The information in our study covers the West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton Beach, Florida, 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 Palm Beach area remains flat in 2010.
Social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people, community events), aesthetics (an area's physical beauty and green spaces) and openness (how welcoming the place is) are the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to the Palm Beach area.
Aesthetics, particularly the natural setting, is perceived as a community strength.
Openness and social offerings need improvement to further attach residents to the area. Residents perceive the Palm Beach area as most welcoming to seniors and least welcoming to young talent. Residents did see a significant improvement in residents caring about each other in 2010, although this remains the lowest rated aspect of social offerings.
Although they are not key drivers of attachment, perceptions of basic services, the local economy and the education system (the fourth driver of community attachment) in Palm Beach are significantly higher in 2010. Reports of civic involvement and perceptions of social capital are significantly lower.
Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Palm Beach 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, Palm Beach’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 Palm Beach area fluctuated during the three years of the study. It declined in 2009, then rebounded in 2010, similar to what it was in 2008. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – have remained consistent during all three years of the study; however, in 2010, social offerings became much more important to attaching people to the Palm Beach area. The general rating of these key drivers by residents have remained basically unchanged from 2009 to 2010.
A consistent and clear strength of the Palm Beach area in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics. Social offerings, particularly residents caring about each other, and openness, particularly to young talent, remains a challenge worth focusing on. The community should mobilize its clear strength in aesthetics to facilitate social offerings and events that appeal to a broad range of people in the community. Locate social offerings in aesthetically pleasing areas to introduce residents to other opportunities for positive social interaction. This will be particularly important for engaging young talent in the community, which is perceived as the least welcome group in the community.
For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come to and stay in Palm Beach, all residents must feel welcomed there and cared for. This must also become part of the community culture. In some ways, the need to improve perceptions of openness overlaps with the need to create more feelings that residents care about each other. The community should continue to provide arts/cultural opportunities, nightlife and social community events, but it should focus more on using them to build resident caring in the community. Use these platforms to encourage resident bonds to one another and with the community. One such example is the impact of the Random Acts of Culture events. These events serve to bond residents together and feel included – this is where resident caring starts and grows.
Demographically speaking, high-income earners remain the most attached income group in the community. Additionally, seniors and retired residents are the most attached to the community, and seniors are perceived as the most welcome group. Clearly, Palm Beach’s appeal to older and retired people is part of the brand of the Palm Beach area. It would be difficult for a community with such an ingrained brand like this to emerge as a young talent community – and it may not want to be. This may be the soul of this community. Instead, the community could work to optimize the attachment of its primary demographics, such as older, retired and higher income groups by working to leverage aesthetics and address openness and social offerings, which still matters most to attach these residents to the area. But, it should work to attach and retain young talent to the area who will be the current and future high-income earners. It can work to attach both groups simultaneously.