Gary, Indiana

The information in our study covers the Gary, Indiana, Metropolitan Division.

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 Gary area remains flat in 2010.

In the Gary area, social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people, community events), aesthetics (an area's physical beauty and green spaces) and openness (how welcoming a place is) are the most important factors in emotionally connecting residents to where they live.

Education was perceived as a community strength, particularly the local colleges and universities.

Aesthetics, social offerings and openness are areas of needed improvement to further attach residents to the area. Parks, playgrounds and trails are the highest rated aspect of aesthetics, while the natural beauty of the area was the lowest rated aspect. The availability of social community events was the highest rated aspect of social offerings in Gary, and the availability of arts and cultural opportunities was the lowest rated aspect.

Families with young children are perceived to be the most welcome group while young talent is still perceived as least welcome. Residents 18-34 are the least attached age group in the Gary area.

Ratings of the local economy and social capital increased in 2010; however, they are still not key factors emotionally connecting residents to the community.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Gary 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, Gary’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 the Gary area declined during the three years of the study, especially from 2008 to 2009 but held firm in 2010. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the overall rating of these areas by residents have remained basically unchanged.

Although all key drivers for attachment are challenges for the Gary community, there are bright spots and momentum to build on. Ratings of the natural beauty of the area increased in 2010. Many aspects of social offerings, like perceptions of nightlife and good places to meet people, rebounded in 2010. Perception of openness to certain groups improved in 2010 as well, including immigrants, families with young children and gays and lesbians. Also important, attachment increases with income in the Gary area, meaning the highest earners are the most attached to the community of all income groups.

These strengths are the building blocks to optimizing the drivers and growing attachment to the Gary area. The community foundation and local chamber should engage with the community’s high income earners to be champions of sustaining their attachment and spreading it to other groups in the community. Aspects of the key drivers that are gaining momentum should be deliberately fostered. For example, use the natural beauty of area lakes to host public events that showcase art by local residents. Have the community foundation or local chamber of commerce offer a cash prize for artists, judged by a young professionals club or young adult organization. This is a way to take advantage of the community’s growing strength in perceptions of natural beauty and to provide opportunities for positive social interaction (social offerings) for all residents (openness) and that engages young residents (openness).

Use every opportunity to intertwine the key drivers in one event – find ways to play up aesthetics to serve as a backdrop for social offerings and events that are welcome to all people and that encourage resident caring and attachment to the area. Have longtime residents tell oral histories about the Gary area that provide a sense of the place. High income earners should work with the local chamber, community foundation or higher education institutions to provide opportunities to attract and/or retain young talent to the Gary area through internships or apprenticeships that develop the skills of young talent while building loyalty to Gary.

There are many positives in Gary to build on in order to grow attachment and attract new people to the area. But the community must create a plan of action, based on the findings of the Soul of the Community study. The community now knows what will build attachment to Gary and bring new people to the area – and although jobs may be part of the equation, it is clearly not the entire equation. Gary may first need to become a more optimized community, making it more attractive to the businesses the community wants to attach. Again, high income earners in Gary who are the most attached income group may be particularly strong champions in this effort.