Community Ties: Understanding What Attaches People to the Place Where They Live

May 29, 2020

Knight Foundation

Well before COVID-19 shut down community life as we know it, Knight Foundation commissioned Urban Institute to explore a key question: what attaches people to the places where they live? To understand this question, Urban Institute, in partnership with the firm SSRS, surveyed over 11,000 Americans: 1,206 U.S. adults living in urbanized areas and 10,261 living in 26 metro areas throughout the United States where Knight Foundation works.

Understanding what ties residents to their community may be even more important in a post-pandemic America. Many of us have become more acutely aware of the amenities in our communities that were rendered inaccessible during closures. At the same time, new questions are being raised about what the future of community will look like. Critical to addressing all of these issues is a clear understanding of what matters to people about their community — and what about that community connects them to the place and to each other. We wanted to learn more about what attaches people to the places they live, measured both sentiment (how they feel about the place) and behavior (ways they might exhibit their sense of attachment). These insights could shed light on why people choose to stay in a place or to leave, and could inform efforts by cities to boost attachment in their local communities.

Key Findings
  • People who spend more time in the main city at the heart of their metro area tend to be more attached to it — both in feeling and in action.
  • Quality of life matters in people’s decisions to move or stay, and it drives how attached they feel to their metro area.
  • People with access to arts and cultural activities are more attached to their communities — in both feeling and action.
  • Access to recreational areas and safe places to work and play was also linked to higher feelings of attachment.
  • Demographic differences do matter. Generation, race and household income all strongly shape levels of attachment and access to quality-of-life amenities.
Based on these findings, here are some key considerations for cities and stakeholders that want to improve community attachment in their city:
  • Local initiatives that bring more people from the suburbs downtown to participate in the life of the city could help boost both attachment sentiments and actions.
  • Local stakeholders might boost attachment by improving perceptions of access to quality-of-life amenities like quality recreational facilities, safe places to live, work and play, and arts and cultural activities, particularly for the types of residents who most value them and are the most underserved.
  • Community leaders and residents who look to enhance attachment through quality-of-life initiatives must be sure to examine racial and income inequities, and design approaches that address them directly.

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