Aesthetics & Place Match

Last week in this series, I discussed the importance of social offerings, the opportunities for positive social interaction in the community, for both people and places. This week, I turn to the second most important thing in creating loved places according to the Soul of the Community: aesthetics. Aesthetics was found to be the second or third most important thing in creating a loved place in all 26 cities, all three years of the study.

Looks Aren’t Everything (But Close)

Two general areas help comprise aesthetics: what was there when humans showed up (natural beauty) and how humans built it up (created beauty).  Unfortunately, before the Soul findings were released, it was common for some in community to see aesthetics as extra/a value add. In fact, when budgets get tight in places, aesthetics are among the first to get the red ink and a lot of exactly that happened at the time of the study. Of course, hard choices have to be made, but there does seem to be a consequence when aesthetics are cut. It’s seen as extra, when in actuality it’s foundational to the place.

A subsequent study I did in Charlotte found the need for aesthetics remains high in creating a loved place regardless of socioeconomic status. In other words, the need to feel dignity and pride in your environment remains regardless of personal income and wealth.  Luckily, aesthetics is highly scaleable depending on those factors. In fact, even a little (such as simply maintained properties/no blight and common spaces with minimal landscaping) can make a difference in creating aesthetics.

So why are aesthetics so important? First off, aesthetics is the first and most consistent message a place sends about itself to residents and visitors. Place aesthetics are everywhere. When you are creating a loved place, you have to view your entire place through that aesthetic lens. Again, it can be scaled – and should be depending on the narrative of your place (that law still applies). Some areas may look better than others, but it all matters and sends a message to us as its inhabitants about the pride we should feel in being in that space. And pride is related to our attachment and love of that place.  Pride also matters in not only how we feel about a space, but also translates to how we feel about ourselves. If we look around and see negative reflections of our environment coming back to us, it can affect how we care for the place and also how we perceive ourselves. Pretty important stuff.

Your Homework

So look around your place today as you go through your daily life. What messages is your place sending about itself and how does it make you feel about the place, and even yourself? Do you feel a sense of pride and optimism? Or…not so much? We often see lifestyle magazines and health experts advocate for your bedroom, your bathroom or your home as your castle, your sanctuary. True. But the place (outside of the home) is the kingdom where many spend the majority of their day.  And at its most basic level, having a partner we find attractive is critical to the Place Match.

Social Offerings & Place Match

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Last week, I started the Soul Search Series, focusing on the findings of the Knight Soul of the Community Project. To review: the purpose of the project was to understand what made people love where they lived and why it mattered in 26 US cities over three years (2008-2010). The study was considered groundbreaking because it presented, for the first time, empirical support from a large sample over time that emotional attachment to place can be measured, the qualities of a loved place could be identified, and that feelings about a place were associated with hard outcomes for the place.

I also shared that we found remarkable consistency each year of the study to the community features most associated with the loved place: social offerings, aesthetics, and openness.  It’s hard to ignore the parallels of place match and partner match.

We look for someone we have a good time with, that we find attractive, and who is accepting. When we find that in someone, it creates feelings of love, loyalty, pride, and optimism that inspires us to support the partner and sustain the relationship.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

The community feature most strongly associated with the loved place – in every year of the study – in all 26 places – was social offerings.  Reread that last sentence. And it wasn’t even close in comparison. Social offerings was more highly associated with the loved place than any of the other 10 features we studied about those places. It was much higher than safety, higher than leadership and the local economy, and higher than infrastructure.

The fact that we found it to be #1 each year in each city may seem like a boring finding to some, but to researchers it points to something important: replication and validity of a finding. It means you are on to something important in the way we understand something. And since Soul concluded, others including myself have reconfirmed the finding that it is job #1 in creating a loved place.

Why is social offerings so important in the creation of a loved place? Well, I gave you a hint last week: we are only human. Humans are, by nature, social beings. From the time we are born until the day we die, we need human interaction to thrive. One of the first things that happen when a baby is born is skin to skin contact with the mother.

Further, what is consistently one of the roots of many of the social ills we face today? Isolation. Recent studies report social isolation is as harmful for us as smoking and obesity and can affect our bodies as badly as high blood pressure, cancer or heart disease.

It matters. For so much.

Our place is often the first go-to in meeting our human need to be social. If we love how our place provides opportunities for social interaction and it’s a positive experience, we seem to love our place a little more and seek to sustain the environment. If we don’t like the social offerings provided, or they are not a positive experience for us, we withdraw from our place, love it less, and are generally more apathetic about that environment.

This, in turn, is bad news for us and the environment.

What Makes It Great?

So what makes a good social offering? The unsatisfying answer: it depends.

Our social offerings have to match the place. New York City’s social offerings may not do as well in Macon, Georgia. Nor should they. That’s why knowing your narrative and place brand is so important. It is the basis from which you build the loved place. Therefore, you have to do your homework.

Formal Social Offerings

Social offerings often fall into two categories: formal and informal. Formal social offerings are things like the nightlife, theater shows, sports games, festivals – the things the city (through the private and public sector) provide to the residents for their enjoyment.

Cities spend a lot of time and money trying to anticipate the desires of its residents and visitors by providing the social offerings they think they will enjoy. They use marketing research, focus groups, local competitions, and so much more to try and anticipate the needs of its resident and visitor populations to then provide those social offerings. But as I often say to cities, much to their relief I might add, it’s not always the place’s job to come up with all the ideas to be successful mind readers.

Informal Social Offerings

This brings us to the informal social offerings, or the “choose your own adventure” social opportunities in your place. The place provides a menu of options and residents piece together the social experience they would like to experience, often with the help of way-finding tools around the city or on an app. This is a great strategy for cities to let the Free Market system loose in their place. Offer a variety of options and see which become the most popular and support that momentum, while still trying new things, events, and businesses.

Final Thoughts

Social offerings in a place must be a positive experience. Often places create social infrastructure without considering what the experience of the offering is like. If there’s no parking, or no easy way to get to it, if it’s not well-managed, or people aren’t pleasant (or worse are committing crimes and preying on others), or in other ways a complete nightmare, then people will be less likely to do it again. In fact, we found in Soul how people treat each other in those spaces is as important as having the offering in the first place. Of course, some of this is dictated by community culture. A social offering in Philly will feel different than a social offering in Charlotte. But we go with an expectation based on the place of what that experience will be like from a civility standpoint. And if it doesn’t meet that expectation, then the place overall takes a hit.

So it is really finding the perfect balance of social infrastructure (both formal and informal), and the civility and ease within those spaces that fit the place brand and narrative that create the perfect social offering.

And to love our place, we need it to fulfill that need if we are to thrive and grow our Place Match.

Place & Some Soul Searching

As you may (or may not) know, I was the lead consultant and national expert of the Knight Soul of the Community Project. This research was conducted 2008-2010.  Admittedly, that was a while ago. But when research forever changes the way people think about and understand place and gets international acclaim for being groundbreaking, it sticks around.

Almost 10 years later since the initiation of the project, there is at least one slide dedicated in every talk I give on it as a placemaking consultant and speaker.  And even when I dare to consider leaving it out of a talk, the client inevitable says, “Please include Soul in your talk.  We really want you to walk us through that.”  So I’m basically married to Soul—forever.

And that’s ok.  Because it was groundbreaking and a game-changer.  It has allowed me to make the place conversation more systemic – where everybody plays a role in optimizing place.  By connecting place attachment to hard economic outcomes, it allowed folks to understand how place quality really does matter in the overall success of places.  And it provides a very workable roadmap on how to get there, for every place.

Class is In Session

So over the next few blogs, I’m going to do a little Soul 101, by taking each of the place features that we found to be most related to the loved place and breaking it down a bit.  It wasn’t until after Soul concluded that I made the connection between the relationship between person and place being similar to the relationship between partners that I talk about in Place Match.  But it really should have dawned on me when the findings showed the things that most mattered to creating the loved place and the feelings those places inspired in their residents.

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We found that “place attachment” when you break it down looks a lot like the love we have for a partner: we are optimistic about the future with the place; we think the place is the perfect one for us; we brag about and are proud of our place; we feel satisfied in the relationship.  And on top of that, the things that most drive those feelings within us is when we have fun there (social offerings), find it attractive (aesthetics), and we sense acceptance (openness).  And when we get those things from our partner place, we love that place and feel our futures are tied to it.  This enables us to give back to said place in ways that help sustain the place, and as a result, our relationship with it.

Do you see the parallels to partner match? We look for someone we have a good time with, that we find attractive, and who is accepting.  When we find that in someone, it creates feelings of love, loyalty, pride, and optimism that inspire us to support the partner and sustain the relationship.

“Place” Your Bets

Therefore, stay tuned for my next post when we take a deeper dive into social offerings.  You’ll see why this aspect was the no. 1 thing that mattered in being in love with a place in all 26 cities we studied, all three years of the study.

Any guesses upfront as to why that might be?

Until then, here’s a hint: we are only human.

And what makes a good social offering?

Here’s another hint: A little mind-reading, a little “choose your own adventure,” context, and kindness.

Oh the Places You’ll Go…In the Place Seasons!

Over the last few blog posts, I hope I have made you think a bit differently about your place plans in the finally arrived Place Season of Spring and shortly, Summer too. Whether you vacation to your Side Place, go on a Staycation, or go home to your First Place, my goal with this series was to get you to think more about your relationship with place in different contexts so you can be more aware and deliberate about how you spend your time and your resources (two very precious things). Also precious is the relationship you have and develop with your chosen place(s). For, like all other important relationships in our lives, it too affects every aspect and influences whether you will thrive or not.  So it is time well-spent.

Me, personally, I will be sticking close to home this Spring. But I’ll be immersed in place. First up, for me, on April 6th and 7th is acting in a Murder Mystery theater show.  In this show, I’m a mystic who channels and predicts by singing snippets of popular songs, if you can imagine.  Community theater “plays” an important role in creating place and it can truly be a powerful vehicle for shaping and reflecting community. It’s also a great way to “support local” in a unique way.  I encourage you to come out and see me in Holly Springs for the show if you’re in the Raleigh area, but get your tickets now, as we are almost sold out both nights.

Additionally, I’ve been selected to become a grave gardener in the Oakwood Cemetery. It’s not really as creepy as it sounds, I promise. This historic cemetery is the final resting place for many local and even national notables, with burial sites dating back to 1869 and continue up to present day. Some of the early monuments were constructed to be mini-gardens, especially for children’s burial sites. However, many of these sites are no longer planted because descendants have either moved away or have joined their family in the cemetery. So Oakwood Cemetery decided to allow local residents to apply to restore those mini-gardens. Grace (my daughter) and I were allowed to pick our own memorial site this past week and we picked a well-known one. Soon we will begin the process, with the cemetery-provided gardening and historical expertise, of designing, planting, and caring for this garden to honor the site.

See? There are all kinds of placemaking out there waiting for you to discover and explore. Always look for the unusual suspects in place!

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The Woodlands, courtesy West Philly Local

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Photo Courtesy, The Woodlands

In the coming weeks, I will also head back to my First Place of High Point for world-renowned Furniture Market for a little work and to enjoy the “market experience” for the first time in 30+ years. Just when you think you are out, they pull you back in!  As with many ultra-local place traditions with an established history and legacy, a lot of the activities at the High Point Furniture Market need to be documented and shared.

Lastly, I want to sneak peek some things coming soon from me:

  • I’ll soon be launching an interactive feature for you to better understand what relationship stage you’re currently in with your place!
  • Also, I’m working on a way to bring together people from all over the world in a virtual place, and I’ll have more details on that very soon.
  • If you haven’t already, sign-up for my e-newsletter, The City Doctor Journal, where exclusive updates and placemaking news are distributed.

Going Home: A Placemaker’s Story

 

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“You can never go home again.”

Sure you can.  And a lot of folks do just that during Spring Break or some time during the Place Seasons of Spring and Summer.   I recently went back to my hometown in the High Point/Jamestown area for an engagement (something I don’t usually do).  I decided long ago as a placemaker and speaker, I would not work where I lived to keep work work and home home.  But 10 years of racking up frequent flier miles and passport stamps can wear on a girl, so I’ve relaxed my position on the whole “working in your own backyard.”

I’m all for it.

It’s interesting to return to a place of your youth.  Memories flood of every street, house, place and experience of being there.  Returning as a placemaker only compounds those memories.  You see things as they were, as they now are, and as they could be.

If you know anything about High Point, NC you know that it’s the Furniture Capital of the World.  When the local furniture industry hit hard times in the last decade, High Point hung onto that narrative despite the reality, like so many towns who weren’t sure who they were if they were no longer their industry.  Today, High Point is taking a good, hard look in the mirror and while some still shrug and say “we’re fine,” others in growing numbers say “it’s time for a makeover.”

High Point has a lot of strengths at its disposal. High Point University is the best example of institutional transformation I have ever seen.  Period.  President Dr. Qubein has achieved what many thought to be the impossible and even unimaginable for that university, from the physical campus, to the campus culture, to the operations. My dad is a chemistry graduate from when it was High Point College and when I brought him pictures of the campus today, my scientific father uttered “wow” with tears in his eyes. It truly is amazing.

High Point also has generational residents who have deep roots in the community and love it dearly—another great strength for a place to have.  These people have stayed married to High Point during its midlife crisis and bleak times.  Some family names are synonymous with High Point itself and these established families have given back to High Point and support the place in big and little ways.

So here comes Katie Loflin, High Point/Jamestown’s Junior Miss in 1989 back to High Point to address the city leaders (many I knew in high school as my classmates or the parents of my classmates) about  “placemaking” and her work as “The City Doctor.”  What in the world.  Going home can be difficult. Going home to publicly present yourself in an unfamiliar role to people “who knew you when” can be, well, weird:

“Didn’t you go with my son to the school dance?”

“Do you remember my daughter? Well, she’s a grandmother now!”

“I can never call you Dr. Loflin, you’ll always be little Katie to me!”

Never has taking command and credibility with a room before been more necessary, yet difficult.  And my message, I knew, wouldn’t go well with some.  Or, just as dangerous, some would respond by saying “we are already doing all of that.”

In some ways, going back to High Point was like seeing an ex.  You walked away from him on purpose, wished him well and were ready to be free of him and then you run into him 20 years and he asks “how do I look.”

So I told High Point what I thought. I talked about what makes a great place and let them decide how they look using those metrics as a guide.  I presented ideas to consider and potholes to avoid at this particular crossroads they face.

When I was done, there was a line of folks waiting to speak with me.  Some wanted to simply go down Memory Lane, but others handed me their card and said “we need you back here to get to work.” I appreciated both.  Some will always see me as Katie, but many others saw me as Dr. Loflin and a resource, despite the fact we may have attended prom together.

Going home again, placemaker or not, can be a surreal experience.  But it’s important to stay connected to your “First Place” if for nothing more than to understand yourself and who you are today.  Like our First Love, our First Place may have not stood the test of time, but it undoubtedly helped make us who we are today and—good or bad—influenced what we now seek in our Place Match.

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Speaking in High Point at High Point University

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With Dr. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University.

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Hanging out with Galileo after my talk on HPU campus.

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Post-talk libations with my host, the High Point Visitor and Convention Bureau. Tim Mabe, President. Melody Burnett, Director of Operations and Finance. Nancy Bowman, Director of Sales and Marketing.

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Enjoying a Krispy Kreme doughnut post-talk. High Point had the second Krispy Kreme doughnut factory after the flagship factory in Winston-Salem.

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High Point University campus

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High Point University campus (cont’d)

Art of the Staycation & Why We All Should Take One

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When I was traveling the country discussing the findings of the Knight Soul of the Community project, I learned as much as I shared.  I always say interpreting research findings is a bit like reading tea leaves: you know what the findings indicate, but you still need source input to give it true meaning. Such was the case in some cities where we saw local perceptions of key areas, like social offerings or aesthetics, improve when nothing in actuality had been done in those areas over the past year.  I asked residents “what gives?”—how could your perceptions of this aspect of your place change so dramatically over a year when nothing new has been done to improve that feature? The consistent response I received from residents ended up being a very important takeaway for the entire research project.

Discovering the Staycation

Residents said during that time (a time when our national economies were suffering: 2008-2010) they couldn’t afford to leave town for vacation.  They had to stay home as part of a staycation, many for the first time.  And as residents rediscovered their place through the staycation, their perceptions of their place changed for the better causing them to rate key aspects of their place higher and feel an increased attachment to the place.  The important lesson for placemaking leaders was that sometimes you don’t need to “build a better mousetrap” in place, but provide opportunities for residents to (re)discover their place to see what there is already is to offer.

So as the “Place Seasons” are upon us, so is the decision to staycation or vacation.  If you’ve never done a staycation, you should try one. Especially if you are still dating your place, have been long-time married to your place, or are starting to feel some disconnection. It may change the way you feel about your place – hopefully for the better – and change your relationship.

That being said, there is an art to doing the staycation successfully.

Staycation Tips:

  1. Research as you would for a vacation. Go to the library and go online to find travel resources about your place.  Go to the tourism page, check out the local travel section in your library, ask friends for recommendations for new finds in your place, and go to AAA and pick up a travel guide for your city. You may be surprised what you learn.
  2. Unplug. We struggle to unplug on actual vacation so it will be harder when you are still at home.  Make a real effort here.  None of us are so critical in our work that if we stay off email, etc. for a few days the world will stop. Plan ahead and inform everyone you plan on completely unplugging and follow through.  If you don’t, this is the #1 way your staycation will fail and not feel like time off. Worst-of-all: it’s self-inflicted, so knock it off.
  3. Create your home as a bed and breakfast. Put fresh flowers around.  Transform your bathroom into a mini-spa.  Buy scrumptious food from a local bakery so you don’t have to cook breakfast.  After a day away exploring your place, ensure your home is as inviting as possible so you look forward to returning.  A big part of a vacation, after all, is feeling like you’re still on vacation even when you return to your lodgings for the night.
  4. Plan your time. Just like you would on vacation, prioritize things you want to do and setup daily itineraries.  You don’t have to plan everything, especially if that’s not how you usually vacation. You do need to incorporate some structure, however. Otherwise, because it’s your hometown, you may end up binging Netflix while checking your work email and paying bills.  Prepay for tickets, make reservations – do whatever it takes to make you hold yourself to the plans you want to make.
  5. Check Groupon, LivingSocial, and special events for time-limited deals. Until I get my DateYourPlace app up and running (a work in progress), use current apps to find local deals.  Everything from spa appointments to local attractions, find offerings and pre-pay to make sure you follow through.  Also, remember there are some events only offered the first Friday of the month (free museum admissions or special pop-up markets). There are also theater shows or special festivals that are time-limited.  Do your homework in knowing when those things are planned in picking your staycation dates and mark them in your staycation itinerary first.
  6. Do daytrips. Many vacation spots also offer daytrip suggested itineraries.   You should do the same on your staycation.  Check local tourism sites for daytrip options and pick one you’ve always wanted to experience.  They could be themed-tours (antiques, local artisans, flea markets) that allow you to create a multi-stop adventure.  They can also be destination-driven where you travel to a place for the day to enjoy.  Who knows—it may even become your Side Place. Also, look at local train schedules to see if there’s an option for a daytrip.  That way you can even lose the car and still enjoy the experience of the daytrip.

Spring Break and the Place Seasons offer a unique opportunity to deploy the staycation.  Subtracting the packing, TSA lines, airline travel, and expense, staycations are a great way to save money and rekindle the relationship that helps fuel your life: the one you have with your place.

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The “Side Place”

Not every place may suit all your needs.  There are times when people flee their places for one of their “Side Places.” These are places usually different from their home place (ideally, their Place Match) and meet the needs their current place does not meet.  Be it sun, surf, quiet, mountains, different culture, adventure, etc.

In a new place-centric reality, this world of tourism and Side Places is also changing.  I often say that the #1 customer for any tourism campaign is its residents. If your residents don’t see themselves and its place in your campaign, you’ve already gone off the rails in creating an authentic campaign, which is key today to making it effective.

But travelers are looking for more place experience.  From the popularity of real home lodging services like Airbnb to the reviewing of places as destinations (beyond attractions, restaurants and hotels) on travel sites, experiencing the place like a resident is the most highly sought travel experience these days.

So it’s okay if you have one Side Place (or more).  This could be a place you see every vacation, because that’s what vacation means to you. Alternatively, maybe vacation is an excuse to try someplace new.  That’s okay, too.  No one place will likely fulfill all of your needs forever, and a Side Place doesn’t mean you’ll leave your place. Or maybe it does.

Maybe. Just maybe you’ll stay in your place for vacation.  Maybe you are still dating your place to discover if you’re in your Place Match and vacation gives you some time to explore.  Maybe you’ve recently married your Place Match and are still in your honeymoon phase.  Or maybe budgets or work schedules are tight and a staycation is all that is in the cards.  Perfectly fine, as well.  Hopefully your place will provide wonderful opportunities for you to discover your place so your bond grows deeper.

But if you have a Side Place (for whatever reason), don’t panic.  It may feel like you are cheating on your place but there may be very good reasons for this Side Place, so let me help you navigate your split loyalty:

  1. Some places cannot fulfill all of your needs. You can’t make a beach or mountain appear where there just isn’t one. So maybe you need a glimpse of something else to still appreciate what you have at home without bitterness.
  2. We all need an escape. Side Places are often an escape.  Nothing serious.  Just an opportunity for a change of scenery and not a reflection of how you feel about your place.
  3. But be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. When you arrive at your Side Place, do you feel more “at home” than at your actual home?  Do you dread going back to your place, or do you miss it with longing, ready to go home? (Mind you, we are talking about how you feel about your place, not going back to work, daily routines, etc.)
  4. If you are traveling to a Side Places because you are thinking of jumping ship, remember you never decide on vacation to make the move. Instead, in addition traveling to those places, perhaps subscribe to the local paper, get to know the leadership and learn about the issues of the place that will be your reality when you are a resident.
  5. Place Matches can change over time. It is unlikely one place will be your Place Match across your lifespan.  So when it is time to move on, have the courage to move on to your next best match.  Nothing does more to diminish your own quality of life than being “stuck in place” (like feeling stuck in any relationship) so make sure you act in your own best interest as much as possible to live your best life.

Dating Your Place

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With Valentine’s Day upon us, it is the perfect time to reflect on the dates that we’ve been on (both good and bad dates). Ones where we feel an immediate and lasting connection. And ones where we know right away (or pretty soon) that we never will. It’s not necessarily because the person is a good or bad. But more of the result of how much compatibility — that seed of belonging — we feel when we are with them.

Same is true for places. You have to get to know a place to determine if it is the place for you. And your conclusion is not necessarily a judgment about the place, but rather its compatibility with you.

In my book, Place Match: The City Doctor’s Guide to Finding Where You Belong, I provide some tips in dating your place. Here is a preview:

  1. Date it for a while before making a commitment. Shotgun weddings are often shaky at best. Research indicates that people’s attachment to a place can generally first peaks at the 3-5 year mark. So take your time, if you can, in getting to know the place before making a permanent financial or personal commitment. You may not even make it to the 3 year mark if you determine early on that it’s not the place for you.  No need to string each other along.
  2. Don’t decide while on vacation. This is like eloping to Vegas when you’re still in the early stages of dating. Again, not generally advisable. Being a vacationer in a place, even over many trips over time, is going to be much different than living there.  Ask any vacationer turned resident.
  3. Don’t choose potential place partners based on top 10 lists. Online dating is an option, but the profiles only represent one data point. So these top 10 lists of “best places to [fill in the blank]” are also just one data point on your search.  Remember, a place that looks good on paper (ranks highly), is only truly good if it feels right to you. The data crunchers may or may not be measuring things that would make a world of difference to you living there.
  4. In general, we feel the highest sense of belonging and attachment to places where we enjoy: (1) the opportunities for positive social interaction, (2) the physical attractiveness with the place, and (3) where we feel accepted to be ourselves. Notice how those three factors aren’t really that different than the top things we often look for in a partner.
  5. Do get to know the good and the bad about your place. As Dr. Phil says: “Never marry anyone until you’ve seen them with the flu.” You have to also know the “bless your heart” moments about your place to see if you still feel the willingness to love it anyway and even help it through the rough spots.
  6. On a related point, don’t seek perfection in your place. No relationship is perfect.  No relationship is perfect.  No place is perfect. Or goal with our relationship with place is similar to our goal with our partner: resilience.  Bad days, stresses and challenges are inevitable, but how well do you bounce back together is the true test.  If resentments build, challenges are not satisfactorily solved, or connection is lost, then a sustained relationship is less likely.
  7. Notice how you feel in the place. As humans we take cues from our environment constantly and draw conclusions as a result. We either feel like we thrive, belong, are accepted and just feel good in the presence of people and places that we are compatible with.
  8. Be ok with a “for now” Place Match as you’re dating. The truth is our needs in our relationships can change over time as we change, grow and experience over time. Some places are a just a better match for a fresh college graduate, while others are much more aligned for families with young children or seniors.  Sometimes one place can be “the one” for you through all your life stages.  But more often than not, it won’t be. So realize that your Place Match may change over time.
  9. It’s ok to have a “side place.” I’m going to tread carefully here in making parallel comparisons to our relationships with people. But not every place may suit all of your needs.  I often hear people say that they are having an affair with another city, perhaps seasonally or as they prepare to make the leap to another place.  This happens so don’t be surprised if it happens to you.
  10. Even after you marry your place, date nights with your place are critical for the bond of belonging to endure. Relationships have to be worked on and invested in to survive. Date nights with your place can help in keeping that connection alive and also serve as a good litmus test on how well the relationship is going in general.

People have really responded positively to this idea of “dating your place”.  So much so that the Date Your Place app and related products are in the works! Residents like the idea because it gives importance to the very important decision of where you’ll live and gives a roadmap to the process.  Leaders also like the idea because it presents an easy framework for understanding some sometimes complex place concepts, while encouraging them to ask some important questions: What is our dating profile as a place? Loveable? Struggles to put itself out there? Hard to get to know? Presenting a false front that creates a “bait and switch” feel to residents? Good on paper but not in real life execution?

Our relationship with place is among the most important of our lives.  For it will affect every aspect of our lives.  So give this decision the thought and consideration it deserves by effectively dating your place before making the commitment.

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Realtor.com features PLACE MATCH

I was recently featured on REALTOR.COM, talking about my new book, PLACE MATCH. You can read the full article or an excerpt below.

Q: What advice do you have for people who want to find the right place?

First, create a wish list for the place you want. What kind of place are you seeking, given where you are in your life—kid-friendly, retiree destination, walkable, cultural offerings, quintessential experiences that you crave? Just as we know the kind of person we are seeking as a partner, we should know the kind of place where we would thrive.

Next, spend some time there—date your place. And just like you should probably see your potential life partner with the flu before you marry, you have to learn about the challenges of the place. What are the issues the place is facing? Do you love it enough to want to help, or at least accept it, warts and all?

A Tale of Two Cities: Perception vs. Reality in Place

You may have seen my Facebook/Twitter posting on The Miami Foundation’s launch of its project, Our Miami: Soul of the City.  This important project takes on the Herculean task of cross walking the Soul of the Community perception data with real life administrative data to see if perception matches reality in Miami-Dade County.

The Foundation plans on using these findings as a guide to help inform their own funding, strategy and mobilization efforts and engage the community, particularly around young talent recruitment and retention.

I am proud to have been part of the project team and am excited it’s finally launched!

Many times, people’s perceptions of their place don’t match the reality.  Sometimes, different groups – by race/ethnicity, age, income levels, etc. – can experience the place radically differently.  Many of our places are experiencing a “tale of two cities.”

So where do you focus? And what do you fund?  Working in the Foundation world for over 10 years now and being a community practitioner for about 17 years, I know these are questions that come up again and again because differentiating perception vs. reality is basic to all of the work.

Fact is, people make all sorts of important decisions based on their perceptions – and many of these decisions have significant economic implications. Decisions about where to live, who to vote for, what laundry detergent to buy, etc. are all based on perceptions.  The field of behavioral economics is about this, well, reality.

Placemaking requires us to work both sides of the equation. That’s one of the reasons I applaud The Miami’s Foundation efforts.  All placemaking research – or benchmarking or community indicators projects – should have both perception (public opinion) and reality (administrative data) components.  One without the other only tells part of the story – both combine to give a true perception of place and person within environment.

I think you start with gauging perceptions.  Because it is these perceptions that will be the basis of daily decisions that will affect your place. In Our Miami, we had this perception data thanks to the Knight Soul of the Community findings.  But then we needed corresponding administrative data.

I knew finding administrative data that matched the public opinion data would be difficult.  (What’s the administrative data equivalent to openness? Hate crimes? Or for aesthetics? Tree canopy? Or social capital? Local memberships?) But going through this exercise with the Foundation and our data partner, Florida International University, I saw first hand our imperative need to update our place measures if we are to be effective in our efforts.  Sometimes we had great cross walk indicators, sometimes we had to get creative in our indicators and sometimes we simply had nothing reliable to use.  Take a look and see how we did.

In the Fall, The Miami Foundation will seek proposals and fund $500,000 worth of ideas coming out of this project.  My bet is what will be funded will be a combination of celebrating what Miami is getting right, moving perceptions to match reality where people are harder on the place than the facts show, and investing in the place to move administrative data needles to live up to the perceptions Miamians currently have.

And Miami will be better for it.