Wichita, Kansas – Knight Foundation

Wichita, Kansas

The information in our study covers the Wichita, Kansas, Metropolitan Statistical Area.

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, resident attachment to Wichita is significantly higher in 2010. This is mainly because one of the key drivers for attachment is rated significantly higher in this year.

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

Aesthetics is rated significantly higher this year and continues to be a community strength, particularly the parks, playgrounds and trails.

Social offerings and openness continue to be areas of needed improvement to further increase resident attachment to the area. In social offerings, residents caring about each other remains the lowest rated area. In openness, the community continues to see young talent as the least welcome group. Residents 18-34 years of age are the least attached group to the Wichita area.

Basic services (community infrastructure), which follows aesthetics as a top driver, was rated significantly higher in 2010.

Although they are not key drivers of attachment, perceptions of the local economy and education systems are also significantly higher in 2010.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Wichita 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, Wichita’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 Wichita area decreased in 2009, but it increased significantly in 2010 which returned the attachment level to where it was in 2008. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – have remained consistent during the three years of the study. In 2010, all of the main drivers of attachment were rated higher by residents, with aesthetics being rated significantly higher. This helps explain the significant increase in attachment to Wichita in 2010.

A strength of Wichita in the eyes of its residents is its aesthetics, specifically the parks, playgrounds and trails. The community rates aesthetics significantly better in 2010. Leadership should identify the reasons why residents are rating aesthetics better and support that momentum. The Wichita area also enjoys having the highest income earners as the most attached of all residential income groups. Organizations with particular reach to this group, such as the community foundation and chamber of commerce, should continue to foster their attachment to the area.

Despite its positive momentum, Wichita still has challenges that must be addressed for increases in attachment to be sustained. Social offerings continue to be a challenge for the community. Residents seem most happy with the arts/cultural activities, and all aspects of social offerings are rated higher in 2010. Interestingly, Wichita is the only community studied where residents rate the area’s nightlife on par with the perception of residents caring for each other. Although social offerings remain a challenge, ratings are increasing. Again, identifying the reasons for this momentum and sustaining it will be key for increases in attachment to continue.

Additionally, the community’s perceived openness is another challenge area. Although residents rate Wichita as relatively welcoming to families with young children and the elderly, it has much lower ratings in welcomeness to all other groups. For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come to and stay in Wichita, all residents must feel welcomed there. Currently, the young talent group is on par with gays and lesbians as being perceived as the least welcome group. With the exception of welcomeness to families with young children, residents’ ratings of welcomness to various groups either remained stable or slightly increased in 2010. Therefore, perception of overall openness is increasing, but continued attention to this area is warranted.

Wichita also seems like a prime community to try current third space innovations that continue to boost resident caring, perceptions of nightlife and welcomeness to young talent. 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. The Turf Supper Club is one such restaurant in San Diego. Such successful innovations should be considered for Wichita.

The fact that Wichita scores relatively high on resident caring compared to 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 a shared identity develops, so does the generalized caring. This process is something to deliberately foster by presenting the area 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.