“A Tale of Two Cities”: comparing the best and worst cities for civic engagement

I am one of several co-authors of a new report released on January 24 in Miami by the National Conference on Citizenship and its Florida and Minnesota partners. According to Tale of Two Cities: Civic Heath in Miami and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Miami is the least civically engaged major city in the country, and Minneapolis-St. Paul is the most engaged metropolitan area.

In both communities (as elsewhere in the United States), people with more education and income tend to engage more in civic affairs. But individuals in Minneapolis-St. Paul who are in the lowest income group are more likely to volunteer, attend public meetings, work with neighbors, participate in politics outside of elections, and participate in associations than are people in the wealthiest tier in Miami. 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.

The report finds that the civic culture of Minneapolis-St. Paul is oriented toward enlisting and empowering diverse people–paid employees as well as volunteers–in the common work of shaping the area’s future without abandoning their own cultural backgrounds and values. This culture of civic empowerment generates a widespread sense of optimism that people can shape their common future. Those norms are less evident in the Miami area, which appears to be more balkanized and less reliant on citizens to create a common future. Our colleague Harry Boyte provides a historical and interpretive portrait of civic culture in the Twin Cities that should inspire similar strategies everywhere.