In a meeting with a Mayor a year or so ago, we were discussing the imperative of community attachment. Talking about new residents and the ticking clock for integrating them in the community fabric before you lose them.
“So how long do I have, doc?,” Mr. Mayor asked me, what I think he thought was a rhetorical question.
“Looks like around 5 years,” I answered.
Everybody stopped laughing.
“You know that?,” someone asked.
“Well, we are seeing it pretty consistently in the data so far,” I answered.
We found that community attachment generally peaks at the 3-5 year mark and then drops off, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And when attachment drops, two things can result: people leave or people stay with their disenchantment showing up in big and little ways.
Why does attachment drop after 5 years and even more pronounced after 20 years? I asked folks as I traveled around. The 6-10 year residents talked about things there no longer fitting their needs or not liking the current direction the place seems to be going. The 10-20 year folks generally said that the place just isn’t what it used it be.
Seems to me that the attachment drop with these two groups comes from two basic sources:
(1) community change and development not well managed, not well supported and ultimately not well received (not ok)
(2) a place that’s a match for you in your first 5 years, may not be in the next 5 or 10 years (probably ok).
Communities have to change to stay current, vibrant and modern. To evolve their narratives as places, be innovative and roll with the punches.
But I’m a big believer that you don’t (and can’t) attach people at any cost. Frankly, places should be able balance attachment with mobility: “we want you here as long as you want to be here and we are a match for you by being the best us we can be.”
If people can’t attach to your place by it being the best it can be, then they can leave to their greater match – or they can stay feeling little to no love for your place.
Have you been to a place where a large group of people aren’t attached to it? It affects the community dynamics and capacity of that place at almost every level.
Fact is: unloved communities do not thrive as well.
Recognize the current reality that at around the 5 year mark residents typically experience their highest level of attachment. Of course, there are some outliers. In a few places, we saw the newest residents have the highest level of attachment, meaning people showed up there ready to love it. In a few other places, the lifelong residents are the most attached.
All of these are unique gifts for the community to leverage for their best advantage. But no matter where the attachment peak is in your place, the goal is to maintain close to that level through effective place change management, honoring place identity, and mobility.