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Consultant says cities that are loved are more likely to succeed

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 6:37 am

If you love your city, the trend is with you.

“We are in the middle of what I would call a 'place renaissance.' We're hearing a lot more about this thing we call 'placemaking,' ” Katherine Loflin told the My City Summit Friday.

Loflin, the lead consultant on a multiyear study of community in Fort Wayne and 25 other cities, spoke to an audience of about 200 people at the Grand Wayne Center, explaining why cities loved by their residents do better – socially and economically.

In her presentation, Loflin reiterated the findings of the three-year “Soul of the Community” study funded by the Knight Foundation. That study, conducted in 2008-2010, surveyed residents of Allen, Wells and Whitley counties on their attitudes about where they live. That study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found that the most important factors in determining how attached people are to their community are social offerings (fun places to gather), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (an area's physical beauty and green spaces).

In Fort Wayne, as in many other communities, older people were more attached to the community than younger people, Loflin said. That's hardly surprising, she noted, as many older people are longtime residents of a city precisely because they decided they like it, whereas more young people are still deciding where they want to establish roots.

One of the things the Knight project found in its research on attitudes in Fort Wayne is that it was perceived as not very welcoming to “young talent.”

“Is that a reality we need to change or a perception? It's probably somewhere in between,” Loflin said. Whatever the mix of reality and perception, she argued that a city can make itself more attractive to young people. That's particularly important now, because it appears that young people today are more likely to pick a place to live, then make a career in that place, rather than finding a job and making do with the city where the job happens to be.

That's where focusing on key attractions help, particularly when it comes to maintaining a city's aesthetic appeal and improving its social opportunities. The way community leaders think about social offerings needs to go beyond the obvious – having bars and restaurants where people can socialize. Instead, she argued, a city ought to be designed around providing opportunities for more face-to-face social contact, such as walkable neighborhoods.