for understanding what attaches residents to their community and why it matters – not to be prescriptive on what communities should do with the information. However, the findings do point to some general implications and suggestions, some of which the community may be already undertaking, or provide new opportunities for consideration.
Like the other 25 communities studied in Soul of the Community, Aberdeen’s key attachment drivers are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. However, it is not as simple as identifying best practices in each of these areas and replicating them everywhere. Instead, as the name implies, Soul of the Community encourages a conversation about a community’s soul or essential essence as a place around these key drivers. Some possible questions to ask are: What is it about our aesthetics/social offerings/welcomeness that is unique to our community? Where do we excel or struggle in those areas? Using that information to optimize those drivers to encourage resident attachment—and potentially local economic growth – is what Soul of the Community seeks to accomplish.
Attachment to Aberdeen has increased during the three years of the study. This finding alone helps to demonstrate that attachment to place is about more than jobs and the economy. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the general rating of these areas by residents overall have remained basically unchanged during all three years of the study.
A consistent and clear strength of Aberdeen in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, specifically the parks, playgrounds and trails. The community scores significantly higher than its comparison group of communities in this area. This is a central strength Aberdeen should leverage.
An additional strength is how Aberdeen’s residents rate their caring for one another, an aspect of social offerings. Only Grand Forks, N.D., scores significantly higher in this area. However, resident caring is rated significantly lower this year meaning that the community is losing ground in this important quality that is uniquely Aberdeen.
Despite its high ratings of resident caring, social offerings remains a challenge area for Aberdeen, specifically in the areas of local night life and arts and cultural events. This must be addressed as these areas are particularly important to young people. Over the past three years of the study, Aberdeen has made significant gains in attaching young people 18-34 years old to the community. Imagine what could be possible with more attention to these aspects of social offerings.
Additionally, the community’s perceived openness is another challenge area. Although residents rate it as fairly welcoming to families with young children and the elderly, it has significantly lower ratings in welcomeness to all other groups including minorities and young talent. For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come and stay in Aberdeen, all residents must feel welcomed there. The fact that it scores highly on resident caring, but lower in aspects of welcomeness to specific groups may indicate that the community is “tight knit” – it may appear closed to outsiders, but once a person is part of the community and personal relationships develop, so does the generalized caring. This process is something to deliberately foster – first presenting itself as a welcoming place to all by showcasing its small town caring culture as a key aspect of the community brand through the chamber of commerce, local elected leadership, etc.
Other opportunities to leverage strengths and address challenges include providing park-based activities that are accessible to all residents. Perhaps a park-based arts event that features local residents of every age, group and demographic. Aberdeen also seems like a prime community to try current third space innovations that capitalize on their unique quality of resident caring but boost their nightlife offerings. One example is DIY dining, which is an intriguing trend in dining, especially for the 30-and-under group, where the customers either bring their own food or buy on-site and cook it themselves together. One such restaurant is the Turf Supper Club in San Diego. Such successful innovations should be considered for Aberdeen.
Thoughts on the findings in Aberdeen (2009)
Anne Corriston was Knight's program director for Aberdeen.
My first visit to Aberdeen was in January 2005. A few months later, I returned to participate in a community forum sponsored by Knight Foundation.
Business leaders, artists, teachers, people looking for work - they were there to help us create a vision for a better Aberdeen. I remember asking one man why he was there. "I'm not sure, I'm just hoping I can start to feel better about this place!" he exclaimed.
Gallup and Knight had not yet launched the Soul of the Community study then, but this man typified someone who was not emotionally attached to Aberdeen.
That was then. Today, a little more than four years later, I see people not only feeling better about Aberdeen, but eager to participate in making it better for others. The Aberdeen Area Diversity Committee welcomes new workers and residents. Absolutely Aberdeen is mobilizing people and organizations around harnessing broadband technology for improved economic growth and access to information.
The Soul of the Community study says there's a strong correlation between economic growth and community attachment. So it makes sense to look at what drives attachment. For Aberdeen, it's social offerings - places where people can meet up with others and feel welcome. Red Rooster II, anyone?
Being more welcoming to newcomers is another way Aberdeen can increase attachment. Remember, newcomers come in all forms. They're from other cultures, communities, and lifestyles.
What can we do to make Aberdeen the kind of place where residents feel connected and would recommend it to others? We've come far in four years - let's keep moving forward! Share your ideas by commenting on this post.