Bradenton, Florida

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 economic challenges in 2009, the Bradenton area saw a significant increase in community attachment, which trended just a little lower this year.

In the Bradenton area, social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people), aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty and green spaces) and openness (how welcoming a place is) are the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to where they live.

Aesthetics is still perceived as a community strength, particularly the area’s natural beauty.

The area’s openness is still an area for improvement. Residents continue to perceive seniors as the most welcome group, with residents 55 and older continue to being the most attached of all age groups. Job seeking young talent continues to be seen as the least welcome group. Social offerings also continues to be an area of needed improvement, with nightlife rated significantly lower by residents in 2010.

Ratings of the local economy and basic services significantly increased in 2010; however, these factors still were not important factors in determining residents’ emotional connection to place. Also not a key driver, perceptions of local leadership was rated significantly lower in 2010.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Bradenton 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, Bradenton’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 Bradenton area has fluctuated over the three years of the study. It was significantly higher in 2009, placing the Bradenton area as the most attached community studied, then attachment decreased slightly in 2010, placing the community in the top five. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the general rating of these areas by residents have remained basically unchanged from 2009 to 2010.

A strength of Bradenton in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, particularly the natural beauty. Being a coastal community, this is perhaps not surprising but is a defining feature of this community that should be leveraged to drive attachment to the area.

The Bradenton area also has the highest attachment among high income residents. Organizations with contact to this group, like the community foundation and chamber of commerce, should continue to foster their attachment to the area.

After a boost in ratings in 2009 that helped drive increase attachment to the area, perceptions of social offerings decreased in 2010, making it a challenge area for the community again. Although Bradenton residents are more likely to say that residents care about each other than in its comparison communities, this is still the weakest aspect of social offerings for the area.

Openness continues to be another challenge area for the community. Though the Bradenton area outpaces its comparison communities in perceived welcomeness to older people, all other groups are perceived significantly less welcome in the community. Young talent continues to be perceived as the least welcome group, which is troubling as Bradenton reports itself to be a “boomerang community.” That is, young people leave the community to get their education, but tend to return to raise their families. Bradenton should take advantage of this enviable position to improve perceived welcomeness to young talent to re-attach them to the Bradenton area and assure them that their return home was the right decision.

The community should market its clear strength in aesthetics as a hallmark differentiator between it and comparable communities. Social offerings that take advantage of the aesthetics is warranted. The Bradenton area may be a prime community to try current third space innovations. An example is DIY dining, loved by the 30-and-under set, where the customers either bring their own food or buy on site and cook it themselves together. One such restaurant is the Turf Supper Club in San Diego.

The community should continue to provide arts and cultural opportunities and social community events, but it should focus more on using them to build resident caring in the community. For example, have the young professionals lead a series of community events in the arts district or along the riverfront or beach and volunteer their professional expertise to other groups in the community (tax help for young families, English as second language service for new local citizens, showcasing local bands, etc.). This will improve perceptions of openness to all, while also potentially improving the perception of residents caring for each other.

Thoughts on the findings in Bradenton

Meredith Hector is Knight's program director in Bradenton.

It turns out that the worst economic crisis in decades is not a key factor in residents' passion and loyalty for their community.

The Soul of the Community study also found that of the 26 communities surveyed, residents of the Bradenton area (the Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice metropolitan statistical area) were the most emotionally attached to their community.

What does the economy have to do with our love of where we live? The study explores what community qualities influence residents’ passion for the place they call home. It then tries to understand how those feelings relate to indicators of community well-being such as local economic growth. In the Bradenton area the relationship between community attachment and GDP growth has increased since last year and is strong and significant (correlation =.431).

There are three main factors that bind residents to the Bradenton area: social offerings (opportunities and the environment to meet others), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (the perceived beauty of the place).

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most attached residents are most likely to be older, long-term, retired and higher educated. The least likely to be attached are younger, single and non-employed (includes students, laid off) residents. There was a significant increase of community attachment for many demographic groups from year 1 to year two including older, higher educated, new and high income residents.

It’s great that overall residents of this region are so engaged but it seems we should analyze and document reasons for the improved ratings of important drivers and for increased attachment in key demographic groups. Perhaps we can look at ways to improve job satisfaction, engage new residents. Or maybe we can focus on welcomeness for college grads.

There’s plenty to learn and explore in this very rich data set. We’ll be starting an online conversation here so please click around, explore website, and feel free to post your comments here. If a virtual conversation isn’t enough I’d also encourage you to join us for a terrific discussion about the survey results and their implications for our community with Dr. Katherine Loflin at 5 p.m. Oct. 8 at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Selby Auditorium. Those interesting in attending should register by visiting or calling the event hotline at 941-359-4602. But let’s think collectively about what we might we do as a community to ensure this area is an attractive and vibrant destination where all of its residents want to live, work, visit and play.

'How do we feel about where we live?'

By Vin Mannix in The Bradenton Herald, Nov. 18:

What do State College, Pa., Grand Forks, N.D., and Boulder, Colo., have that Bradenton doesn’t?

Let’s see:

A. Joe Pa’s dynastic football program.

B. Bitterly cold winters.

C. The Rockies.

All true, but they weren’t the reasons Bradenton, ranked No. 1 last year in the Soul of the Community Gallup poll, came in fourth this year, albeit out of 26 American cities. Commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, the report surveys how citizens of a community feel toward where they live, what it offers them and what they give back.

State College, Grand Forks and Boulder went 1-2-3, though only by hundredths of a point.

According to Katherine Loflin, lead consultant for the Soul of the Community Project, their citizenry identified more strongly with three main factors that emotionally attach them to their community:

  • Aesthetics and social offerings -- An area’s physical beauty and fun places to go.
  • Openness -- How welcoming a place is to senior citizens and new college graduates.
  • Education -- From K-12 to universities.


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