Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

What Do People Want from Their Communities?

People desire social and cultural opportunities from their communities.

Over 10 million US households move each year. While it’s clear that neighborhood characteristics and amenities play a role in peoples’ decisions of where to live, understanding the social features potential residents look for in a community has not historically been a priority for civic leaders.

Researchers from BeyondthePurchase.org conducted a survey asking over 1,200 US adults to indicate the importance of 26 different aspects of their community. Not surprisingly, the satisfaction of basic, physical needs was most important with over 80% of people reporting that safety (93%), jobs (83%), and housing (83%) were “very” or “extremely important.” However, people varied in the importance they attached to social, recreational, and cultural needs.

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Following a pattern similar to Abraham Maslow’s well-known Hierarchy of Needs, “having friends nearby” (66%) and “having different types of activities to choose from” (57%) were the two most important social and recreational needs, while the socio-cultural need “living near a vibrant downtown” (36%) was “very” or “extremely important” to a significant minority of people.

If you think about it, nobody wants to live in a place that is unsafe and/or lacks jobs or housing. However, after a community provides for basic needs, most people hope to be afforded the opportunity to enjoy some of the less essential, but still desirable, social and recreational qualities of life.

One of the most striking results of this research was that the best predictor of how attached people felt to their current neighborhood, was how satisfied they were with the proximity of their friends. When people were dissatisfied with how close their friends were, they felt less attached to their entire community.

These findings carry important implications for policy makers. Community leaders should first make sure that basic health, safety, and shelter needs are met; however, connecting people within a community, so that they feel they have friends nearby, should be a priority as well.

We believe that people at different stages of need satisfaction will value different social, recreational, and cultural needs. Anyone interested in contributing to this research can Login or Register and take the Quality of Place Scale and the Basic Need Satisfaction Inventory. Also, by combining peoples’ responses to these surveys with other surveys, we will be able to determine what kinds of people are most interested in living in communities that share their values and lifestyle. Results of this study will be released in the coming months.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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