In May, we surveyed Homewood residents to rank the top five reasons they live in Homewood. Those responses yielded 11 reasons, of which schools ranked #1 overall and as respondents’ overwhelming first choice. This month we took those results and asked respondents to pick three of those areas that could be improved from better planning, investment or other renewal. That survey returned 296 responses, of which the top answer was clearly Walkability, with 149 responses, followed by Safety (121), Neighborhood Attractiveness (108) and again, Schools (105). A close also-ran was Parks, with 91 responses.
As before, respondents were able to give free-text comments for each answer, and those clarifications are summarized below. In general, its important to note that “Safety” frequently refers to traffic enforcement over more serious crime–and includes improving child safety by building more sidewalks and crosswalks, or keeping parked cars off the streets. There was significant overlap in responses to Neighborhood Attractiveness, Safety, Walkability and Parks. Out of the 91 comments on improving parks, nearly all mentioned adding pocket parks to downtown or neighborhoods, adding green space, trails, trees and landscaping, The best recent example would be the 2012 petition and grassroots movement to establish a pocket park on Broadway and Carr Avenue, which the council voted down 7-4 on Sept. 16, 2013)
Schools category responses favored facilities and staff expansions to reduce classroom crowding and increase teacher/student ratio. The Schools category attracted the fewest comments (44) of all top answers.
Both surveys were circulated primarily through four Homewood Facebook discussion groups, as well as by email and subsequent sharing. Each category below contains the breakdown of responses by ward. The chart showing responses of all 10 categories is at the bottom along with a link to all responses.
Over half of the 296 respondents chose Walkability as the city asset most in need of improvement, with most of those citing “more sidewalks” (less frequently but importantly bike lanes, trails, and paths) in comments added in 2/3 of the responses. In addition to more sidewalks, respondents specified wanting sidewalks to connect important areas such as neighborhoods to retail areas, to
pocket parks, schools, to the library, or to each other. Many responding with this answer and “Safety,” below, also mentioned crosswalks and pedestrian bridges from residential areas to the Lakeshore greenway, for example, to Samford, to Brookwood mall, and connecting east and west neighborhoods over Green Springs Highway.
There were specific calls for sidewalks on Berry Road, Saulter Road, in Forest Brook, on Carr Avenue, and West Oxmoor Road.
“Any sidewalk is good but the real value comes when a sidewalk makes an unwalkable street walkable and especially one that provides a high level of connectivity. … Take Saulter Rd for example. … Yes it would be a costly project but there would be no greater return on that investment. Let’s be real not political.”
Safety was the second area respondents chose as needing improvement. The clearest call from over 70 comments was for more traffic enforcement, especially of speeders, and to reducing street parking in neighborhoods and dangerous turn maneuvers on U.S. 31 and Green Springs Highway. The next most cited request was for more visible neighborhood patrol, perhaps with officers on bikes or on foot, rather than Tahoes.
Beside traffic enforcement, comments were spread across many topics, such as “cleaning up” prostitution near west motels, apartments, Green Springs Highway, West Valley Avenue and Wildwood.
“Thankful for our city police but I wish they would find more funding for police and fire who do a great job of keeping our community safe.”
Several comments mentioned wanting more attention to thefts and break-ins and better public relations, such as reporting crime rates, following up on incident reports, and communicating with the public.
Neighborhood Attractiveness (108)
Respondents think alike when it comes to neighborhood appearances, and the list of improvements is long. They want more trees, better landscaping and maintenance in common areas and rights of way, streets paved, curbs repaired, parked cars off of streets, old, leaning signs replaced, litter cleaned up, and codes enforced.
This topic drew the most comments as a percentage of responses than any other. In general order of frequency, comments called for enforcing nuisance codes to “clean up” yards, remove or repair abandoned houses, place limits on housing size, preserve trees and enforce regulations to maintain construction sites. Several responses asked to set up a Design Review committee for residences.
“I am very concerned about the loss of canopy and paving of large portions of single home lots for large driveways etc.”
Yes, respondents called for investment in school improvements just slightly less often than Neighborhood Attractiveness, but the topic drew the fewest comments of the top five.
Top answers all concerned relieving classroom overcrowding by expanding schools buildings and hiring more teachers to improve teacher-student ratio. There is a need for larger gym and better fields, according to one answer.
Several respondents were aware of the funding competition between ballfields and school buildings, saying that schools were their priority. They called for the city to limit housing size in the face of the school overcrowding, and maintain school funding however possible.
“The solution and funding for the schools absolutely must be the priority for Homewood. It is clear that the reason people live here/move here is for the education….”
Academically, comments asked for more foreign language courses, enrichment classes, and for money to be spent on teachers and teacher resources versus administration. Some parents found the school top-heavy in administration. They felt the majority of students in average category needed the same attention given to gifted and special needs students.
Comments on preserving trees, adding trails, pocket parks–especially downtown–and green space were so ubiquitous throughout all categories it seems unfair not to include the fifth-place “Parks” section.
Respondents clearly used the term “Parks” to describe passive parks, trails, green spaces, community gardens and pocket parks. Of the 65 total comments, the greatest response was the call to add more pocket parks, green spaces and trails, and connect them systematically. Downtown was frequently cited as devoid of planned green spaces, or “95% hardscape.” There was a chorus of comments supporting establishment of an urban park in the soon-to-be-vacated jail space. Citywide across all categories, comments called for more tree planting, more green space, more pocket parks, more trails, more tree buffers along creeks and streams and more neighborhood parks. Are parks and street maintenance compatible departments under the same department head, as in Homewood? One commenter didn’t think so. Two others said there was too much Rec and not enough Parks in Homewood.
“Parks are one thing and Recreation is another. In Homewood, they are all mainly about organized (paid) recreation. Could use a dose of enlightenment in our parks department.”
The top 5 responses are out of 10 categories available from Survey #1, and comments to all are worth reading. Below is a chart of the numbers of responses in each category and link to the open survey; copy and paste in your browser if the link isn’t live. After following the link, click the Individual Responses tab and use the arrows to scroll through responses (one response was deleted to hide personal information): https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-6ZDZVS9P/