What Makes People Happy With Their Communities?

An Explanation of Community Attachment - Soul of the Community Project

Over three years, Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation set out to explore several key questions: What makes a community a desirable place to live? What draws people to stake their future in it?

The answers are important, especially in today’s world, where the most successful cities are able to attract and retain the talented workers that strengthen communities and local economies.

The Soul of the Community study – which interviewed 43,000 people in 26 communities asked a range of questions about personal satisfaction with community life, about pride in the community, and about optimism about its future, and looked at the connections between answers to these questions and people’s perceptions of many key community attributes.

When we analyzed what people said about how they felt about their community we found that positive attitudes about community didn’t vary much based on respondents’ perceptions of the presence of jobs or the quality of basic services in their city. People with the most favorable opinions of their cities also were more likely to have positive assessments of local social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness, or how welcoming a place is, and the area’s aesthetics, or its physical beauty and green space.

The study revealed a number of interesting patterns.

Looking across communities, it found that residents of smaller cities were more likely on average to express positive feelings about their community, and optimism about its future. And those communities that have experienced particularly hard economic times had lower levels of expressed satisfaction. Community satisfaction varied with demographic characteristics, too. Some demographic groups were consistently more likely to express satisfaction with their community: older, better-educated and higher-income people and retirees all gave their communities higher marks, on average.

The Soul of the Community survey also presented one apparent paradox: People who express high levels of satisfaction with their community are no more—or less) likely than other residents to be engaged in community activities such as voting, volunteering or attending community meetings.

The Soul of the Community survey raises important questions about how our communities are performing and how those perceptions vary among different groups of the population, and what perceived community attributes correlate with community satisfaction.

The Soul of the Community study was a starting point. The survey establishes that people who are satisfied with their community are likely to perceive that the community has great social offerings, is open and has great aesthetics. It also shows that satisfaction correlates with education and income. The Soul of the Community survey confirms the internal consistency of respondents’ rationale for community satisfaction. Our next steps are to further explore the physical environment of community to better understand the tangible aspects of place that attract and anchor talent and provide for opportunity.