Sense of Place

Here’s a nugget from Urbanland, the magazine of the Urban Land Institute, written by Edward T. McMahon:

In 2010, the Knight Foundation teamed up with Gallup pollsters to survey 43,000 people in 26 cities (where Knight-Ridder had newspapers). The so-called Soul of the Community Survey was designed to answer questions such as: What makes residents love where they live? What attracts people to a place and keeps them there?

The study found that the most important factors that create emotional bonds between people and their community were not jobs and the economy, but rather “physical beauty, opportunities for socializing and a city’s openness to all people.” The Knight Foundation also found that communities with the highest levels of attachment also had the highest rates of gross domestic product growth and the strongest economies.

. . .

When it comes to 21st century economic development, a key concept is community differentiation. If you can’t differentiate your community from any other, you have no competitive advantage.

Capital is footloose in a global economy. Natural resources, highway access, locations along a river or rail line have all become less important. Education, technology, connectivity, and distinctiveness have all become more important. Joseph Cortright, a leading economic development authority and president and chief economist of Impresa, a consulting firm specializing in regional economic analysis, says that “the unique characteristics of place may be the only truly defensible source of competitive advantage for communities.” Likewise, Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class says, “How people think of a place is less tangible, but more important than just about anything else.”

So are we going to let Downtown El Paso end up looking like some La Jolla lifestyle center? Are we going to continue to leave the majority of El Pasoans with the sense that they’re being disenfranchised? Or are we going to embrace an “openness to all people”?

We’re all different. We’ve all learned what we like and what we dislike because of what we’ve been exposed to. Unfortunately, the people who are making the decisions about what downtown El Paso will look like largely come from similar, hyper-consumerist, backgrounds.

They represent a distinct minority in the eighth poorest city in the United States.

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