Lexington: Apple of your eye?

Do you love Lexington?

How you answer that question could mean whether your town is down- and-out or thriving.

Citizens' affection for their city has a direct correlation to the strength of the economy, according to a study released this week.

The study of more than two dozen cities, including Lexington, looked at five years of data and found a correlation between economic growth and citizens' attachment to their cities.

The next part of the study will look at whether emotional investment in the city drives the economy or whether a robust economy leads people to have warm feelings for their home town.

The Gallup study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was conducted in 26 cities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, including Lexington. Overall, more than 14,000 people nationwide participated in the study. More than 400 people in the greater Lexington area, which includes the surrounding counties, participated in the phone study conducted earlier this year.

According to the "Soul of the Community" study, what people like most about Lexington is its natural beauty and its thriving educational community. The study also found that those most engaged, or most in love with their city, are senior citizens.

Laura Williams, Knight Foundation program director for Lexington, said the study showed: "A new way of looking at community and why people stay there and why they feel like it's home."

Williams said the first part of the study shows what people like about Lexington and what keeps people here. But it also shows there are areas of improvement.

"These findings can help Lexington's leaders focus resources to areas that will make Lexington a better place to live and work, and possibly have an impact on long-term economic growth," Williams said.

A better social scene, defined as places where people can meet new people, was a top concern. Lexington also needs to improve how it welcomes new residents, the study found.

Williams pointed out that the city is currently looking at beefing up its entertainment district, particularly downtown. Some of those proposals include building a Distillery District, a proposed arts and entertainment area along Manchester Street and the revitalization of the Third Street area.

"In many ways, the study confirms what we already know," Williams said.

The study showed that those who were engaged with their community tended to be over 65, retired, widowed and made more than $75,000 a year. Those who were least engaged in the community were those 18-34 years old and made less than $25,000 a year.

Williams noted that, although the Lexington-area has many universities and colleges, the study showed Lexington should do more to keep its graduates in Kentucky.

"We have to look at how do we keep these people here to avoid the brain drain?" Williams said. But studies show that even if recent graduates do leave, some come back and raise families in Lexington, Williams said.

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