Assembly: Research Brief I

The Center for Active Design (CfAD) is pleased to announce the release of Assembly's Research Brief I, a publication summarizing the analysis of a rich existing dataset known as the Soul of the Community survey. Funded by the Knight Foundation and conducted by Gallup from 2008-2010 across 26 U.S. communities, this survey is unique in its scope and scale, drawing from a representative sample of over 15,000 adults. It captures information about local qualities of place, while also eliciting details on respondents’ civic engagement behaviors and perceptions.

Research Brief I analyzes select survey questions intersecting with 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:

  • Availability of outdoor recreation space
  • Perceived community beauty
  • Access to arts and culture
  • Availability of community events

CfAD’s 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. For example, when examining measures of civic trust, CfAD found that people who report an abundance of outdoor recreation space in their community are 28% more likely to think local leaders do a good job representing their interests. They are also 27% more likely to have a positive view of local police, compared to people who report little access to outdoor recreation space. These exciting findings establish confidence that there is, indeed, an inherent relationship between qualities of place and civic engagement outcomes.

Assembly is funded by the Knight Foundation to elevate place-based design as a pivotal tool for enhancing the civic engagement outcomes. CfAD is using a multi-pronged approached to investigate the relationship between place and civic engagement outcomes—including an in-depth literature review, data analysis, original experiments, project case studies, and input from a diverse panel of expert advisors. Over the next year, CfAD will continue to pursue original research efforts to illuminate causal interactions between design and civic engagement elements highlighted in Research Brief I. Ultimately, this work will be used to inform the development of a set of practical, evidence-based design guidelines to support civic life, scheduled for publication in 2018.

Download Assembly Research Brief I
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