• Cindy Peterson

5 Reasons Residents Matter

Communities across the country have resources dedicated to improving tourism, helping local businesses and creating economic development. But one critical component seems to be missing: community residents. Certainly, there is information about garbage collection, how to pay your water bill, and so on. But does your organization do enough to encourage residents to learn about and become actively involved in their community? Aside from the obvious benefits of population growth and workforce, what are the other benefits of incorporating a focus on supporting residents?

Long term purchasing power

We value tourists visiting our communities, emphasizing tourism plans and marketing to make our town more attractive to visit. But how do we keep residents living here, and ensure they are happy and connected with the community? These are the people who invest in your community – buying homes, paying property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes. They contribute to the future of your community by voting for the leaders and issues you face. Remind them of why they live here and all that you have to offer. Find ways to promote and connect them with events and businesses that can offer ways to see themselves in their community.

Mental health matters

A recent study by Cigna found more than half of adult Americans experience feelings of loneliness. This was found to affect younger generations harder than previous generations. Isolation and loneliness are a gateway to many mental health conditions and can even have a negative impact to people’s overall health. Research has found loneliness to be more dangerous than obesity and as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Human beings are social by nature and have a core desire to be around and accepted by others. To do this, people need to find that their interests are reflected in their community and have access to social groups and activities. Making sure residents know about events and businesses is good for more than the economy, it’s good for the health of the community.

Roles change and create uncertainty

What happens when people’s roles change, and they feel lost in their own cities? Oftentimes this is what happens to new parents, people going through divorce, new jobs, empty nesters and so on. When people are faced with a change in their lives, their routines are disrupted. They might go from having consistent plans every weekend, to no longer knowing what to do with their time. Or they might not have as much time as they used to and venturing out into the community becomes more challenging.

Becoming a desirable place to live

Developing place attachment to one’s home and local area has been linked with many positive health and community participation outcomes. Place attachment is an emotional bond between people and their environments. The intensity of people’s attachment differs depending on many factors, including the amount of contact and interactions one has with their community.

Residents’ perceptions of their community are key, as a positive community image can support tourism activities and recommendations to visit the area. This is especially important for communities who identify as “college towns.” Effort is put into attracting students to attend college and have a good experience on campus. But what relationships exist between the college and community to make it a desirable place to live, work and grow after graduation?

Investing in the future of youth

A 12-year program in Iceland found that access to alternative activities was the greatest contributor to lowering underage drinking and drug use. This program started in the 90s and has been so successful, it has now been adopted in other countries throughout Europe. After increasing the availability of programs and activities aimed at youth, drinking, smoking and drug use went down dramatically. In fact, Iceland is currently at the top of European countries for cleanest-living teens.

While schools offer several clubs, sports team and other activities, there might not be a spot for everyone. Youth who don’t fit into the school offered programs need to have clear insight into alternative activities offered by their community, and affordable access for them to participate.

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