A recent report entitled “Soul of the Community,” released by the Knight Foundation and Gallop, underscores several factors that cause people to become attached to their community — meaning they are proud of it, positive about its future and have a strong desire to remain there.
Building community is often not about specific projects or even about jobs, the general economy and safety, as might be expected. While these may be outgrowths of a strong city, and areas with higher levels of attachment do indeed experience higher GDP growth, it’s actually the “connectors” that make a bigger difference in improving the quality of life.
Three primary elements are a city’s physical beauty, plentiful opportunities to socialize and an openness to diverse people.
So what might the results of this study mean for us?
First, what if Minneapolis aspired to be the most beautiful city in the world? It would mean addressing not only how things work, but regarding appearance as an integral part of functionality. Every project undertaken would have to provide visual interest; include some aspect that is truly awesome to all eyes. These short term investments in beauty, openness, more parks, trails and playgrounds will yield long term financial and other gains for us.
This could also mean a no tolerance stance on proposed public infrastructure improvements that lack funds necessary to incorporate streetscaping, public art or engaging, interactive elements. An immediate opportunity before us, for example, is to call for these improvements as part of the new east-west transit corridors in our Downtown since these elements are not currently a part of the plan.
Creating attachment to a city, according to the report, also requires opportunities for residents to socialize. Arts and cultural events and the gathering places which host them foster interaction by setting the stage for people to meet. What about doing this through the creation of a real Cultural Corridor? Imagine connecting the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the Hennepin Avenue theatres, the Public Library and continuing on to the amazing natural environment of the Mississippi Riverfront and organizations like the Guthrie.
This Cultural Corridor could include a range of housing, performance space, art galleries and public art in addition to community projects including the Minnesota Walk of Fame now started along Hennepin Avenue. Once we’ve set the stage, the bars, restaurants and unique shopping establishments will all support the inherently social aspects of arts experiences.
Finally, let’s take additional steps to foster a city that’s fully inclusive of everyone — new immigrants, LGBT, religious minorities, artists or students. This study reveals that people who see their communities as welcoming are more attached to it, more supportive of it and more likely to stay. For example, we can create more opportunities for multicultural interaction, such as when Mayor Rybak instituted the annual MOSAIC festival. Efforts that recognize the value of diverse individuals can also create broader and deeper attachments among all of us. People who see their community as welcoming, become more welcoming.
For 2011, let’s be thankful for a city with great assets that we can to build upon to make an even better, more engaging place to call home. We can do this by focusing on beauty, fostering opportunities for us to connect with one another and committing to an inclusiveness that causes all of us to feel committed and attached to our city. These steps are not only good for us and the quality of life here, but as the Knight study found, good for our economy.
Tom Hoch is president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a nonprofit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.