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Know Your Neighbor 


A new report finds Michiganders trust their neighbors but don’t interact much. Credit: MMAARRSS/morguefile

A new report finds Michiganders trust their neighbors but don’t interact much. Credit: MMAARRSS/morguefile

Strong civic life for strong communities

By Mary Kuhlman, Michigan News Connection

LANSING, Mich. – Borrowing a cup of sugar from the next-door neighbor can not only help when there’s a baking crisis but also helps to build better communities.

Civic health is a community’s capacity to work together to solve problems, said Chelsea Martin, civic-engagement manager for the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

The new 2015 Michigan Civic Health Index found that Michiganders are very connected to family and friends and volunteer their time. But Martin noted that while about 60 percent say they trust their neighbors, it’s a sharp contrast to how much they actually talk.
“They only interact with their neighbors like 35 percent of the time, which is significantly different,” she said. “So we’re curious to know, and would like to pursue in the future, why there is so much interest in neighbors but a lack of interaction.”

The index ranks Michigan eighth nationally for voter registration and 14th for voting in national elections, but Martin said voting behaviors differ between age, education and affluence.

Martin said strong civic health is good for physical, emotional and mental health and has a positive impact on local economies and student educational success.

“We know that on all of the indicators in the civic health index, the better we’re performing on those, the better our communities are,” she said. “That’s where people are living, that’s where they’re engaging, that’s how they’re engaging with their local and state governments.”

The report noted that generations engage in civic life differently, with the “Silent Generation,” those born from 1931 to 1945, demonstrating the most robust participation. Martin said there was less interaction from millennials in traditional ways of participating such as public meetings and voting.

“We saw that there was little participation in the index,” she said, “but we think that that’s because millennials are engaging in systems differently so we need to continue to encourage them to participate in systems.”

Martin said millennials are more vocal about volunteering, boycotting or buying products, and using the Internet to express opinions.

The index is online at mnaonline.org.

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