Visualizing Well-Being: Belonging and Civic Muscle

Published By
Community Commons

To create conditions for community well-being we must look back – at continuing, historic influences – and forward – to the major forces that shape current and future priorities. The Visualizing Well-Being series explores the state of wellbeing in the United States through a collection of data visualizations. Each week we will explore one vital condition that comprise our framework for community wellbeing, developed in partnership through the Well Being Legacy Initiative. 

Belonging and Civic Muscle

Belonging & Civic Muscle is about having fulfilling relationships and the social support needed to thrive. It’s about being part of a community, contributing to its vibrancy, and co-creating a common world.

Social support through friends, family, and other networks contributes to our practical and emotional needs, enhances mental well-being, helps us navigate the challenges of life and reinforces healthy behaviors. People with a stronger sense of efficacy, belonging and social connectedness tend to live healthier, happier lives.

At the community and neighborhood level, social cohesion strengthens social ties and engenders collective attachment. Higher levels of social cohesion are associated with higher levels of trust, cooperation, and social capital which provide the necessary foundations for working together across groups and sectors, and builds the “civic infrastructure” needed to co-create a shared future. Thus a virtuous cycle is created in which working together builds stronger communication which in turn fosters connectedness and mutual obligation. As a sense of being valued and cared for within a community grows, people become more confident and willing to participate in community, contributing to its vibrancy and affecting change.


Future levels of community connectedness depend upon how well young people are connected now. Impacts of persistent disconnection among young people accrue at individual and community levels. Vulnerable youth are cut off from people, institutions, and experiences through which they develop knowledge, and build skills and a sense of purpose for productive adulthoods. Social isolation precipitates loneliness, self-doubt, depression, anxiety about the future, and adoption of unhealthy behaviors. As they grow, disconnected young people are less socially mobile, less engaged in civic life, more likely to become justice-involved, more reliant on public assistance, and generally experience lower levels of physical and mental health. The following visualizations explore youth connection.

A Representative Electorate

Elections at the local level are essential for creating a government that is truly representative of its constituents. Unfortunately, voting participation in the United States is poor, trailing most other developed countries. Certain groups face significant barriers to voting such as strict voter ID requirements, gerrymandering, frequent changes to polling-sites, and language gaps. A stalemate on structural and legal reforms to increase participation in the political process continues to undermine the representativeness and health of our electoral democracy. The following visualizations explore voting participation.

Freedom from Oppression and Hate

Cultural oppression throughout the history of the United States has devastated many communities. Cultures have been erased, traditions and languages lost, and communities continue to be oppressed and fractured by persistent bigotry, racism, and hate. The impacts of these deep inequities are evident across every dimension of well-being. Yet, communities remain resilient and efforts to preserve cultural identities have expanded in recent years. Expression of culture builds community, cohesion, and social capital. The following visualizations explore hate groups and hate crimes.

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