New landmark study reveals what ties people to their communities

As cities debate how and when to reopen, an Urban Institute report commissioned by Knight Foundation looks at what matters most in attaching residents to their communities.

MIAMI – (May 20, 2020) – As American cities begin to decide when and how to reopen, they are assessing what matters most to residents. Understanding the value of urban amenities that help anchor us to our communities — such as arts, cultural activities and recreational spaces — is more important than ever as cities look for a way forward in the post-pandemic future.

A landmark report commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and conducted by Urban Institute prior to the Covid-19 shutdowns, leverages a survey of 11,000 Americans to create one of the richest datasets available on what drives attachment to one’s city and what cities might do to deepen that sense of connection to their community. 

One of the largest surveys of its kind, “Community Ties: Understanding what attaches people to the place where they live,’’ sampled residents in 26 metro areas and a national sample, without taking a position on the timing of reopenings, to create one of the richest national datasets available on community attachment. As cities begin to reopen, recover and reimagine, the report provides knowledge for public officials and other leaders to help make communities more resilient and think anew about how to build places where people want to live, work and play. 

The report’s key findings include:

  • Of all urban amenities studied, access to arts and culture stands out as not only related to greater feelings of community attachment but also greater investment of time and resources in the community.
  • Residents who feel they have easy access to recreational areas and safe spaces to work and play have more positive feelings regarding their communities.
  • The study shows people of color and low-income residents have a harder time accessing certain quality of life community amenities that boost their attachment. 
  • People who regularly come into the main city of a metro area — whether for work or cultural or sporting events — say they feel more attached to their community. They are more satisfied with it as a place to live, are more likely to stay in the metro area, invest their time and money, and find it a good culture and lifestyle fit.

“Covid-19 is causing us to rethink the future of our communities,” said Sam Gill, Knight’s chief program officer and senior vice president. “People are reevaluating what matters to them. In some cases, the pandemic has left us yearning for the parks and gathering spaces we are now denied. In other cases, it’s leading us to ask how people can safely come together and connect.”

Local data from 26 communities can help inform officials and organizational leaders in the short-term as they evaluate how to reopen, and in the long-term, as they reinvest in their community’s quality of life, which has been challenged by the shutdowns.

“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.”

To be connected with the report’s authors and spokespeople from Knight Foundation to discuss this report, please contact Tony Franquiz at 202-374-5393 or [email protected]

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org. 

Media Contact:
Tony Franquiz, [email protected], 202-374-5393