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Sense of Place

Why people love where they live:

In Pennsylvania (Penn’s Woods), living with trees and four seasons is part of our life experience and sense of place. According to the 2010 “Soul of the Community" survey of 26 communities and a random sample of more than 10,000 people, residents are most attached to their communities when they have:

  • fun places to gather
  • there's a welcoming atmosphere and
  • there are beautiful and green spaces to enjoy

These qualities have consistently emerged as the leading drivers for community attachment over the study’s three years of research. They beat out other possible drivers such as perceptions of local economy, leadership and safety, civic involvement, social capital, education, emotional well-being and basic services across all of the 26 cities included in the survey.

Today’s cultural forces of uniformity that give us identical big-box stores and fast-food restaurants across the land also tend to create a bland monotony in the style of our landscapes. One size definitely does not fit all and lowest up-front price is not always a real savings. There are many reasons why understanding our sense of place is very important to us. Consider sprawl versus Designing With Natives.

Sense of Place

The Soul of the Community Survey also explores the connection between local economic growth and peoples’ emotional bond to a place. Three years of survey data clearly show a significant, positive link between resident attachment and local GDP growth.

Gallup has been able to show that increasing employees' emotional connection to their company leads to improved economic growth. When people are highly attached, they will spend more time , spend more money, be more productive and tend to be more entrepreneurial. Despite declines in the economy since the study began in 2008, the researchers found some surprising constants:

  • The link between local GDP and residents’ emotional bonds to a place remained steady despite declines in the economy over the three years of the study. Communities with residents who are more attached to a place show stronger growth even in tough economic times.
  • People’s perception of their community’s performance in social offerings, openness and beauty has a greater impact on their emotional bonds to a place than their demographic characteristics.
  • Perception of the local economy is not a leading reason residents create an emotional bond to a place.

Research has also shown that green areas and beauty create neighborhood cohesion because they will encourage people to get outside and look around. Such settings support frequent, friendly interaction among neighbors, the foundation of neighborhood social ties. These ties are the heart of a neighborhood’s strength, encouraging neighbors to help and protect each other. This helps maintain our community values and sense of place.