Community and Infrastructure Count: Both as Strengths and Issues

by Jodi Petersen, Ph.D.
Community Research Institute at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy

Jodi Petersen

Jodi Petersen, Ph.D. speaking at the VoiceGR Summit on March 3, 2016.

Greater Grand Rapids residents who completed the 2015 VoiceGR survey made a few things very clear, community and infrastructure matter. The VoiceGR survey, administered by CRI in June through November of 2015, asked residents about housing, education, health, employment, safety, and neighborhood priorities. The survey also asked residents to indicate approximately where they live and a number of questions about their demographics. This allows for data to be analyzed for the greater Grand Rapids area as a whole and to be split by neighborhoods or sub-populations.

The survey asked respondents what they thought were the biggest strengths and issues in their neighborhood. These questions were open-ended, meaning respondents could write any answer they saw fit.  Data were coded to better understand the themes in responses. When asked about the biggest strengths in their neighborhood, the overwhelming response was community and people (49% of responses), followed by location (12%) and infrastructure (11%). When talking about community and people, respondents mentioned a sense of community, familiarity, cohesion, and a friendly, welcoming, or inclusive environment. Regarding location and infrastructure, respondents discussed proximity to local attractions, business, social services, and parks. The most common responses regarding the biggest issue in their neighborhood were crime/safety (25% of responses), infrastructure (24%), and community culture/people (24%). More specifically, residents discussed concerns about safety in general, violence, drugs/substance abuse, traffic and roads, businesses, social services, lack of community cohesion, homelessness, poverty, and lack of diversity.

The presence of community and infrastructure in both responses regarding strengths and weaknesses suggests these are particularly important or salient topics for residents.  It seems that when they’re good, they’re a strength and when they’re not good, they’re an issue. The interactive highlights tool, found on the VoiceGR website, allows you to look at these responses split by neighborhood, race, education, age, employment status, and poverty level. These results may be useful for neighborhood organizations, local nonprofits, local government, and funders to better understand the area around them and their target service population. While these results are local in focus, this methodology may be useful to consider on a broader scale as a tool for informing local decision making by including the voices of local residents. All results from the 2015 VoiceGR survey are also available on the Johnson Center website.

If you have other questions about VoiceGR or are interested in learning about ways to participate in 2016, please contact the Johnson Center.

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