What New Research Reveals About the Key Drivers of Community Quality

You can tell a book by its cover

Often the cover of a book gives away clues to the style of the story, the investment in the work and the willingness of people to lend their reputations to support the book. In the same way, a community’s appearance may reveal its investments, connections, safety, planning and pride.

National Research Center, Inc.’s (NRC) analysis of its deep database of resident opinion has found that the appearance of a community was one of two features that were most closely linked to the willingness of residents in every age group to recommend the community to others. This and other key drivers, revealed below, represent market reconnaissance derived from NRC’s analysis of tens of thousands of individual responses to a set of standard questions asked in over 100 jurisdictions across the U.S. in the last several years. We examined how resident responses to questions about the quality of community services and community characteristics correlated with resident likelihood of recommending the community as a place to live.

And how well those books teach matters

The second characteristic that predicted the likelihood of a resident at any age recommending the community was its K-12 education.

When ratings of both K-12 education and community appearance were low, so was the likelihood that residents would endorse the community. When people thought well of local aesthetics and public schools, they were more likely to recommend their community as a place to live.

What else matters depends on the age of residents

While older and younger residents may agree on community appearance and K-12 education as the touchstones of community quality, opinions differ on some other key drivers of quality. For millennials (18-34 years old), additional key correlates of community quality were recreation opportunities, affordable cost of living and public places to hang out.

Miller june
Key Drivers of Community Quality

Curiously, public meeting places also were important to Boomer and Silent generation adults (55+). Older adults also were looking for affordable, quality health care when considering whether to recommend a place to others as well as the neighborliness of the community.

And for Generation X adults (ages 35-50) as for the Boomers, neighborliness of the community was another key driver of quality.

As communities consider how to attract and keep residents who are untethered to jobs – because of retirement or virtual work opportunities – it is essential that local leaders understand the characteristics that matter most to potential citizens. A complete picture of the drivers of community success requires a varied understanding of market segments in the emerging world of competitive residential relocation. Though the most important, these key drivers are not the only aspects of community that attract residents. They are supported by other community features such as ease of mobility, safety, economic opportunities, volunteer opportunities and cultural events. So there is plenty to attend to for community leaders.

To recap the key components of community quality, strong public education and community appearance will appeal to potential residents at any age. But, if you seek younger adults, also pay attention to recreation, cost of living and community gathering places. Oldest residents will take note of health care, neighborliness and gathering places. And middle-aged adults (more often with children) will care about how welcoming their neighbors are.


Submitted by Thomas I Miller. A version of this article first appeared here.

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