Measuring Community Change

We live in the age of Big Data, with big companies and newsorganizations gushing forth a seemingly endless stream of surveys and pollsabout our every opinion and preference. Yet in the local communities where we spend most of our time, we often lack basic information about how residents feel about the issues that impact our daily lives. This is especially true in a smaller city like New Brunswick, where there is little sustained media attention.

That’s a big part of the reason why NBT has always prioritized local community surveys, like the New Brunswick citywide survey that we have regularly conducted with the Rutgers Eagleton Institute since our early years in the 1970s. If we’re going to take action on the issues that matter most to New Brunswick residents, we need to know what they’re thinking! While nothing replaces sustained community relationship-building, surveys are a way to take stock of a wider cross-section of residents who might not be connected otherwise.

If we’re going to take action on the issues that matter most to New Brunswick residents, we need to know what they’re thinking!

In our Esperanza Neighborhood Project, we’ve taken that lesson even further by implementing surveys specific to that neighborhood. We have used two primary survey tools: one is a comprehensive resident survey conducted with a random sample of neighborhood households, and the other is a shorter “shopper intercept” survey conducted with pedestrians along the neighborhood’s French Street corridor.

We conducted both surveys for the first time back in2014-15, as we started the Esperanza Project, and we returned to them again this summer. Esperanza outreach workers – themselves active neighborhood residents – fanned out throughout the streets to ask their neighbors for their opinions on a wide range of issues. While we adhered to best methodological practices, the heart of these interactions was the neighbor-to-neighbor conversation common on porches and street corners: What’s going on in the neighborhood, and what can we do about it?

We are learning a lot from residents’ responses. While we are still unpacking and analyzing all of the data, and comparing them to 2014-15, there are some striking results. Fortunately, much of it confirms what we see and hear in our ongoing neighborhood activities. For example:

  • Residents in the Esperanza neighborhood are optimistic about change in the neighborhood, and that positivity is trending upward: 
  • 91% of residents are generally satisfied with the neighborhood, up from 86% in 2014
  • A 51% majority say the neighborhood has improved in the past three years (compared to 32% in 2014), and 64% believe it will further improve over the next three years (versus 54% in 2014)
  • Residents are invested in this neighborhood:
  • 79% would like to continue living in the community, versus 66% in 2014
  • 55% of renters would consider buying a home here, versus 39% in 2014
  • Of course, there are challenges: On a scale from1 (very poor) to 5 (very good), residents gave mixed ratings to neighborhood safety (average 3.01), cleanliness (3.02), and housing conditions (2.96), and poor ratings to housing affordability (2.28).
  • French Street survey respondents largely feel unsafe on the corridor at night (68%), and overwhelmingly agree that loitering and drug activity/public drinking are a problem (86% and 74%, respectively). That said, ratings of French Street safety and cleanliness have improved somewhat since 2015.
  • Out of various community improvement strategies, residents prioritized improving community safety and cleanliness, housing conditions, and pedestrian safety on French Street.

There will be more to share and say about the survey results in the coming months, particularly as we advance in our current round of neighborhood planning and strategizing. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re curious to learn more. These surveys, after all, are just another entry in an ongoing conversation around New Brunswick’s conference tables and kitchen tables: What’s going on in the neighborhood, and what we can do about it?

November 6, 2018

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