Demographic factors, quality of life, and access to the arts and recreational opportunities all shape Americans' feelings of attachment to and investment in their communities, an Urban Institute report commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation finds.
Based on a survey of eleven thousand Americans in twenty-six metropolitan areas conducted between June 2018 and February 2019, the report, Community Ties: Understanding What Attaches People to the Place Where They Live (44 pages, PDF), examined residents' attachment to their localities in terms of sentiment — defined as "satisfaction, fit with local lifestyle/culture, and preference to stay" — and behavior — defined as "social bridging capital, community capital, and choosing to stay." The report found that, on a scale of 1 to 5, the mean score for all respondents for both satisfaction and lifestyle/culture fit was 3.9, and that six in ten respondents (58 percent) said they would stay in their metro area if they could live anywhere in the United States; only 23 percent of respondents had actually stayed in the community where they were born, however. The mean score for social bridging — having social networks that cut across class, race, and language — for all respondents was 2.1 out of a possible 4, while it was 3.5 out of a possible 7 for community investment, including donating to or volunteering with local organizations, civic or arts participation, investing in a local business, and homeownership.
According to the report, respondents who spent more time in the urban core of their metro area — whether for work or play — tended to be more attached to the area, both in sentiment and behavior. In addition, the 33 percent of respondents who moved to a metro area for its quality of life rated their satisfaction, lifestyle/culture fit, and preference for staying higher than those who moved to a metro area for employment or family reasons and were more likely than people who were born in the area and had stayed to cite specific indicators such as affordability of housing (24 percent vs. 11 percent) or particular neighborhood amenities (25 percent vs. 14 percent) as the reason for their satisfaction.
The survey also found that respondents who said their neighborhood provided easy access to arts and cultural activities expressed greater community attachment in terms of satisfaction, lifestyle/culture fit, and community investment. Those with access to recreational areas and safe places to live and work also were more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction, lifestyle/culture fit, and preference for staying. The report's authors note that access to such amenities varies from metro area to metro area.
The report's recommendations for boosting residents' community attachment include supporting local initiatives that bring more people from the suburbs downtown to participate in the life of the city; improving access to quality recreational facilities, arts and cultural activities, and safe places to live, work, and play, especially for residents who value them and/or are underserved; and examining racial and income inequities and designing approaches that address them directly.
"Building resilient communities where people want to live began long before COVID-19," said Evette Alexander, Knight's director of learning and impact. "By shedding light on what helps connect us to the places where we live, this report can be a useful guide to creating vibrant cities for the future."