The information in our study covers the Columbus, Georgia-Alabama, 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.
Despite the continuing economic challenges, attachment to the Columbus area remains basically flat in 2010.
Social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty and green spaces) are the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to where they live.
Aesthetics, particularly parks, playgrounds and trails, continue to be seen by residents as a community strength. Additionally, residents perceive the area to be most welcoming to families with children.
Opportunities to increase resident connection to place include improving resident perception of social offerings, particularly residents caring for each other, and openness, particularly to young talent.
Older residents 55 and older are most attached and the youngest resident surveyed 18-34 years old are least attached to the Columbus area. African-Americans are more attached to the Columbus area than other racial/ethnic groups.
Ratings of the local economy and social capital increased significantly in 2010; however, the economy is still not a key factor emotionally connecting residents to their community.
Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Columbus 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, Columbus’ 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 Columbus remained fairly consistent over 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 strength of Columbus in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, with parks, playgrounds, trails and natural beauty rated similarly. Social offerings, particularly residents caring about each other, and openness, particularly to young talent, remains a challenge. The community should mobilize its strength in aesthetics to facilitate social offerings and events that appeal to a broad range of people in the community. Locate social offerings near beautiful places in the community to introduce residents to other opportunities for positive social interaction. This will be particularly important for engaging young residents in the community, which is important as 18-34-year-olds are the least attached age group in the community, and young talent is perceived to be the least welcome.
The Columbus area is perceived to be more welcoming to young adults without children, seniors and families with young children than perceptions by residents of comparison communities. This demonstrates the community’s ability to have an appeal and be welcoming to diverse groups of people at different stages in life. Now the community needs to spread that ability to other groups, like young talent and immigrants, where there is a perception of less welcomeness. Replicate what is going right with these groups to increase the perception that the community is welcome (and is in fact) welcome to all.
For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come and stay in Columbus, all residents must feel welcomed there and cared about. This must become part of the community culture. Provide events as well as businesses and services that are specifically designed for various groups in the community. Mobilize attached groups to serve the community. For example, provide opportunities for older residents to volunteer with other groups in the community. Ask long-term residents, another attached group to the Columbus area, to publicly tell the stories of the community as a place. This will improve perceptions of openness to all and mobilize attached residents in a meaningful way while potentially improving perceptions of residents caring for each other and an overall sense of place.