What qualities in a city inspire the loyalty and passion of residents?According to a study conducted by Gallup and funded by the Knight Foundation, the top three factors that lead to strong attachment to a city are its physical beauty, the opportunities it offers for socializing and its openness to a variety of different kinds of people.
We should care about this because, according to the study—entitled The Soul of the Community—cities with the highest proportion of attached residents experienced stronger economic growth than cities where residents reported weaker attachment.
Now, the direction of this effect is hard to pin down. Is it attachment that’s contributing to the growth, or growth that’s making the attachment possible? Or both?
The study authors don’t make a strong claim one way or the other, though they clearly suspect that attachment does help push economic growth. To show the plausibility of this, they point out other studies that show that boosting the emotional connection of employees does in fact lead to improved financial performance of the companies where they work.
If the loyalty and passion of residents really does help spur a city’s economic growth, then advocates of local economic development might want to change their focus.
So, instead of asking existing residents to spend tax money to attract outsiders—say, with job or development tax credits or financing the expansion of conference centers—these growth advocates might want to start pushing for improvements that make existing residents happy. Such improvements might include neighborhood pocket parks, more sidewalks, a permanent public farmer’s market, property tax relief for low-income folks, better designed streets, more public swimming pools. Things like that.
The suggestion isn’t that trying to attract outsiders is bad, but that rather that the best way to spur economic growth—including getting outsiders to open their wallets here or move jobs or businesses here—may be to make improvements that please the people who already live in town.
Maybe good places to live in grow because they invest in what makes them good places to live?