Most influential factors in neighborhood attachment

by Betty
(San Jose, CA)

Visitor Question: An article about beatification said that beauty is one of the three most influential factors in neighborhood attachment. What are the other two? Thank you.

Editors Reply: Betty, the cover page of our beautification section gives a link to the community attachment page of the website. That's where you find the answer to your question.

In brief, research showed that social offerings was the most important factor in community attachment. The second most important factor was openness to different types of people. Then beauty, whether natural or man-made, was the third most important factor. You can visit that page yourself if you want more details about how the study was conducted and what each of these factors means.

We decided to answer your question though because we thought it was interesting to ponder the differences between what might cause people to be attached to a whole community (an entire large or medium-sized city) as opposed to being attached to a neighborhood.

It's neighborhood attachment we would like to discuss here. Often people who are new neighborhood activists become very confused about why some people rapidly join in on any effort to improve the area or to form a neighborhood association, while others appear to not care at all about any community, or at the other extreme, they care about the entire city but not their particular neighborhood.

We do not know of specific research at the neighborhood level, but we suspect that the top three factors in community attachment would be important in neighborhood loyalty as well. Yet our extensive experience in neighborhoods lead us to believe there are other factors.

First we think personal history is significant at the neighborhood level. That might mean that someone has lived in the neighborhood a long time, that not only they themselves but their parents or other elders lived or still live in that neighborhood, that they remember a particular business in the neighborhood with great fondness, or simply that they put two years of blood, sweat, and tears into rehabbing a house there and now they are extremely invested in making sure that the neighborhood stays sound.

A second factor we suspect to be important in neighborhood attachment is the strength of neighborhood identity. We have written about the importance of having strong and readily agreed upon neighborhood boundaries, without which we think it is difficult to have much of a neighborhood identity. (You can use the search box to find this article.)

But beyond clear boundaries lies the question of whether people in the entire city can identify the neighborhood correctly, and whether the things that make the neighborhood noteworthy are perceived as positive.

In real life this clear sense of neighborhood identity can often be built upon one strong business or landmark. But it is sustained and enhanced by a widening appreciation of what the neighborhood beyond the major attraction holds.

When these positive associations with the name of the neighborhood are strong enough, we as humans want to identify with that landmark, building, and area as well.

Moving right back to your original question, the unifying identity of the neighborhood might be beauty instead of one particular building, landmark, or business district. Maybe you have blocks and blocks of interesting and beautiful Victorian or Mid-Century architecture. Perhaps your neighborhood overlooks a lake, river, or the ocean. Maybe your neighborhood lies at the highest elevation in the city, and therefore the views out over the city and the countryside are spectacular.

Or yet another neighborhood identity possibility is a common ethnicity. Especially when that ethnicity is expressed in interesting restaurants and cultural experiences, we often see that as a major plus. If the street culture is vibrant, exciting, and positive, neighborhoods may take pride in a particular common ethnicity. This inspires strong neighborhood attachment.

Yet we have to balance this statement with the research that shows that openness to all cultures and other cultures is a major driver of community attachment, which also is true. Some neighborhoods pride themselves on very wide diversity, and in those areas, this very sense of acceptance of everyone drives a very high level of attachment.

We could go on and on, but check out the original research and then add in our musings about clear neighborhood boundaries, being noted in the broader city for particular landmarks and positive characteristics, local-level beautiful buildings or scenery, and common ethnic cultures well expressed.

Needless to say, a really good neighborhood association can help bring about the good reputation that causes people to focus on how their personal histories are intertwined with that of the neighborhood. You can read all about such associations in the Community Organizations section of the website.

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