What people want in their city

[Guest Post by Eric Swanson, reposted with permission]

What makes a community a desirable place to live? What makes people happy to live where they live? What attaches a person to his or her city? Eric Swanson answers.

The Gallup organization and the Knight Foundation launched the Knight Soul of the Community[1] project in 2008 with these questions in mind. They interviewed nearly 43,000 people in 26 communities over three years and discovered there are three thing that most people want in their city are:

• Social Offerings — Places for people to meet each other and the feeling that people in the community care about each other
• Openness — How welcoming the community is to different types of people, including families with young children, minorities, and talented college graduates
• Aesthetics — The physical beauty of the community including the availability of parks and green spaces

What makes a community a desirable place to live? @VergeNations@ericswanson

Although the order may change (both Boulder and San Jose for instance has aesthetics as their second most preferred feature), it is these three characteristics that attract talented people.

Urbanologist, Charles Landry writes that great places embody seven elements:

1. They are places of anchorage, they feel like home, there is with a sense of stability, tradition and distinctiveness
2. They are places of possibility, ‘can do’, stimulation and buzz
3. They are places of communication and networking, where it is easy connect, interact and move around, the outside world is accessible, and you feel you are part of a bigger, extensive web.
4. They are places to self-improve, learn and reflect
5. They are places of inspiration
6. Culture is alive
7. A great city is well put together through design.[2]

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is organized into five elements of well-being:[3]

1. Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.
2. Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life.
3. Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.
4. Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community.
5. Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.

Have you ever asked yourself, “If God were to build a city from the ground up, what would it look like?” Fortunately there are passages of Scripture that describes such a city. When God builds the New Jerusalem in Isaiah 65:17-25, he outlines the elements that are in place for a healthy, whole community where his “shalom” is present.

Have you ever asked yourself, “If God were to build a city from the ground up, what would it look like?” @VergeNations @ericswanson


Last week I was in Oklahoma City working with SALLT leaders. We talked about what the characteristics of Isaiah 65 might look like in a city today…and what leaders could do to help bring that about.

Here are the characteristics:

The city is a delight (v.18)–Do people of all ethnicities delight in the city? Where are the places of celebration, fun and beauty? Do people love coming to the city?
Its people are a joy (v.18)–Do residents and visitors love being in the city because of the people? Do people feel better after being around the people of the city
Well-being of children (v.20)–What’s the infant morality rate? Pre-school readiness /3rd grade reading levels, High School graduation rate, Trafficking
Elderly living long and full lives (v.20)–How does the city rank in longevity? What kind of services look after the elderly? Quality / availability of health care, Activities / relationships for elderly
Housing (v.22)–Reducing number of chronically homeless, Number of homeless students, Renting / ownership ratios, The opportunity to own my home
Food (v.22)–No “food anxiety,” Community gardens, Food “rescue,” School food programs
Justice of sowing and reaping (v.22)–Work and reward (reaping commensurate with sowing), The chance to “get ahead,”
Youth can see the rewards of hard work
Meaningful work (v.22-23)–Systemic generational poverty eliminated–Intentional job creation, Innovation, Employment opportunities, Skill training for available jobs
Intergenerational family support (v.23)–Number of kids in Foster Care, “Flipping the script” in adoption, Single moms with support system, “Orphans” who have mentors
Hopeful future (v.23)–Are people hopeful about their future and the future of their children? College opportunities, “I can be more than my parents”
Connected to God (v.24)–What percentage of people have a relationship with Christ? Increasing number of people connected to a faith community and making a difference in the world
Absence of violence (v.25)–Number in jail / prison, Crime rate, Safe neighborhoods, Domestic violence and violent crime reduced

What does God want spiritually for a city? Perhaps we can get a glimpse of God’s heart for the city in the words of Jesus: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). God longs for people of the city to be in a reconciled relationship through his son Jesus.

Martin Luther King continually talked about his vision of a “beloved community” when he thought of a transformed city. His vision for a beloved community went beyond the externals of a comfortable city but a place of reconciliation and healing. He writes,

But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.[4]

Loving your city goes beyond what the city does for you. My friend, Matt Patrick who pastors The Well in Boulder tells me that many people say, “I LOVE Boulder.” But then he asks them, “Who is the mayor?” and they stare at him blankly. To love our city is to know our city. To love our city is to be an agent of transformation for the common good. What’s your vision of a transformed city?


[1] http://www.soulofthecommunity.org/
[2] http://charleslandry.com/themes/making-great-cities/
[3] http://www.gallup.com/poll/172109/americans-financial-lowest-social-highest.aspx
[4] “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” 1957

Photo Credit: Dave Meier [CC0] via Picography.co