From Whiting to Michigan City, Indiana residents have access to some of the finest beaches and outdoor recreational areas in the nation.
National Geographic picked the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as one of the Top 10 Urban Escapes in the Country, Parents Magazine ranked the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s West Beach as the number five beach for families in the United States, USA Today featured the Dunes Nature Preserve in the Indiana Dunes State Park as one of the best places in the nation to hike, while Midwest Living named it a Best State Park and routinely features Indiana Dunes Country among its Best of the Midwest.
Whether you’re a lifelong resident of the area, a relative newcomer or seasonal visitor, a trip to the beach of your choice is definitely a great way to relax and enjoy a sultry summer day in along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
A few years ago, Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Knight Soul of the Community project in an effort to determine what attaches people to their communities.
Within a smaller environment, such as a company, Gallup has been able to show that increasing employees' emotional connection to their company leads to improved financial performance of the organization. This study aimed to explore whether the emotional connection to the place where one lives drives economic growth for these communities in a similar way. Gallup’s previous work in US communities and abroad shows that in fact emotional connection does drive economic growth.
After interviewing close to 43,000 people over three years in 26 communities across the country including Gary, the study found three main qualities attach people to place: social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, openness (how welcoming a place is) and the area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces).
Despite the dip in the economy when the study was started, researchers found some surprising constants:
• The things that create the greatest emotional connection between people and their community – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – remained stable all three years and were consistent among the 26 cities studied. These three things reliably rated highest among 10 drivers of resident attachment, which also included: civic involvement, social capital, education, perception of the local economy, leadership, safety, emotional well-being and basic services.
• The link between local economic growth 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.
Although the study found that all the key drivers for attachment are challenges for the Gary community, it also noted that there are bright spots and momentum to build on. Ratings of the natural beauty of the area increased over the three-year period, and many aspects of social offerings rebounded over time. Perception of openness to certain groups also improved. Another important finding, attachment increased with income in the Gary area, meaning the highest earners are the most attached to the community of all income groups.
These strengths are the building blocks to optimizing the drivers and growing attachment to the Gary area. Starting with playing up the assets of the natural beauty of the lakefront area, the study recommends having longtime residents tell oral histories about the Gary area to provide a sense of the place, and engaging the community’s high income earners to be champions of sustaining their attachment and spreading it to other groups in the community.
“This survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves to attract businesses, keep residents and holistically improve their local economic vitality,” Gallup World Poll’s Deputy Director Jon Clifton, who conducted the survey, said. “Our theory is that when a community’s residents are highly attached, they will spend more time there, spend more money, they’re more productive and tend to be more entrepreneurial. The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community.”
This is not to say that jobs and housing aren’t important. Residents must be able to meet their basic needs in a community in order to stay. However, when it comes to forming an emotional connection with the community, there are other community factors that need to be considered when thinking about economic development – and these community factors seem to matter more when it comes to attaching residents to their community.
Preserving and enhancing what remains of the natural beauty on Lake Michigan’s southern shore – one of the most ecologically diverse environments in the US – is essential to enhancing the attachment of residents to their communities – and maintaining real estate values - in the northern most part of Indiana.
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