A Gallup study of the Fort Wayne area - Allen, Wells and Whitley counties - found three main factors that bind area residents to this community. That study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, says the most important factors are social offerings (fun places to gather), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (an area's physical beauty and green spaces).
The study surveyed more than 13,000 people in 26 U.S. communities. In this area, more than 400 people were surveyed in February, March and April. Surveys were conducted by phone, but cell numbers were included in the pool of potential survey subjects, Knight Foundation officials said.
A similar survey was conducted last year at the same time. The deepening recession and global economic crises of the last year didn't weaken the attachment of area residents to the community, according to Gallup, although respondents did rate unemployment as the top issue of concern here.
Some key points Gallup and the Knight Foundation cited from the survey:
• Aesthetics and education were perceived as community strengths. In particular, residents rated parks, playgrounds and trails highly, as well as local colleges and universities.
• The survey identified three areas - leadership, social offerings and openness - as weak spots in the way area residents look at the community.
• Residents most attached to Fort Wayne tended to be 65 or older, widowed, part-timers or retirees and middle-income.
• Civic involvement (specifically, an increase in voting due to the presidential election, as well as volunteering) was up significantly in 2009.
• Residents who feel a strong emotional connection to the area are most likely to be older, employed part-time or retired, and middle-income residents. Those least likely to be emotionally attached are renting, mid-tenure, unemployed (includes students) and middle-educated residents.
The impact of this research on the Knight Foundation's relationship with Fort Wayne institutions is uncertain. Vivian Celeste Neal, Fort Wayne program manager with the foundation, said the foundation has worked extensively with arts organizations in Fort Wayne, in part because improving and publicizing artistic enterprises can contribute to improving the perception of the community's openness and social appeal.
But those involved in planning and executing the study - which is funded for a third year next year - hope a wide range of interests - from economic-development specialists to the executive directors of nonprofits - in Fort Wayne benefit from this reflection from residents.
“The Knight Foundation really wants to find a way for everyone to use this gift of data,” said Katherine Loflin, lead consultant on what Knight calls its “Soul of the Community” project.
Knight Foundation officials say the study was designed to explore the connection between economic growth and residents' emotional attachment to their community. The latest results suggest a correlation between the two, though Loflin said she isn't ready to say that prosperity is caused by feelings of attachment to community.