St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Paul

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 continuing economic challenges, attachment to the St. Paul area is trending higher in 2010. This is mostly because all of the key drivers for attachment are rated significantly higher this year.

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

Aesthetics was perceived as a community strength, particularly the area’s parks, playgrounds and trails. All aspects of aesthetics were rated significantly higher in 2010.

Social offering and openness need improvement to further attach residents to the area, however both were rated significantly higher in 2010. Nightlife was rated significantly higher. Gays and lesbians are seen as significantly more welcome in 2010 – all positive momentum that helped to improve these challenge areas for the community.

Ratings of the local economy increased in 2010; however, the economy is still not a key factor emotionally connecting residents to their communities. Leadership was rated significantly lower, but it is not a key driver to resident attachment.

Thoughts on the findings in Saint Paul

Polly Talen was Knight’s  St. Paul program director in 2010.

While Knight Foundation does most of its local work in Saint Paul and the East Metro, it is important to note that the survey covers residents in the 12-county Twin Cites metro area. That means we can use this data to make comparisons with some other large urban areas in the study – like St. Jose or Charlotte – but it won’t help us make comparisons between Minneapolis and St. Paul or between the urban core and the surrounding suburbs.

We can make some comparisons between last year and this year’s data, but I think it is even more interesting to compare what the data says with what you or I thought it would say and what we hope it will say in the future. Two of the key drivers of community attachment in the Twin Cities and most of the other communities studied were perceptions about both aesthetics and how welcoming the community seems to various demographic groups. These factors are certainly why I moved here 25+ years ago and they are key reasons I am still here.

It was my sense that the Twin Cities seemed open to newcomers in a way that Boston did not. I had gone to college in Boston and in my summer jobs and internships I felt like I needed to have come over on the Mayflower or at least be the chief elevator operator’s sister-in-law to feel like I could fully participate in the community. I was an outsider. Yet in the Twin Cities it felt like anyone could get a start here. With its legendary commitment of corporations and government institutions to the community it seemed the perfect place for someone fresh out of business school to get their start in the community and in a career. And other than missing the ocean (which I still do miss) the area’s lakes, bikeways, and parks were well-preserved for the enjoyment of all. It was a community where residents cared about one another and that appeared to be committed to all its citizens.

We are still striving to be that community, but I think we have lost some ground. Interestingly the greatest drop from last year was the perception of how welcoming the community is to young college graduates. This might be a one-year anomaly given the economy and fewer new jobs – we will have to keep an eye on that in next year’s study. Of even greater concern to me is how open and welcoming we are as a community to racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants. Do folks in those communities feel you can be full participants in community decision-making, in our educational systems, in health care, in the workforce? Our economic vitality as a community depends on it.