This article was originally posted by the Knight Foundation blog.
Can park enhancements encourage greater interaction with neighbors? Can community beautification inspire ongoing acts of stewardship? Can arts and cultural resources help stimulate a sense of civic trust?
These are just a few of the questions that the Center for Active Design (CfAD) is exploring through Assembly, a pioneering initiative to leverage place-based design as a pivotal tool for enhancing the civic life of communities. Assembly is using a multipronged approached to investigate the relationship between place and civic engagement—including an in-depth literature review, data analysis, original experiments, project case studies, and input from a diverse panel of expert advisers.
CfAD is pleased to announce the release of Research Brief I, which summarizes our analysis of a rich existing data set known as the Soul of the Community survey. The survey was funded by Knight Foundation and conducted by Gallup from 2008-2010 across the 26 Knight communities. This study is unique in its scope and scale, drawing from a representative sample of more than 15,000 adults. It captures information about local qualities of place, while also eliciting details on respondents’ civic engagement behaviors and perceptions.
CfAD’s research team explored this trove of data by analyzing select survey questions related to Assembly’s four civic engagement objectives: 1) civic trust and appreciation; 2) participation in public life; 3) stewardship of the public realm; and 4) informed local voting. Responses were measured in relation to four key survey variables that illuminate qualities of place:
The analysis revealed that these four independent variables have a strong and statistically significant association with a range of civic engagement outcomes, even when controlling for individual and city-level characteristics. These findings provide a solid baseline of understanding for pursuing deeper investigations into the impacts of place-based design strategies. For example:
Further details can be found in Assembly Research Brief I, available for free download. These exciting findings establish confidence that there is, indeed, an inherent relationship between qualities of place and civic life. However, more research is needed to understand causation. Do good places help create good citizens? Or do good citizens help create good places? Stay tuned for more details, as the Assembly initiative continues to explore these questions through an upcoming large-scale survey with embedded survey experiments, and local field experiments. The Center for Active Design will ultimately translate the findings into a set of practical, evidence-based design guidelines to support civic life, which is scheduled for publication in 2018.
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