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Why Miami’s Civic Health is Lowest in Nation - And the Twin Cities is Tops

January 24, 2011
MIAMI, FL – January 24, 2011 – A new report released today shows Miami is the least civically engaged in the country compared to Minneapolis-St. Paul, the most engaged metropolitan area. The report helps to shed light on the contributing factors behind each city’s civic engagement in an effort to improve civic health. Researchers say that while the two areas differ demographically those differences do not explain the gap between their civic engagements.

The report, entitled A Tale of Two Cities: Civic Heath in Miami and Minneapolis-St. Paul, traces the factors of civic health, measured by civic indicators like volunteering, community engagement, voter turn out, and one-on-one interactions with neighbors, in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Miami and found that on in terms of civic health, the Twin Cities are well above the United States average, whereas Miami is well below. The report follows the September release of the report Civic Life in America: Key Findings on the Civic Health of the Nation, released jointly by NCoC and the Corporation for National and Community Service, which provides an annual measure of civic habits, much as the government measures economic behavior.

Key Findings
While the two metropolitan areas differ in many ways, including the demographics of their populations, the report found that these differences do not explain the disparities in their civic engagement. In both communities and nationwide, people with more education and income typically engage more in civic affairs. However when comparing the Twin Cities with Miami, individuals in Minneapolis-St. Paul who are in the lowest income group are more likely to be civically involved than are people in the wealthiest tier in Miami. Further, an individual with a high school education in Minneapolis-St. Paul is about as likely to be engaged as an individual with a college education in Miami. These findings indicate that the somewhat higher levels of income and educational attainment in the Twin Cities cannot explain why that community is so much more civically engaged.

Harry Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, traced the Twin Cities relative success to “a culture of civic empowerment, which teaches the skills of collaborative work across differences, connects institutions to the life of communities, and generates a spirit of optimism that people can shape their future together.”

In taking a closer look at the differentiating factors that contribute to the culture of civic empowerment and civic health in Minneapolis-St. Paul versus Miami, researchers identified the following key areas:

Education in Minnesota appears to be more “civic.” In other words, the Twin Cities’ schools collaborate more with other community based educational institutions and engage adult citizens in ways that build their satisfaction and trust. While schools don’t perform better in the Twin Cities than those in South Florida, Twin City institutions do a better job of teaching specifically civic knowledge and connecting to other civic learning experiences in communities.

Twin Cities residents appear to have stronger social networks than do residents of Miami. More of them have meals with other members of their households (92% vs. 84%), use the Internet to connect with family and friends (64% vs. 55%), and talk to neighbors (51% vs. 45%). The single exception is Miami residents are slightly more likely to exchange favors with neighbors than Minneapolis–St. Paul residents are (16% vs. 19%).

Levels of trust and satisfaction are much higher in the St. Paul area than in the Miami area; 42% of St. Paul citizens generally trusted the local government, compared with just 24% of Miamians. Thirty-two percent of St. Paul citizens felt the leaders of their community represented their interests, compared with just 18% of Miamians. Furthermore, satisfaction with police, schools, and parks is much higher in St. Paul than in either of the south Florida cities. The Twin Cities has a long history of civic and public institutions as being embedded in community life and serving as meeting grounds for diverse people.

Twin Cities residents were more than twice as likely to volunteer than Miami residents (37% vs. 15%), and 45% of Twin Cities residents had participated in at least one community group vs. 22% of Miamians. This may be due to the fact that non-profits, which are an important resource for civic engagement, are much more extensive, better resourced, and more community connected in the Twin Cities than Miami. In fact, there are almost twice as many non-profits per capita in the Twin Cities and they have accumulated almost five times more financial assets, on a per capita basis when compared to Miami non-profits.

The findings suggest that the relative strengths and weaknesses of community institutions associated with civic engagement, such as schools and non-profit organizations, may contribute to the low levels of engagement in Miami’s urban center. Miami also appears to be more divided and less reliant on citizens, suggesting the need to strengthen civic engagement across its diverse and varied communities in order to rehabilitate the city’s civic health.

“It is important to understand these underlying factors that contribute to the vitality of a civic culture of engagement,” said Bob Graham, former U. S. Senator and life-long Miami resident. “While Miami’s unique demographics do not fully explain its low level of civic engagement, the combination of rapid growth and extraordinary diversity define a social, economic, and political context within which citizens and community leaders must find a way to create a culture of engagement. Over the next generation, America will look more like Miami than Minneapolis, and the challenge of empowerment in the face of change and diversity that Miami faces today will be echoed in communities across the nation. The lessons learned here will have important implications for the future.“

As cities create new strategies in the 21st century to remain competitive and economically healthy, it’s also important that they consider more than just the financial market and government. Ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to support civic health will be critical to future success and growth.

“Just as competitive instincts between Miami and the Twin Cities are brought out by a Dolphins-Vikings game, A Tale of Two Cities can encourage both cities to be stronger," said NCoC Chairman Michael Weiser, a Miami resident. "Such comparisons can encourage healthy competition between American cities to strengthen civic life."

A Tale of Two Cities: Civic Engagement in Miami and Minneapolis-St. Paul is the result of collaboration among four partners: the National Conference on Citizenship, The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is a partnership between the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida and the Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida. Assistance was provided by CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) at Tufts University.
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5 Comments
By PHIL at 11:11 PM on Jan 27th, 2011
Wonder if the two cities have measured level of social capital as part of this analysis...best PHIL Buffalo NY
By Harry Boyte at 5:24 PM on Jan 28th, 2011
I appreciate Phil's query.

Robert Putnam is on the NCoC civic indicators working group, and many indicators explore the useful theme of social capital (from formal associational memberships to strengths of face to face social connections, like talking with neighbors.

I want to draw attention to other dimensions of civic life suggested in the report, such as "empowering" versus "disempowering" professional relationships and institutional patterns, the identities of civic "producer" versus "consumer" of public goods and services, the public dimensions of various work roles, and the ways cultures and their anchoring institutions may -- or may not -- learn to harness and draw from great diversity. Such themes, and the way that they may contribute to a broad, overall culture of "civic empowerment" suggest new conceptual and practiceal dimensions to the civic field. They also point to ways in which Miami -- precisely because of its great diversity = holds potential for generative civic energies in the future.
By Marybeth Neal at 7:33 PM on Jan 28th, 2011
I think the historical context of these two cities is important to consider when seeking to understand differences in approaches to civic engagement. Minnesota has a tradition of self-help organizations and cooperatives dating from the time, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Scandinavians came to Minnesota. For example, there were self-help organizations in Minneapolis for people from particular districts in Norway (The Valdres League, Hallingdal League, etc.). Also during this time, there were families of successful business entrepreneurs who became engaged in philanthropy. These "foundation families" started schools to educate their children to be both entrepreneurs and philanthropists. The legacy of these practices (forming organizations for mutual aid to newcomers, and philanthropy combined with entrepreneurism) can still be seen in Minneapolis today.
By Steven Maloney at 2:46 PM on Mar 7th, 2011
I have to ask whether "A Tale of Two Cities" is really appropriate to a study that incorporates three cities. A certain director of CIRCLE's notorious love for Charles Dickens would appear to be the culprit.
By Daniel Bevarly at 11:08 PM on Jul 5th, 2011
As was mentioned during a town hall meeting here in Florida on this report; since our nation is moving closer to look more like Miami and less like Minneapolis-St. Paul, it would be compelling to gain a better understanding how to strengthen a city's civic infrastructure which could also lead to developing new indicators in which to establish a wider and more diverse set of metrics.
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