People have been confined to their homes amid the pandemic and recently a Michigan State University researcher conducted a study to quantify what makes people happy with their neighbourhoods and discovered that it has almost nothing to do with the neighbourhood itself.
“It’s all in our heads,” said Zachary Neal, associate professor of psychology at MSU and author of the study. “Contrary to what many would think, characteristics of your neighbourhood have little to do with how satisfied you are with it.”
Published in the journal Urban Studies, Neal’s research revisited findings from 27 earlier studies that spanned 11 countries in North America, Europe and Asia, and included a sample of more than 400,000 adults living in those neighbourhoods. Each study estimated how much an individual’s satisfaction with his or her neighbourhood depended on the neighbourhood itself.
“I was interested in what makes people satisfied with their neighbourhoods and whether there’s anything the residents or city planners could do to improve satisfaction,” Neal said. “Previous research about what matters has been mixed, which made me wonder if this research is looking for something that doesn’t exist and that maybe neighbourhoods really don’t have much to do with how satisfied people say they are.”
By combining each study’s estimate using meta-analysis, Neal computed a more precise estimate of the true impact of neighbourhoods. He found that all the characteristics of a community neighbourhood — from curb appeal to its services, like snow ploughing — account for just about 16% of a person’s satisfaction with the neighbourhood.
“Each study included an ICC, or intraclass correlation coefficient, which indicates how similar satisfaction is among people in the same neighbourhood,” Neal said. “Across these studies, the ICC values were quite low, which means there is a lot of variation in satisfaction even among people in the same neighbourhood. That tells us something besides the neighbourhood itself is responsible for how much satisfaction each person reports having.”
Neal explained that having a clear understanding of what makes people satisfied with their communities is critical for people whose jobs are connected with building and maintaining neighbourhoods, such as local officials, developers and city planners. Additionally, enormous amounts of money go into neighbourhood maintenance; but, if people aren’t so concerned with neighbourhood characteristics, then these efforts may not translate into increased satisfaction.
So, what does satisfaction depend on? Neal shared two likely prospects.
“One possible explanation is that a person’s satisfaction may depend more on the person than on the neighbourhood,” Neal said. “Agreeable people are likely to be satisfied with their neighbourhood, but there will always be others who think that the grass is greener elsewhere.”
The second possible determinant relates to a resident’s perception of the neighbourhood as opposed to what it actually is.
“Perhaps neighbourhood satisfaction, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” Neal said. “We might expect residents to be more satisfied with their neighbourhood if its schools are good. But, in practice, they will be more satisfied if they merely think its schools are good, even if the schools aren’t actually that great.”
With millions of people staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Neal said there’s a chance they might see their communities through a different lens.
“It’s still early to tell, but the longer we are confined to our own neighbourhoods, the more perceptions of them might change,” Neal said. “I’m collecting new data about neighbourhood satisfaction in Michigan during the stay-at-home order and hope to collect these data again after the order is lifted so we can understand how things are changing.”
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)