The information in our study covers the Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Michigan, Metropolitan Statistical Area.


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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 Detroit area saw an increase in community attachment, which trended just a little lower this year. Optimism, which was significantly up in 2009 decreased in 2010.

In the Detroit area, openness (how welcoming a place is), social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people, community events) and the education system are the most important factors emotionally connecting residents to where they live.

The education system, particularly the local colleges and universities, are perceived as community strengths. However, ratings of education, including K-12 public schools and colleges and universities are significantly lower this year after increasing in 2009.

Openness and social offerings need improvement to increase resident attachment. Specifically, while residents see the Detroit area as most welcoming to racial and ethnic minorities, it is perceived as least welcoming to college graduates. Seniors are perceived to be significantly more welcome in 2010. And while residents rate the area’s availability of social community events highly, perception of residents’ care for each other lags far behind.

Residents who feel a strong emotional connection to the area are most likely older, have a high school education or less and are African-American. Those who are least likely to have an emotional connection are 35-54, white, college educated residents and residents living in the community for 20 or more years.

Although not key drivers of attachment, perceptions of the local economy is significantly higher and safety is perceived to be lower in 2010.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Detroit 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.

Detroit’s key attachment drivers are social offerings, education systems 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 Detroit area has fluctuated during the three years of the study. It was higher in 2009 than in 2008, then it declined in 2010. The things that most attach residents to the area shifted in 2010. Social offerings and openness remain key to attaching people to the Detroit area, but in 2010 perceptions of the education system became the third most important driver – replacing aesthetics, which remains a close fourth in attaching residents to the area.

Education systems, particularly the higher education institutions, continue to be perceived as a strength of the community. However, the education systems are rated significantly lower in 2010, yet it is significantly more influential in attaching residents to the area. Because the Detroit area is losing ground in the perception of the education systems, yet it is becoming more important in attaching residents, the community should focus more on this area even though it is still currently a community strength.

The Detroit area has the unique strength of having its youngest adult residents – 18-24-years-old – as the most attached of all age groups. Importantly, social offerings is rated the highest by youngest residents of all age groups. However, other key drivers for attachment are not rated similarly. In order to grow attachment levels of young residents, the Detroit area must work on residents’ perceptions of the other key drivers of openness and education systems.

Although some small gains were made in 2010 with perceptions of openness, it still remains a challenge for the Detroit area. Seniors, families with young children and young talent were perceived to be slightly more welcome in the community in 2010. However, the community continues to be perceived as much less welcoming to gays and lesbians and young talent than other groups. Young residents – 18-34-year-olds – agree with other residents that young talent is the least welcomed group. Given the relative higher attachment that young residents feel, young talent should feel more welcome there in order for that attachment should be sustained.

Social offerings is another challenge area for the Detroit area. In 2010, social offerings became even more important to attaching residents to the area; however, residents are rating it slightly lower. Residents rate the social community events highest of all social offerings, but rate residents caring about each other pretty low. Young residents seem to be the most happy with social offerings, which is significant considering how important this is to this demographic, but that positive experience in social offerings needs to be extended to all people in the community.

The Detroit area has a couple of clear next steps. One area of focus should be young residents. The community should market that 18-24-year-olds being the most attached demographic is an important hallmark, and perhaps surprising, for this community. Share this message with local businesses and education institutions as well as new businesses being recruited to come to Detroit. The community should continue working on improving the perception of other key drivers, like the education system and openness. Make stronger relationships between the higher education system and young residents, many of which may be students at these institutions.

Optimizing all the key drivers is another area of needed focus. Gains in openness should be understood, and attention should be given to promoting a culture of resident caring – the community’s recovery partially depends on residents pulling together. Declining perceptions of the education system should be examined and addressed. Social offerings that appeal not only to just the 35 and under set but all residents should be created and marketed.