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Community survey sheds light on local priorities

Thursday, May 6, 2010 by Mark Richardson

Austinites are not afraid to express their opinions — just ask Council members at 11pm after they’ve listened to the 43rd environmental activist testify against planting non-native shrubs outside a new pizza emporium.  

 

However, city officials gathering public input for the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan process decided that while the opinions of stakeholders and activists were extremely valid, they could use something a bit more scientific to aid in the process of planning for the city’s next few decades. So, they commissioned the 2010 Community Survey.

 

In the results of that questionnaire, Austinites declared that:

 

  • Music and culture are a “major strength” of the city;
  • They preferred living in close proximity to a fire station over other community amenities such as grocery stores and hospitals;
  • Officials should spend the most transportation dollars on unclogging the freeways; and
  • Planners should concentrate the most money on improving the area’s public schools.

The city’s Planning and Development Review Department engaged the services of the ETC Institute of Olathe, Kansas, and the consulting firm of Wallace, Roberts & Todd LLC to develop the survey, which 1,300 Austinites completed earlier this year.

 

The city was divided into five geographic zones and at least 245 responses came from each area. The survey’s authors say the result of the random sample of households has a 95 percent level of confidence with a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percent.

 

“The goal was to gather statistically backed data to compare with the public input we got from the early sessions back in October and November. We wanted to have a broad representation of public input,” said Greg Claxton, an associate planner with Planning and Development Review. “We were testing to see how the input we received from stakeholders compared to statistically correct random data, to see if there were any major differences.”

 

Claxton said the survey was also used in a series of public meetings held around Austin last week to air an early draft of the Comprehensive Plan.

 

“We wanted to know what kind of improvements they wanted to see in city services,” he said. “Some of the results will probably be useful to other city departments as they plan future programs.”

 

In the survey, among other questions, residents were asked to rate the strengths of the city, the importance of living near various facilities and amenities, and potential areas for growth and development. Respondents were asked in each question to rate a number of factors and were not limited to a single answer.

 

Asked to rate the strengths of the city, respondents rated as a “major strength” or “strength”: availability of arts, music and cultural amenities (79 percent); the University of Texas (76 percent); the State Capital (75 percent); unique local identity (74 percent); availability of parks and open space (73 percent); and quality of local businesses (73 percent).

 

The facilities and amenities that respondents rated as being “very important” or “somewhat important” to live near are: fire stations (93 percent); grocery stores (92 percent); hospitals and medical facilities (91 percent); parks, sports, and recreation facilities (87 percent); shopping areas (84 percent); place of employment (82 percent); sidewalks, biking and hiking trails (80 percent); and good schools (80 percent).

 

The areas where households most support growth and development are: near public transportation stations, stops, and routes (56 percent), centers outside of downtown (50 percent), and along roadway corridors (43 percent).

 

The transportation issues that respondents feel should receive the most emphasis from city leaders over the next two years are: ease of travel by car on freeways (49 percent), ease of north/south travel in Austin (37 percent), quality of public transportation – bus service (33 percent), ease of travel by car on major streets (31 percent), and ease of east/west travel in Austin (30 percent).

 

Asked to allocate $100 among various transportation improvements, respondents said would allocate $27 for improvements to freeways. The remaining $73 would be allocated as follows: improvements to major streets throughout Austin ($18), improvements to public transportation – bus service ($14), improvements to public transportation – rail service ($14), improvements to neighborhood streets ($13), improvements to walking and biking systems ($12), and “other” ($2).

 

Based on the sum of their top four choices, the ideas that best represent respondents’ vision for the future of Austin are: quality public schools (38 percent), affordable tax rate (32 percent), affordable housing (28 percent), high paying jobs/employment opportunities (27 percent), and reduced traffic congestion (26 percent).

 

Asked to allocate $100 among various capital improvement initiatives, respondents said they would allocate $25 to improve the transportation system. The remaining $75 would be allocated as follows: develop health and human service facilities ($21), repair and restore deteriorating infrastructure ($16), develop public safety facilities ($13), develop parks and recreation and facilities ($9), develop community facilities ($8), acquire open space ($6), and “other” ($2).

 

Imagine Austin is a two-year process, begun in 2009, that was designed to develop a Comprehensive Plan for the City of Austin through 2039. The project has a Council-appointed task force guiding the process and is scheduled to be completed by early next year.

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