Lexington, Kentucky

The information in our study covers the Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky, 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 Lexington area remains basically flat in 2010.

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

Aesthetics, particularly the natural beauty, is seen as a community strength.

Meanwhile, openness and social offerings are areas of needed improvement to further attach residents to the area. In particular, while residents rated the Lexington area as significantly more open for families with young children in 2010 - making them the group seen as most-welcomed - they see it as least welcoming to immigrants and young talent.

Residents 18-34 years of age remain least attached to the area of all age groups. Also, while residents rate the availability of social community events as the best part of social offerings, they rate residents caring about each other much lower.

Ratings of the local economy and social capital increased in 2010; however, the these are still not important factors in determining residents’ emotional connection to the area. Civic involvement was significantly lower in 2010.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Lexington 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, Lexington’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 Lexington area 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 Lexington in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, specifically its natural beauty. Social offerings, particularly residents caring about each other, and openness, particularly to young talent and immigrants, remain a challenge worth focusing on. The community should mobilize its clear strength in natural beauty to serve as a backdrop for social offerings and events that appeal to a broad range of people in the community. Locate social offerings near areas of natural beauty to allow residents opportunities for positive social interaction. This will be particularly important to engaging young residents in the community, which is important because 18-34-year-olds are the least attached age group in the community.

Overall, two of the three key drivers for attachment – aesthetics and social offerings – are rated higher this year. However, resident perceptions of openness is declining, and special attention should be given to this area. For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come to and stay in Lexington, all residents must feel welcomed there and cared for. This must become part of the community culture.

Make sure all groups feel welcome in the community by providing events as well as businesses and services that are specifically designed for them. For example, have the young professionals lead a series of community events in popular parks or volunteer their professional expertise to other groups in the community (tax help for young families, English as second language service for new residents, showcasing local bands, etc.). This will improve perceptions of openness to all and engage young people in the community in a meaningful way while also potentially improving the perception of residents caring for each other.

Lexington also seems like a prime community to try current third space innovations to boost peoples’ perceptions of resident caring and 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 it 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 Lexington.

Lastly, the Lexington area must improve perceptions of key drivers for attachment aomng young residents. Investigate what older and long-term residents are experiencing in the community with these three key drivers that young residents are not. Replicating that community experience for young residents is critical for attracting and keeping young talent in the area.

Thoughts on the 2010 findings in Lexington

Laura Williams was Knight's program director in Lexington in 2010.

I admit it. I don’t get out much. At the end of the day, I tend to go home to my house in the suburbs.

But when the Blue Grass Community Foundation’s Legacy Center began their Legacy Trail logo campaign this summer with a table at Thursday Night Live, I found out something. Downtown was rockin'! And I liked being part of a community event that brought in people from all over town to share food, drink and music. And I was reminded what a great place Lexington is to live, and how much energy there is here.

The Knight-funded Soul of the Community study just released by Gallup talks about what drives attachment to one’s community – in other words, what makes you feel connected and passionate about your community. The strongest driver of attachment for the Lexington area was social offerings – places to gather with others and places for entertainment, followed by openness (sense of welcoming) and basic services (transportation, available healt hcare, and affordable housing).

The report says that we want more opportunities to get together, and sends a message to leadership that this could be a key to keeping folks here. We are already seeing more entertainment venues downtown, a growing Gallery Hop and Thursday Night Live, and a booming and crowded Farmers Market. I believe we are going in the right direction, and the Gallup study provides data to show us why this is so important.

I know I feel part of something special in Lexington when I come downtown to the Farmers Market on Saturday morning, and see friends from across the city. Let me know what connects you!