Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Soul of Our Community?

With great good thanks to John Farley's North Fifth Street blog post, More Coffee Please, check his link to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded Gallup Organization study called "The Soul of a Community" and related comments.  Gallup asked 28,000 people during 2008 in 26 communities (mainly small cities) “What makes a community a desirable place to live? What draws people to stake their future in it? Are communities with more attached residents better off?”  

The material is fascinating. It confirms studies that assert cultural and educational as well as social amenities and opportunities are what drive people’s enthusiasm for their communities. Gallup speculated initially they would only be addressing, the intersection of attachment to a community and economic opportunity. What they found seems to confirm my hunch that the level of attachment in Hudson comes in large measure because many of us, especially the newer residents, select the city for its character, which is all about its life, people rich and diverse culture.  Hudson is a community with strong, well-defined parts.

The residents of longer standing have their own set of deep social and economic connections that bind them here. The problem is that the level of economic opportunity is dwindling and changing for them (as it is for any of us) meaning that fewer younger members of these families can afford to stay and enjoy the benefits of a smaller, more intimate community. A question sits quietly by. It is that a sizeable number of older people are moving here. Is this the wave of the future? Is it enough, or at least something to seek out, market for?

We who have (almost) emptied our nests are an important part of Hudson's revitalization. We help (see Gallup) with the aesthetics factor, the social factor, and openness. But I hazard to say that attracting an older crowd is only one piece of a strategy if for no other reason than that their (our) income is passive.  It is unlikely to increase or to invest locally in a start up.

I see Gallup's point because many people here would corroborate their conclusions.  I prefer, as a city person, a built and peopled environment that is multi-dimensional. I want to be neighbors with young families and young people, people of color, gay people, people who have been here for generations, and those who, only moments ago, came here from thousands and thousands of miles away, who will want jobs and schools and recreation and social life and cultural stimulation just as much if not more than I will. Their lives, their decisions to come here or put down roots depend upon adopting notions of diversity.   To the extent that they do not depend upon it, there may be tensions.  People will come because it is a cool (open, sociable, pretty) community to visit. They will try to live here if we help them, as with long standing citizens of the city, to establish new businesses and cultural venues, find affordable housing and jobs.  And they will help us, if we help them, create the social spaces and educational opportunities (schools, libraries, HOH/TSL type mixed cultural educational opportunities) they require and that are appropriate to their tribes, for a fully functioning, sticky small city of the 21st century.

I posted twice on This post condenses and updates those. Others posted there and I encourage you to follow their comments and the Gallup material and findings.