Sunday, December 05, 2010

What makes Cheyenne a desireable place to live?

What makes a community a desirable place to live?

That’s the question posed by the Knight Foundation Soul of the Community project.

After interviewing close to 43,000 people in 26 communities over three years, the study has found that 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).


First, what attaches residents to their communities doesn’t change much from place to place. While we might expect that the drivers of attachment would be different in Miami, Fla., from those in Macon, Ga., in fact, the main drivers of attachment show little difference across communities. In addition, the same drivers have risen to the top in every year of the study.

Second, these main drivers may be surprising. While the economy is obviously the subject of much attention, the study has found that perceptions of the local economy do not have a very strong relationship to resident attachment. Instead, attachment is most closely related to how accepting a community is of diversity, its wealth of social offerings, and its aesthetics. 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 which often are not considered when thinking about economic development. These community factors seem to matter more when it comes to attaching residents to their community.

And finally, while we do see differences in attachment among different demographic groups, demographics generally are not the strongest drivers of attachment. In almost every community, we found that a resident’s perceptions of the community are more strongly linked to their level of community attachment than to that person’s age, ethnicity, work status, etc.
Do I have these types of attachments to my community of Cheyenne, Wyoming?

As far as social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet….

I socialize at arts events. That includes performances by the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players, various music concerts, such as the free Friday concerts at the Depot Plaza, Art Design & Dine gallery walks the second Thursday of the month, author readings at the library, and art openings at museums. My writing group meets twice a month and we do some small-scale socializing before getting down to the dirty work of critiquing manuscripts.

I volunteer for good causes. I meet and schmooze with fellow Democrats at our monthly meetings. I see people I know at Barnes & Noble, the local grocery store and at summer farmers’ markets. I socialize at events sponsored by the YMCA, my wife’s employer. There are always tons of people at the Y.
I’m not a social butterfly, but I’m not a hermit. My job at the Wyoming Arts Council entails lots of socializing.

As a writer, I could be entirely anti-social. But I need some social contact to be able to frame believable characters. And to stay human and at least partially sane.

Many Cheyenne residents socialize at church or in bars or at school functions. Church no longer interests me. I stopped going to Catholic mass during the 2004 elections, when the deacon said in his homily that Kerry supporters were going to hell for their pro-abortion, women’s rights-promoting, liberal-leaning ways. It was sickening. We tried to some other local churches but there wasn’t enough suffering involved. My wife and I no longer go to bars. We’re not against them, especially microbreweries and taverns. But it’s a young people’s pursuit. Our kids are out of school – more PTA, PTO or Halloween Carnivals or volunteering in the classroom. It as fun, but can’t say we made any lasting friendships along the way.

What about the town itself? Family members live in Colorado, Arizona and Florida, mainly. So family roots do not bind us to Cheyenne. My daughter was born at the Cheyenne Medical Center, spending a week in Pediatric ICU. She recovered nicely, and remains the only family member we know (including aunts and uncles and cousins) born in Wyoming. Our blood does not run deep in this place.

Politics, too, play a part. I’m a liberal in a conservative town. This most recent election took it out of me. The 2008 presidential race infused me with – dare I say it – hope. I’ve reported on that election year in this blog so go roam around in the 2008 posts if you like. The 2010 election was depressing nationally. Really depressing in Wyoming. Great Democratic candidates got swamped by the Tea Party tsunami. In the lead-up to polling, I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing slams about Obama and demonic Dems. One audience member at the local community theatre production of “The Sound of Music” commented during the intermission that she would enjoy the play a lot more if the woman playing Maria didn’t look like Nancy Pelosi.


It’s this attitude that irks me. Odd thing is, most of the complainers seem to be pretty well off. Many are retirees living on military pensions, state retirement and/or Social Security. Never understood why so many Tea Partiers showed up at rallies wearing their Vietnam Veteran or Desert Storm caps. As government employees, you’d think they would appreciate and encourage the government that provided a living for them, possibly even a skill they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

So how do I rate my attachment to Cheyenne on a scale of 1 to 10?

Probably a 6. High on the arts and friendliness and livability scale. Our greenway is among the best I've seen. Ditto the public library. And potential -- Cheyenne has lots of that. Low on the political and community involvement scale. The politics here are bizarre and byzantine. And much too conservative for my tastes.

I know, I know. If I don't like it, why don't I go somewhere else? I can hear those cranky crackpots now.

But this objection gets to the heart of the matter. I am involved in my community because I want to make it a better place. I could move, or stay at home and complain full time via letters to the editor and wacky blog comments.

But I choose otherwise.

What about you?

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