We always knew we were No. 1, but now we have the research to prove it.
And, the same research shows, we’ve got soul.
“Living Here” in Manatee County is a loyal passion for more residents than any other area surveyed by the Knight Foundation in its three-year “Soul of the Community” project. The researchers summed up their findings with this badge of honor:
“In 2009, Bradenton saw a significant increase in residents’ passion and loyalty for their community. This improvement resulted in Bradenton having the highest emotional attachment of all communities studied in 2009. The increase was driven by a rise in ratings of the three key factors that tie residents to where they live — namely, social offerings, aesthetics and openness.”
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Why do we want to live here? Page through this magazine, produced each year by the Bradenton Herald, and you’ll see the epitome of good living.
Spectacular weather. Here it is, the first weeks of November, and the neighbors’ kids are still splashing in the pool. And summer’s humidity has finally broken, bringing just enough of a cool breeze to say “Fall in Florida.”
A small-enough community with a huge heart. Where else can you find so many benefits to help everyone who needs a helping hand? As the jobless rate hit new heights and the economy shuddered in the past year, volunteerism and fundraisers have expanded their reach throughout Manatee County.
Green spaces. Manatee County has preserved much of its natural beauties for generations to come, with a dozen conservation areas stretching from Robinson Preserve to Duette. And of the county’s 43 parks, Happy Tails Canine Park in G.T. Bray is one of our staff’s favorite haunts.
The islands. The beaches on Manatee County’s two barrier islands, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, are among the best in the world. But you won’t find the typical glut of commercialism as you cruise along Gulf Drive. We feast instead on Old Florida towns resolved to preserve those breath-taking views.
Old Main Street. As downtowns go, Bradenton might not come to mind as a destination. Then you haven’t enjoyed the Farmers’ Market on a bright Saturday morning, or a delicious fish fry at Fisherman Joe’s, or a performance at Manatee Players. Within its very walkable blocks, the heart of Bradenton offers everything from fine dining, cigars, coffee, antiques, a library and my favorite hot dog vendor hanging outside City Hall.
Village of the Arts. Talk about figuring out how to take back the streets. This area used to be one of Bradenton’s eyesores. Now it boasts Florida’s largest art community, with dozens of artists living and working together. The ArtWalks, held on the first Friday and Saturday of every month, are guaranteed good times.
The MLK Parade in Palmetto. Each year, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision shines brightly here as hundreds of children parade through the streets of Palmetto, with festive floats, memorable speeches, high school marching bands and barbecue galore.
McKechnie Field. The sounds of spring training in the heart of Bradenton make sweet music in March. Soon, those bats will be cracking under the lights all summer long as minor league baseball makes this its newest home.
A master plan that works. For thousands of Manatee residents, Lakewood Ranch provides a community all its own: shops, business parks, nature preserves, its own hospital, polo grounds and, of course, premiere golf courses. This 8,500-acre mecca has been our county’s growth area for several years. And it’s the largest green-certified community in the United States.
One significant footnote from the Knight Foundation research: Residents most attached to Bradenton tend to be older, college grads, widowed, new to the community, and higher-income. But only 7 percent of young, talented college graduates felt that this community was welcome and open for them.
So we have plenty of work to do as a community, especially with our younger residents. I hear so many high school seniors say they want to either stay here or come back. But we have to find more career paths for them, more jobs in a struggling economy and a more affordable future.
After all, this is our home. And we’re proud to live here.
Joan Krauter, the Herald’s executive editor, can be reached at (941) 748-0411, ext. 2000.