Twin Cities residents say they love where they live, an attachment researchers say can fuel big economic rewards.

"It really does matter," said Paula Ellis, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Knight Foundation, which funded a three-year, $2.4 million survey of 26 U.S. cities that was released Monday. "There's a correlation between residents and economic performance."

The good news for Minnesota? In both the Twin Cities and Duluth, residents have a closer emotional connection to their communities than folks elsewhere.

The Soul of the Community report, conducted by the Knight Foundation and Gallup, surveyed 43,000 people from 2008 to 2010 to gauge their passion for the places they live.

It's a riff on previous research Gallup has done that shows employee engagement in a business can improve productivity and profitability.

The researchers say it's a sound economic strategy to make sure a city has amenities that will not only retain people, but also lure new talent and businesses.

"It's not that jobs don't matter, but other parts do," said Katherine Loflin, lead consultant for the survey.

Researchers are trying to understand what makes places important to people.

Here in the Twin Cities metro, the survey said, people care most about:

• Social offerings, such as arts and cultural events.

• Openness, which is how welcoming communities are to different types of people.

• Aesthetics, such as physical beauty and access to parks and trails.

Perceptions of the local economy, leadership and safety were deemed to be less important.

Duluth was the other Minnesota city included in the study, and results there mirrored those of the Twin Cities.

Compared with Charlotte, N.C., Palm Beach, Fla., and San Jose, Calif., Twin Cities residents have a closer attachment to where they live.

The cities that were chosen for the study had newspapers once owned by the Knight brothers, John S. and James L., for whom the foundation is named.

St. Paul 'a cool place to live'

The survey findings were no surprise to St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who has made a point to include the "soul of St. Paul" as a strategic planning category in his administration.

He points to new bars and restaurants popping up around Mears Park in Lowertown as an improvement to nightlife and an attraction for businesses.

Good schools, safe neighborhoods and things for people to do are factors that can bring jobs, he said.

St. Paul is a city that has welcomed poetry stamped into its sidewalks, a photography exhibit along bustling University Avenue and various music and ethnic festivals.

"It's a cool place to live," Coleman said. "It's a unique place to live."

Sue Buchholz walked her Yorkie, Pandy, in downtown St. Paul's Rice Park on Monday. She moved into a downtown condo within the last year. "I knew this is where I wanted to be," she said. "There's always something to do."

She made a sweeping motion with her arm, pointing to the Central Library, Ordway Center for Performing Arts and Landmark Center.

A few blocks away runs the Mississippi River, which attracts joggers, bicyclists and others interested in the nature along the banks. There are more bike lanes and trails than ever before in the Twin Cities and suburbs.

A conversation starter

The hope is that the survey will help community leaders think about planning differently and move their cities in a better direction, said Ellis, the Knight Foundation vice president.

For residents in the Twin Cities, the report should affirm policies and strategies that are in place, said Polly Talen, Knight's program director for the Twin Cities.

She said the region is already in the national spotlight and noted several recent high-profile grants the region has received related to the planning of the $1 billion Central Corridor light-rail line that will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In the coming weeks, researchers will take their survey results to the communities to get people talking.

The report is available online at

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148