April 03, 2012

Paula Ellis interviewed by The Community Foundation on Boulder radio

Paula Ellis

The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County discussed community attachment one of the key principles of Knight's Soul of the Community research on "A Public Affair" this month. Morgan Rogers and Max Tappet of the foundation interviewed Paula Ellis, VP for Strategic Initiatives, at KGNU Community Radio. (click on item No.3 in the play list)

November 26, 2012

Ohio: Eric Anthony Johnson: A sense of ‘place’ matters to Akron

By Eric Anthony Johnson

During all the political conversation of recent months, Americans heard precious little on the national stage about the vitality of our cities. Yet our cities are key to future prosperity and job creation due in large part to the proximity of local economic anchors within their boundaries. These are the places where people live, work and learn and where the art of placemaking will be at the center of building competitive advantages.

Placemaking is the ability to identify the unique assets of a community to create and develop strategies and outcomes around quality of life and economic sustainability that best connect people with their place. As such, all community and economic activity must be grounded somewhere in the community that is connected to its greatest assets, not disconnected.

In Akron, the benefits of visionary planning by local leaders such as Mayor Don Plusquellic and University of Akron President Luis Proenza are visible in significant stretches of new investment in Akron. Visit the Akron area if you haven’t recently. Look around and see the progress for yourself. What you’ll witness is a solid foundation emerging for future prosperity.

Urban planners across the country envy what is already in place in Akron. Where other communities are stifled by the difficulty of coordinating community leaders toward a common vision, Akron’s leaders have mobilized for years. And today, work toward developing a vibrant urban core is emerging in a compact area around Main Street and circling around the University of Akron and the main campuses of three local hospitals.

Akron’s emerging urban core has benefited in recent decades from nearly $2 billion of investment in projects and infrastructure, mainly by the city of Akron, The University of Akron, Summa Health System, Akron Public Schools and Akron Children’s Hospital. Minus such investment, the canvas for building a strong urban setting would be blank.

University Park Alliance has focused the past two years on strategies that build on this investment to create an urban core with vitality and civic activity. In 2013, our efforts will continue toward fulfilling the promise of a livable urban neighborhood. The work at UPA is about becoming a market leader in creating a great “place” to spur community and economic opportunity that grow organically, having a long-term impact on the soul of the Akron community.


Copyright © 2012 The Akron Beacon Journal

August 16, 2012

Community: Taking care of neighborhood is a gift to all

South Lido Beach (cc) by Timothy Valentine on Flickr

By Chelsea Clarkson and Allison Pinto in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune

With the recent death of Andrea Rody, our community has lost an everyday community changemaker. We are touched by the way in which her neighbors have been coming forth to celebrate her memory, and as fellow residents of the broader Sarasota County community, we want to acknowledge the significance of her contributions as a neighbor, too.

Ms. Rody took it upon herself to care for her own home community. She joined other neighbors in the simple act of beautifying their surroundings, by tending to their own yards and also by occasionally mowing the shared space of the neighborhood when it needed attention. It is clear that her neighbors appreciated the work that Ms. Rody did and recognized how it contributed to neighborly spirit.

In a recent national study conducted by the Knight Foundation called "Soul of the Community," it was revealed that attachment to the place where we live is profoundly affected by the following three qualities: "openness," or the welcoming way in which neighbors treat one another; "social offerings," such as local meet-ups; and "aesthetics," or the physical beauty of the area. In other words, we are more likely to feel attached to the communities in which we live when there is a naturally occurring sense of neighborliness, when there are spaces in which to regularly convene and when our physical surroundings are tended to with care.

This means that taking the time to look after shared spaces within one's own neighborhood, as Ms. Rody did, is precisely the kind of action that can lead to community attachment. When people feel attached to their home community, they are more likely to feel connected and committed to the place in which they live. It is within communities like these that neighbors share their skills for the sake of personal and collective benefit, which ultimately contributes to the economic thriving of the area, as well as other aspects of community well-being.

Ms. Rody has been described by her own neighbors as someone who was warm, helpful and friendly. That is noteworthy, especially these days when so many people are connected to others through work or other networks but may not even know the names of their next door neighbors.

Robert Putnam describes the importance of social relationships among community members in terms of "social capital." Ms. Rody was undoubtedly generating social capital with her fellow neighbors.

Tending to one's surroundings, getting to know one's neighbors and being friendly are simple acts that can have lasting effects, both at the neighborhood scale and within the community as a whole. When people are neighborly like Ms. Rody, a sense of healthy abundance can be generated. As neighbors fall in love with their immediate communities, it becomes more natural to rebuild the tradition of looking out for one another and the shared physical space in which they live.


Read more in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

July 02, 2012

Finding ways to better describe, measure and replicate community engagement

Photo Credit: Flickr user callumscott2

While engagement is widely seen as a core feature of the best solutions to community challenges, there isn’t yet an agreed upon way to describe it, copy it, measure it - or even know if it’s spreading.  

A yearlong study of collaboratives found that nearly all of them struggled with how to engage residents as co-producers of change. The study, which examined 100 such community-wide efforts and identified 12 as best of class, looked specifically at how institutions engage with each other and how community members themselves engage to produce impact.

Armed with this body of research on what works and with newly announced support from Knight Foundation, the Aspen Institute is launching a Forum for Community Solutions to do two things: share practical tools and skills that can be put to use immediately and build a community of practice that digs deeper.

To accomplish these goals, they’ll host roundtable discussions around the country with mayors, community leaders, philanthropists and businesses to walk through successful “needle-moving strategies.” The institute uses the term needle-moving to help determine impact. It refers to instances when at least a double digit improvement occurs  based upon an agreed measure. They’ll launch a media campaign to publicize what works and provide support to communities with promising, impact-driven engagement projects.

Support for this project goes to the heart of Knight Foundation’s belief that community engagement is necessary to produce lasting, visible change. There is a growing recognition that investing in programs alone is not sufficient given the complexity of the social challenges and opportunities.  Large-scale transformation requires the engagement of all sectors in a community, nonprofits, businesses, philanthropies and governments all pulling in the same direction through collaborative efforts.

The Aspen Institute is also placing a particular emphasis on engaging young people. A new Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund launched as part of the forum will support projects to help Americans ages 16-24 who don’t have a job and aren’t currently enrolled in school.

Melody C. Barnes, the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, will chair the forum at the institute, where it is supported by its president and CEO Water Isaccson.

The goal is ultimately to increase the level of authentic community engagement by developing the tools and knowledge necessary to support it.  It’s also to help institutions more effectively collaborate.

We are excited about taking the best-of-breed ideas identified by the forum, matching them with the communities that can do the most with them and sharing what we learn about community engagement across the country. This partnership gives Knight, The Aspen Institute and community collaboratives the chance to learn together and help share this knowledge with others.

By Paula Ellis, vice president/strategic initiatives at Knight Foundation

May 16, 2012

Placemaking: A Blueprint for our Future

On April 26, Charlottesville Tomorrow held its annual community conversation. This year’s topic was “Placemaking: A Blueprint for our Future.” Over 130 community members turned out to hear Dr. Katherine Loflin present her findings from the Knight Foundation's Soul of the Community project on how attachment to place drives a community’s economic vitality – and how understanding those attachments can direct the ways in which we as a community choose to change and grow.

The top-4 attachment factors (full study):

Social offerings

If you weren't able to attend, here's a little background: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup recognized that there had long been a connection between employee satisfaction and business productivity, and they wondered if the same could be applied to communities. So they set out to see if there was any connection between people’s general feelings of satisfaction about where they lived and the overall productivity and economic health of a community.

The resulting study of 26 communities, called the Soul of the Community, ended up drawing clear parallels between what they call “attachment drivers” and the growth of a local economy. Purposefully emphasizing those drivers in community-wide decision making and keeping place central to decisionmaking is what they call placemaking. Download the latest results from the project here.

Read more in Charlottesville Tomorrow.

November 10, 2011

How arts can help define communities and create a sense of place

A panorama of Haas&Hahn's work in Colombia. Image by Haas&Hahn via Favela Painting

This post, written by Knight Foundation Arts Program Associate, Tatiana Hernandez, was originally published on the blog of Americans for the Arts..

People have looked to the arts to help define their communities and create a sense of place for generations. So, why are we so excited about creative placemaking today? Perhaps it has something to do with context. In this digital world, many are reexamining the fundamental nature of “community” and our relationship to place. We now know, based on findings from the Knight Soul of the Community report, that social offerings, followed by openness and aesthetics explain why we love where we live. What does that tell us about the essential importance of our connection to place? “Vibrancy” is popping up as a way of describing the intangible nature of a neighborhood’s character. Here are three projects working to help define a sense of place in each of their communities.

Philadelphia has a strong tradition of mural work, and thanks to Mural Arts, artists and residents continue to come together to help define “home."  As part of their Knight Arts Challenge project, Mural Arts brought two Dutch artists, Haas&Hahn, to North Philadelphia to live, work and engage the community around a large-scale mural that will span several blocks of Germantown Avenue. Known for their abstract, colorful work in Santa Marta (Rio de Janeiro), Haas&Hahn will involve residents in the actual painting. They will begin training “team leaders” this fall before tackling the challenge of painting Germantown Avenue. I recently spent a (wet!) morning in Philadelphia with Dre Urhahn. He explained to me why he and his partner, Jeroen Koolhaas, were attracted to abstract work. “Traditional [figurative] murals tend to tell the story of what a community is or has been, abstract images are more likely to inspire a community as to what it can be.”

More info on the Philadelphia project will be available in spring/summer 2012.

In San Jose, the fruits of over a decade’s worth of labor are beginning to shine through the growth of the SoFA district. ArtPlace, a consortium of foundations, government and corporate partners seeking to “accelerate creative placemaking across the U.S.” recently awarded a grant to help launch the ZERO1 Garage. Best known for its 01SJ biennial, a contemporary arts festival consisting of exhibitions, public art, performances and events that showcase innovative artists, the ZERO1 will use the Garage as a year-round laboratory for artists and amateurs alike - acting as a home base for the organization and anyone interested in experimenting with the blurring lines of art, technology, personal and public space. By choosing a space that was once an auto body garage, ZERO1 is bridging the old with the new - engaging in a generational conversation of place. The programming that goes on in the space and around SoFA and Gore Park will take that conversation into the future.

So, what do you do if you’re an established institution and you want to participate in creative placemaking? The Detroit Institute of Arts has an innovative approach that literally brings masterpieces into streets and parks across Greater Detroit. The Inside|Out program creates high quality replicas of key pieces from the collection and distributes them throughout communities, surprising residents and visitors alike. Imagine turning a corner on the way to your favorite coffee shop and spotting a Modigliani on the wall? It’s the type of creative placemaking that serves as a great example of how one institution can help to remind residents of the treasures they have at home.

Image Courtesy of

There are limitless ways that we can approach creative placemaking but the key will be in how we engage communities through the arts, place-based or otherwise. 


An example of how the Inside|Out program hangs pieces of art around a city. Image Courtesy of Detroit Institute of Arts


November 08, 2011

Ellis: Libraries are respected brands that can help create strong, resilient communities

Gia Arbogast, branch administrator for the Miami-Dade Public Library System describes how YOUMedia Miami will engage teens in building digital literacy skills

Libraries have a fundamental role in how attached people are to where they live, Knight’s Paula Ellis, vp/strategic initiatives, told a gathering of library and civic leaders last week.

That’s particularly important because how residents feel about their community may lead to greater economic vitality, the Knight-funded Soul of the Community study found.

The study identified three factors that drive why people are emotionally attached to their neighborhoods and cities. They include: openness, or how welcoming a place is, its social offerings and aesthetics, Ellis said at The Urban Libraries Partners for Success Conference 2011:

“Openness is at the top of the list of what drives people to love where they live. What is more welcoming than a library? Being welcoming is what gets people in the door and then people can form this emotional attachment to the library as a true community center and place for personal transformation.”

According to the study, communities with the highest number of attached people had the highest rates of economic growth over time.

Ellis and a panel also discussed a second study, that looked at the civic health of Miami and St. Paul, Minn. - two cities on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to being civically engaged.

In fact, research shows that Miami is the least engaged major city in the country, said Nancy Jones, vice president for public affairs and communications at the Miami Foundation. For example, only 7% of Miami residents reported working with an elected official on an issue relevant to their community. Minneapolis-St. Paul on the other hand, was the most engaged metropolitan area. Its residents were more than twice as likely to volunteer as Miami’s (37% vs 15%) and nearly twice as likely to trust their local government (42% vs 24%). Twin Cities residents also had stronger social networks than residents of Miami, including being more likely to use the Internet to connect with their family and friends, talk to neighbors and have meals with other members of their households.

Paul Williams, deputy mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota and Katherine Hadley, library director of the Saint Paul Public Library system, discussed what may explain their city’s higher levels of civic engagement, including having strong public institutions and a thriving nonprofit sector.

Hadley also cited examples of how city’s libraries are playing a strong role in creating civic engagement. One St. Paul program library program hopes to increase residents’ digital literacy skills. The library is currently taking up to ten laptops out into the community to offer digital literacy classes in Spanish, Somalian and Karen. The program trains native speakers in digital literacy so they in turn can train other community members.

Raymond Santiago, director of Miami-Dade Public Library System, said that although he was surprised that Miami was rated so low for civic engagement, one factor behind the numbers is that Miami’s residents are are highly mobile and transient. Because there is such a large influx of various ethnic groups and residents still have a strong connection to their home countries, they often have a lack of ownership over Miami.

Santiago said that this actually brings an opportunity for libraries to help build the brand of civic engagement and community involvement. One way Miami-Dade’s libraries are doing this is through YOUMedia Miami, a program set to launch later this year that will empower teens by building their digital literacy skills.

Ellis concluded the session by encouraging participants to think of libraries as one key way to build the public trust for citizen and community engagement:

“In world of decaying trust, one brand remains highly trusted and respected and that’s the brand of the community library. Embrace the reach of that and help us to all create more resilient and strong communities.”

—Elizabeth R. Miller

October 05, 2011

'Place Matters' program a fresh venue to discuss community engagement; tune in this morning

Video: Dr. Katherine Loflin worked with leaders from community foundations to find place making opportunities in the results of Knight's Soul of the Community research. Now her radio program will explore similar themes.  

soul of the community


The Knight Soul of the Community project is a groundbreaking study that explores what makes people love where they live, and why it matters. Using primary survey research gathered in 26 U.S. communities by Gallup for Knight from 2008 to 2010, Lead Consultant Dr. Katherine Loflin helped identify a strong correlation between how citizens feel about their local community and economic output of that community.

Katherine Loflin, Ph.D. speaking at the Council on Foundations Fall Conference for Community Foundations. 

Ultimately, if you love your town, prosperity follows, and it even shows up in the GDP for that town.

In the wake of these findings, Knight funded Dr. Loflin to build higher, and take a look at the implications and opportunities for U.S. communities. The result is “Place Matters,” a new weekly radio program focusing on place making and its connection to community engagement.

“The field of placemaking is really booming right now,” Loflin says. “I have a ready and hungry audience from the Soul of the Community work, and people with an avid interest in placemaking work in a variety of sectors all across the country. They are seeking the show out and tuning in the podcast. The show is really a public home for the placemaking conversation by bringing in research, thought leaders from around the country and inspiring stories and ideas from everyday citizens.”

On the first show, her guest was Fred Kent, one of the founders of the placemaking movement. He started his career with Margaret Mead in observing human behavior within city. Today Kent is the president of the Project for Public Spaces, which boasts of training thousands of participants each year in the concepts of placemaking.

The next show – set for today, Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. EDT, will take a look at the implications and opportunities of the Knight Soul of the Community project.

Future shows will showcase successful ideas from everyday citizens in placemaking; profile the innovative placemaking work of a couple of cities; have a mayor or two on who are using placemaking as a foundation of their leadership; and perhaps someone from United Nations Habitat to explain the placemaking push around the world.

If you’re in the Miami area, you can tune in the show Tuesdays on WZAB, 880-AM and everywhere else you can listen live on the Internet or fetch the podcast from iTunes. Katherine says she keeps an open line to listeners during the show through a Facebook page, and follows tweets marked #placematters and #placemaking. Follow her show on Twitter @katherineloflin.

September 21, 2011

Knight Foundation heads to the 66th Annual Conference on Citizenship to discuss civic health and Soul of the Community


This afternoon Knight Foundation will help lead a discussion on measuring civic health at the 66th Annual National Conference on Citizenship, an annual event that explores the revised roles of citizens, nonprofits, and governments in a 21st century democracy. The theme for this year’s conference is “Redefining America’s Social Compact.”

The Civic Health Index, funded in part by Knight Foundation, is an annual report that elevates the discussion of our nation’s civic health by measuring a wide variety of indicators. This effort to educate Americans about civic life also seeks to motivate citizens, leaders and policymakers to strengthen it.

Tomorrow on Sept. 23, Paula Ellis, vp/strategic initiatives at Knight Foundation will present on a panel titled “Best Practices in Creating Civic Strategies” from 10 - 12:15 p.m. The session, moderated by Lattie Coor, chairman, Center for the Future of Arizona will bring together local, regional and national leaders to talk about civic strategies that help communities thrive and discuss the future of our nation’s civic information infrastructure.

During the panel, Ellis will discuss Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community project, a three-year study designed to determine the factors that make residents love where they live. According to Ellis, the role that community engagement plays in an area’s economic growth and well-being is vital:

“It matters if people are attached to and passionate about the place they live. We know that engagement matters because through Soul of the Community we’ve demonstrated in 26 cities over three years that communities that have more engaged people do better as measured by five years of economic growth.”

Many of the events over the next two days will be live-streamed, see the agenda to access livestreamed content. If you want to follow the conversation on Twitter @NCoC will be live-tweeting the conference using the hashtag #NCoC.




February 25, 2011

Sharing Soul of the Community with Corpus Christi, Texas

This post is authored by Dr. Katherine Loflin, lead consultant for Soul of the Community. Here, Katherine writes about a presentation she delivered to the community of Corpus Christi, Texas, on Feb. 16.

To be honest, this was the first time I had been a little nervous about a Soul of the Community presentation in a long time.  The day of my arrival to Corpus Christi, Texas, an article appeared in the local paper announcing my visit and telling residents that local Mayor Joe Adame was inviting everyone to come out and hear the presentation.  Great. 

Then, as I always do, I scrolled down to look at the comments to the article.  “Why don’t we have a meeting and talk about why we all hate it here,” was among the comments I read, along with criticism of the local leadership and the general consent that the meeting was going to be a major bust. Many readers seemed pretty pleased by that prospect.  Of course, other residents tried to come to the defense of the city but even their comments were telling: “And the Corpus whiners are out in full swing.”  It was the most pre-presentation reaction I had seen in the three-plus years of the Soul of the Community project – and certainly the most negative.

Not sure what to expect, I stepped out off the plane and took a beautiful scenic route along the waterfront to my hotel.  Beautiful homes and pristine beaches welcomed me.  As I got closer to downtown overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, I saw a new and cool-looking splash park for the kids that I knew my four-year-old would enjoy. Around downtown and close to downtown I saw attractions like the new-looking American Bank Center, the USS Lexington available for tours and the Texas Aquarium.

Later, when I reached the presentation venue, I mentioned the newspaper article comments to the mayor.  He smiled apologetically and said with conviction, “The message of Soul of the Community will be well-received, and we need this message now.”  I wanted to do right by him and this city.

So with more than 100 local residents and members of the local press in attendance, I began the presentation.

As I spoke, I constantly scanned the crowd looking for nonverbal (or verbal) reaction to what I was saying.  Head nods, smiles and thoughtful expressions greeted me back.  Great.

Then came the Q&A period – always my favorite part of doing presentations.  As reported by the Caller Times on the front page of the local section the following day, a resident stood up and asked me something I have never been asked before: “Be brutally honest – as someone not living here, what is your first impression of Corpus Christi?”  One commenter to the news article retelling this story said that before I gave an honest and tactful response, for a fleeting moment I had the “deer in headlights” look on my face.  I’m sure I did. 

The comments I had read in the article announcing the presentation flooded my mind as I stood facing what seemed to be a completely different crowd that night.  And I worried about deflating that crowd with my honest response.  But I said, “It seems to me that some of you, and I’m not sure if you’re in this room, but some of you are stuck in place.”

The room seemed to collectively exhale back at me in what felt like relief. So I continued, “And that must be hurting you as a place in some ways.” Heads began nodding again and pensive faces broke into sad smiles.  “But I don’t see that here tonight.  I see people wanting to find new ways to solve old problems and move forward as a place, and you have a good start.” Then I began reciting all the wonderful amenities (social offerings), beauty (aesthetics) and welcoming faces (openness) I had encountered since I landed. We shut the place down with residents staying long after the allotted time to talk about their community and ask questions about Soul of the Community.

The following morning, I received a message through Twitter from a local resident who said he now had restored hope that Corpus Christi could be better – and perhaps he and his family would stick around a little longer to see and be a part of that.  Additionally, the comments to the article in the paper about the event were overwhelmingly positive. 

I couldn’t wait to share this with the mayor when I saw him later that day.  And when I did he said that he wasn’t surprised – that he felt a shift in the room last night and that “everyone” was talking about the presentation today – on local talk radio, in the paper and everywhere he went.  It is momentum he plans to build on using Soul of the Community as a guiding framework.

It may not be transformation yet – but it’s discovery.  And that’s a start.


Discover the soul of your community

Great schools, affordable health care and safe streets all help create strong communities. But is there something deeper that draws people to a city – that makes them want to put down roots and build a life?

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