Survey #3 Results–What do we know and when did we know it? 321 residents respond
Vance Moody, outgoing West Homewood councilman, explains to a tiny group of West Homewood residents last fall how the incoming council must decide to divide the $110 bond money between city, parks and schools.
Approximately 300 respondents each in two earlier surveys listed a host of Homewood amenities they value from which a strong top five priority assets have emerged. Keeping the health of these assets in mind–and knowing that a penny tax and $110 million for capital improvements are in play–Survey #3 asked “Are you satisfied with progress so far?” A total of 321 residents responded to nine questions about their engagement. And because the tax and millions were passed with no public input, the survey also asked if voters were staying in touch with elected officials, if they knew the funding status of their projects, and how do they gather news on city business. In short, if we’re not satisfied with how things are going, what are we doing about it?
“I don’t have time to involve myself in city politics and budgeting. I trust my elected officials to allocate resources appropriately but it’s clearly not being done”
How proactive are Homewood voters? Reading from L-R are the total who chose each category followed by the number in each category who are “satisfied with progress,” and of those, how many have contacted a council rep. The number polling “not satisfied” and calling a rep continues on the right.
Q. List the top (two) city assets of importance to you:
Survey #3 asked respondents to choose their top two city assets from a list of five named in earlier surveys and to answer a series of questions about each. Top assets in order of responses were Safety, followed closely by Schools, and less closely by Walkability. Further behind were Neighborhood Attractiveness at #4 and finally, falling steeply to #5 Public Green Space/Parks. This follows the same order as noted earlier except for Safety overtaking Schools in the first spot. And, as before, comments are instructive since residents tend to see a lot of overlap in categories:
“The solution and funding for the schools should be of extreme priority over the Parks and Rec Improvements. People do NOT choose to move to a municipality because they’ve got great pools.”
Q. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with progress? Have you contacted your ward representative about this?
Content and Commentary
A fervor over sidewalks versus the preservation of trees and history brought residents out in force to a recent council forum. The event was a potent mix of interests in walkability, safety, neighborhood appearances and green space.
It’s important to note, as the commentary bears out, that the level of satisfaction with a category usually relates to a specific issue, the pace of progress or priority given to it, not to the category itself. For example, dissatisfaction with raising police wages (noted by several respondents) obviously indicates support of the department overall. It’s important to read beyond the chart into the context of each survey answer. Please follow the open link to the survey results, below.
“Aren’t neighborhood attractiveness and public green spaces/parks redundant? Are these the only issues the City of Homewood faces? What about flooding issues, overcrowding, over-sized McMansions, lack of zoning enforcement. …”
Of all five content areas, only the top two, Safety and Schools, drew a majority of “satisfied with progress” answers, while also posting the lowest percentage of comments. Conversely, the three remaining areas polled more “dissatisfied” answers and substantially more commentary. Walkability led the way with the highest number and percentage of feedback comments. Perhaps respondents feel more qualified to comment on their sidewalks, trees and parks than on lofty abstractions like Safety and Schools, important as they are.
Q. Is this concern a funded priority for Homewood city leaders? Is it in the current budget?
This question sought mainly to point out that if an issue isn’t address in the budget, it’s not a priority. But answers were hard to analyze and indicated the difficulty in “following the money”: Certainly schools, parks and police are key budget funds, but what about adding more foreign language, establishing pocket parks or upgrading police technology, as some respondents asked? School and park board budgets are governed by separate boards, and how do residents know about particular funding questions without asking directly? They don’t.
Most talked about
2016 tree planting at Woodland Park
As a measure of public engagement, the survey followed up by asking respondents if they had contacted council representatives about their issues. While the number contacting reps was higher in the dissatisfied group, as expected, public responsiveness overall seemed remarkably low. Which isn’t to say they kept silent–Survey commentary was often detailed and colorful.
Walkability – 60 comments of 132 responding: Most comments fell into two main categories: A. Demands for more sidewalks (Forest Brook especially), more quickly built (31); and B. Calls for more pedestrian crosswalks and bridges over major arteries, including U.S. 280 from Hollywood to Mountain Brook, over Lakeshore Drive from Hollywood to Target, over Lakeshore Drive from Green Springs to the Greenway and over Green Springs Highway from Raleigh to Old Columbiana (13).
“While the they are putting in sidewalks each year, I wish they would focus on connecting areas by putting them where it is hard to walk – like coming up from the tunnel into the pig’s parking lot – where does one go safely??”
New houses push the limits of Homewood’s smaller lots.
Neighborhood Appearances – 58 comments of 114: Comments fell into four main critiques: A. Overbuilding and tree cutting (15); B. Need for regulating house design, height and size; (8); C. Cleaning up unkempt yards; and D. Neglect of Rosedale and West Homewood (5).
“There is no standard for continuity among Edgewood homes. Anything goes. Want to pave over your entire front lawn for more convenient parking? Great! Want to clear cut a tiny lot to put a 5/5 house on it? Great! Want to build houses with cheap materials that degrade the value of surrounding houses? Great! I’m not saying I want a strict neighborhood covenant, but some sort of architectural line needs to be drawn in the sand.”
Safety – 46 comments of 161: While safety means policing to most people, comments typically reflected suburban concerns about traffic over crime: A. Improve intersection safety, parking, traffic enforcement (11); B. More neighborhood patrols, specifically on Murray Hill, West Homewood, Green Springs Highway, and on Oxmoor Road (10); C. Citing good work and improvement/asking for better wages, more technology, more officers (9).
“The intersection of Hwy 31 and Saulter is very dangerous. We also have too many people parking on the streets–directly across from one another, creating narrow chutes for drivers.”
More than 300 people attended a September 2016 presentation about schools overcrowding, facilities expansion and possible relocation of the high school (shown). Funding seems less certain six months later as parents await studies due in early August.
Schools – 40 comments of 150 responding: Top school comments were divided evenly between concern over council meddling and short-changing school funds (10), and school board failure to plan for growth (10). The next most common concerns were class size and student/teacher ratio (5), and concern over the fate of the high school relocation (5). Other comments covered a variety of issues. Only two addressed curriculum, one asking for more recess, and support for the arts and the other more foreign language and innovative teaching.
“Schools here are great. But I am not satisfied with the lack of progress in the long-term master plan for schools. The $110M bond issue should have had the schools’ long term plan in place before parks could begin plans. I fear this will create unnecessary overlap if a new high school is the chosen route.”
A new group is promoting a pocket park in the current jail property when it is relocated to West Homewood. Residents want more green space across the city.
Public Green Spaces/Parks – 31 comments of 81: People responding in this category were of one mind–the city needs more green space and more pocket parks in every neighborhood, but especially downtown. Of the 31 commenting, 18 specifically mentioned pocket parks. Remaining comments spanned a topics such as planning, establishing off-leash areas; keeping the school property on Valley Ave natural as a residential buffer, and hiring an arborist, among other responses.
“We have less green space than the average city and we’re losing what we have.”
Q. How do you keep informed about city plans?
The survey asked respondents to list every information source they use, so the columns aren’t mutually exclusive. Most respondents (267 of 319), or 84%, use the Homewood Star community newspaper and an astonishing number (247 of 319) or 74% use social media for some news. Which they rely on more, and for what kinds of information is anyone’s guess. But if I were on the city council and concerned about communication, I might propose adding a social media component to the city’s website.
Other sources (51) include an interesting mix of sources, such as Jennifer Andress’s council news emails, the East Edgewood neighborhood watch emails, this blog, and informed neighbors, and “the grapevine.” Is it enough without regular coverage by a major metro news organization? As one respondent put it, ” I do all this and still am too often sadly surprised.”
To read the actual responses, including comments, follow this link:https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-DQTS5C26/