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By Lesley Grady
Did you share a meal with family or friends last week? If your answer is yes, you helped make Metro Atlanta rank 36th among the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas.
Pick up your neighbor’s mail? Doing a favor for a neighbor places you among a tiny 13 percent of the region’s residents.
Extending outward from interaction at home with family, friends and neighbors to participation in groups, political action and volunteering, our region’s rankings range from mediocre to grim, with few exceptions.
We like to express political opinions on the Internet — ranking ninth — and we are in the middle of the pack for voter registration — ranking 22nd. Yet while we talk a good game, we don’t show up at the polls: Metro Atlanta ranks 34th for voting often in local elections, where just a few votes can make a big difference.
We also tend to avoid responsibility, ranking 35th for willingness to assume a leadership role in civic groups.
The good news? Metro Atlanta can boast of having the sixth highest rate of volunteering — an honored tradition and attribute that has long distinguished us.
Just released by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, the 2012 Metropolitan Atlanta Civic Health Index (www.cfgreateratlanta.org) provides information on Metro Atlanta’s civic health relative to the state and metropolitan areas across the country. Data was culled from the 2011 Community Population Study, conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Civic health, defined as a community’s “overall well-being,” serves as a barometer for the depth and breadth of individuals’ commitment to each other and to the places they call home. At the Community Foundation, we believe development of strong communities results from a balance of power (government, business, philanthropy), access to resources (food, jobs, housing, etc.) and equity (fair and just practices) in relationship to the members of the community represented.
When community members are disconnected and distrustful of one another — the institutions that serve them and the leaders that represent them — this development is inherently flawed. Yet we have seen that when a community’s residents are engaged and assume responsibility for one another, the result can be a powerful and shared response, honoring the will and intent of those most directly impacted — and resonating with those who are called to lead.
Countless studies have shown that connected, engaged communities are happier, safer and more resilient. We know intuitively that caring produces commitment. Strong civic health provides us with the energy and relationships to shape our communities, whether those communities are physical neighborhoods, a group of individuals with a common interest, or a cohort of organizations focused on similar issues.
The more we engage with one another in the civic space, the healthier we all become. Even better, we grow in our ability to weave individual and group aspirations into a vibrant civic dream, rich with potential to build the region we deserve.
Lesley Grady is senior vice president at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.