Duluth, Minnesota

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 the continuing economic challenges, attachment to the Duluth area remains basically flat in 2010. However, overall satisfaction with the community, as an aspect of attachment, is significantly higher in 2010.

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

Aesthetics, particularly the natural beauty of the area is perceived as a community strength.

Social offerings, particularly the cultural opportunities, and openness, particularly to young talent needs improvement to increase resident attachment. However, nightlife is rated significantly higher in 2010. The area is perceived to be most welcoming to seniors and least welcoming to young talent, although both groups are seen as significantly more welcome in the area in 2010. Residents 55 and older are the most attached of all age groups, whereas 18-34 year old residents are least attached.

Ratings of the local economy increased in 2010; however, the economy still was not an important factor in determining residents’ emotional connection to place. Perceptions of civic involvement and safety are significantly lower but are not key drivers of resident attachment.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Duluth 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, Duluth’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 Duluth area declined during the three years of the study, especially from 2008 to 2009. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the overall rating of these areas by residents have remained basically unchanged from 2009 to 2010. Overall community satisfaction, a correlate of community attachment, is significantly higher in 2010.

A clear strength of Duluth in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, particularly the natural beauty and parks, playgrounds and trails were rated higher in 2010. Additionally, although young talent is perceived to be the least welcome group by far, Duluth was one of the very few communities studied to have a significant increase in perceived welcomeness to young talent during any year of the study (for Duluth, this occurred in 2010). This is an important and unique momentum to build on.

Openness remains a challenge area for the community despite it being perceived as significantly more welcome toward older people and young talent in 2010. In particular, there have been declines in perceived openness to families with young children over the past three years of the study that should be examined. Although residents rate many aspects of social offerings higher, and nightlife is rated significantly higher in 2010, it remains another challenge area. Unlike most other communities studied, residents caring about each other is not the lowest rated aspect of social offerings. Instead, the availability of arts and cultural activities is the lowest rated area.

Although attachment is declining, Duluth is well-positioned to potentially turn that around. Satisfaction, a key correlate of attachment, is significantly higher in 2010. Additionally, all three key drivers for attachment – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – are rated better by residents in 2010. It is important for the community to understand what specifically is causing this increase in ratings and support that momentum.

Although residents rate the Duluth area as somewhat welcoming to families with young children and the elderly, the community has significantly lower ratings in welcomeness to all other groups including minorities and young talent. For attachment to really grow and people to want to come and stay in Duluth, all residents must feel welcomed there. The fact that it scores higher in resident caring than many other communities but lower in aspects of welcomeness to specific groups may indicate that the community is “tight knit” – it may appear closed to outsiders, but once you are part of the community and personal relationships develop, so does the generalized caring. This process is something to deliberately foster. Present the community as a welcoming place to all by showcasing its caring culture as a key aspect of the community brand through the Chamber of Commerce, local elected leadership, etc.

Strengths in the parks should be used to address challenges in openness and social offerings. For example, provide arts and cultural activities in the parks that showcase local art from various groups in the community. Duluth also seems like a prime community to try current third space innovations that capitalize on their unique quality of resident caring but boost their nightlife offerings. One example is DIY dining, which is an intriguing trend in dining, especially for the 30 and under group, 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. Such successful innovations should be considered for Duluth.

Thoughts on the 2010 findings in Duluth

By Polly Talen, Program Director/Duluth

I found myself not particularly surprised by the findings of the survey in the Duluth-Superior Area. It very much resonated with what I have seen over the past seven years since I joined Knight as its program director for Duluth. Community aesthetics are critical to resident attachment and the region’s openness and welcoming to various demographics as well as its social offerings both need improvement.

In 2003 Knight intensified it work in the region by starting with a community listening exercise with community leaders that Knight sponsored with Professor Ned Hill. Those 45 interviews were my first up-close look at the region. Until that time Duluth was largely a place my family stopped to get gas and snacks on our way to Canada for our summer vacation. And given my parents hated wasting a moment of daylight in the Canadian wilderness, we were usually driving through at about 1 a.m. to get to Canada first thing in the morning.

So I began my Duluth-Superior journey of learning about this great place by listening to some of its most committed citizens articulate what they thought were the region’s biggest opportunities and biggest challenges. Through this we identified the need to approach economic development regionally, to bring the private sector and new leadership to the table, to support building a culture of entrepreneurship, to make development transparent, predictable and civil and at the same time work hard to maintain the great aesthetics everyone so appreciates about the region. It was also recommended that more be done to create a welcoming community to both newcomers as well as graduates of the areas colleges and universities.

Lots of good things have happened over the past six years. To name just the ones in which Knight has been directly involved makes an impressive list: APEX was launched to provide support to area businesses; the Duluth community charrette was conducted and continues to work on its recommendations; the community foundation sponsored its Speak Your Peace Initiative and the Knight Creative Communities Initiative; Superior has taken a close look at development opportunities in its downtown; Northeast Entrepreneur Fund launched the Greenstone Group, a ten year initiative to accelerate entrepreneurship in the region; and updating the arcane zoning codes in Duluth is making progress.

And many other great things are in the works that I hope to learn more about that will impact both social offerings and openness, including efforts to identify specific spaces in both Superior and Duluth that would be part of new arts districts and launching of www.thedusu.com aimed at connecting young adults to one another and to the community.

Oh, did I mention that the youngest of the 45 leaders we interviewed was none other than Duluth’s mayor, Don Ness? He arrived looking even more youthful than his years in a tennis sweater and shorts. After he left we all said to ourselves, “He certainly has a great vision for the future of this region.”