The information in our study covers the Boulder, Colorado, Metropolitan 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.
Attachment to the Boulder area is trending higher in 2010. Residents’ passion for the Boulder area is significantly higher and residents’ ratings of it being the perfect place to them is significantly higher in 2010.
In the Boulder area, social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people), aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty and green spaces) and openness (how welcoming a place is) are the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to where they live.
Aesthetics is perceived as a community strength. Parks and trails were rated significantly higher in 2010.
Openness, particularly to racial and ethnic minorities and social offerings, particularly residents caring about each other remain areas needing improvement.
Perceptions of the local economy and safety significantly improved; however, neither were key drivers factors in attaching residents to the area.
Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Boulder 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, Boulder’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 Boulder 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 have remained basically unchanged during all three years of the study.
A consistent and clear strength of Boulder in the eyes of its residents is the area’s parks, playgrounds and trails which are rated similarly to the natural beauty of the area, due to a significant jump in the rating of parks, playgrounds and trails in 2010. Ratings of aesthetics in the Boulder area far surpass those in its comparison communities, which includes high-performing coastal communities. This is a central strength the community should leverage.
An additional strength is Boulder’s relatively high ratings of welcomeness to young talent. In 2009, young talent was perceived as significantly more welcome than the year before, and this gain was maintained in 2010. Boulder was one of the very few communities studied that had a significant increase in perceived welcomeness to young talent in any year of the study. This important and unique momentum is critical to maintain.
Despite having higher ratings than its comparison communities, social offerings remains a challenge area for Boulder, particularly the perception that residents care about each other. This must be addressed as social offerings are particularly important to young people.
Additionally, the community’s perceived openness is another challenge area, despite its gains with young talent. Although residents rate it as fairly welcoming to young adults, young families and gays and lesbians, it has lower ratings in welcomeness to all other groups. For attachment to continue to grow and for people to want to come and stay in Boulder, all residents must feel welcomed there.
Clearly, Boulder has made unique and significant gains in recent years in feeling like a welcoming place for young talent. This finding coupled with its upward trending levels of attachment position Boulder as a community on the rise if it can maintain and even improve this momentum. The community should market its clear strength in aesthetics and welcomeness to young talent as a hallmark differentiator between it and comparable communities.
Additionally, creating social offerings that take advantage of the aesthetics is warranted. The community should continue to provide arts and cultural opportunities and social community events, but it should focus more on using them to build resident caring in the community. For example, have the young professionals lead a series of community events in the arts district or along the riverfront or beach so they can volunteer their professional expertise to other groups in the community (tax help for young families, English as second language service for new local citizens, showcasing local bands, etc.). This will improve perceptions of openness to all while also potentially improving the perception of residents caring for each other.