The Human Side of Sustainable Communities

The Human Side of Sustainable Communities

What creates a sense of attachment to a place among residents?

When talking about sustainability at a community level, it can be easy to forget the human side of the equation while preoccupied with concepts like carbon reductions or clean energy development.

Dr. Katherine Loflin never forgets it, though. The sense of human attachment to a physical location and a quest to discover what enhances a citizenry’s sense of place has been a major focus of Loflin’s work in recent years.

Through her work as lead consultant with the Knight Soul of the Community Project, she’s been at the helm of a three-year study conducted in 26 U.S. cities through surveys of around 43,000 people from all backgrounds and a range of ages.

The goal is to discover what community qualities create a sense of loyalty among residents in order to relate how that loyalty impacts local economic growth and overall sustainability.

Creating that sense of loyalty is the art of placemaking, and the communities that do it well are the communities that will thrive in increasingly complex social and economic environments.

After sharing her insights with around 500 municipal politicians, planners and sustainability managers from across Canada as a keynote speaker at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities Conference in Ottawa Feb. 8, Axiom News spoke with Katherine from her home in Miami, hoping to dig a little deeper into the realm of placemaking.

She’d told the audience in Ottawa that during three years of extensive research the same three factors emerged in all 26 Knight cities as drivers of community attachment: the perception of the availability of social offerings; the perception of positive aesthetics in place; the perception of openness to a diverse range of people from different backgrounds.

She also told the group there’s a strong connection between attachment and local economic growth — the more attached the people are, the more likely they are to help boost the success of the place they love. About 40 per cent of the 43,000 respondents, however, felt absolutely no sense of loyalty or attachment to their communities.

How do cities increase those numbers? How do communities attract people who’ll contribute to meaningful growth, and retain the eager minds already in place?

Katherine recalls getting into taxi after arriving in Detroit — one of recent history’s American symbols of urban decline which, in terms of attachment, has remained rather resilient — and the driver spoke to her with an enthusiastic sense of friendliness.

“Just out of the blue he said, ‘I’m so proud to live in Detroit, I can’t wait to see what this city’s going to do next and I’m so glad to be a part of it,’” she says.

“This was unsolicited optimism pouring out of a taxi driver.”

How does a community create that sense of hope for the future?

Watch for more stories to come as we explore what we’ve learned in conversation with Katherine, and the role of placemaking in the creation of thriving communities for the future.

We love to hear your questions or comments, so feel free to contact 800-294-0051, ext. 24, or email kristian(at)

Writer Bio

Kristian Partington's picture
Kristian Partington

Kristian says he's been a storyteller all his life, and from an early age he thrived in the creative process of putting pen to paper. With Axiom News, he says he finds as much power in the conversations he has with sources for stories as he finds in the stories themselves.

"It's the questions we ask that catalyze great conversations, and more often than not I come away from the conversation somewhat improved. I like to think the person on the other end feels the same way. From that point on, the stories sort of write themselves."

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