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Survey gives a peek at what's on the minds of Douglas County residents
I've been on a little vacation that included a weekend in the glitzy country music capital of Branson, followed by several days in the pig barn of the Douglas County 4-H Fair. Such a trip creates a post vacation survey that includes questions such as: 1. How many rhinestones are too many on a sports blazer? (Trick question: You can never have too many.) 2. Did you shut the gate, and if so, how did that pig get on the Ferris wheel? 3. What is likely to happen to your leg if you stand behind a pig too long? (A hint: The answers can appropriately be labeled No. 1 and No. 2.)
Well, Douglas County residents have been taking a different type of survey, and the results are out. Residents have been asked to provide their opinions on a host of issues related to the future of Lawrence and the unincorporated parts of the county. The results will be used in the updating of Horizon 2020, the comprehensive plan used by planners and commissioners to determine where to allow new development and other such issues. The updating will take place over the next several months and will involve a host of public meetings.
So, while it may not be as exciting as a crossbred hog on a Tilt-A-Whirl, the results are a good snapshot of what's on the mind of residents. Here's a look:
• Get a job. That is on the minds of a lot of residents. When asked to name their top four issues that need to be addressed by government in the future, "creating employment opportunities" was mentioned most often. It was cited by 55 percent of respondents. Others frequently mentioned included the stability of downtown (39 percent), quality housing for all income groups (34 percent), managing future growth (33 percent), availability of parks/recreation/open space (22 percent).
• Get a job, part II. The survey firm asked respondents whether they agree or disagree with several statements about what should be included in the community's vision. Not surprisingly, the category of "more employment opportunities" was the winner. A full 91 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that should be part of the community's future vision. Other issues that received a strong or strongly agree rating of 70 percent or more included: better protection of natural resources (77 percent), better management of growth (72 percent), more sidewalks, walking paths and trails (72 percent), more affordable housing within the city (70 percent).
• When it comes to our vision of the future, it is pretty broad. Of the 23 issues presented to respondents, 17 of them received an agree/strongly agree rating of 50 percent or more. Only three issues had a negative rating of 20 percent or more. Leading that list was the idea of new or expanded conference space in town, with 26 percent disagreeing that it should be included in the community's vision of the future. (49 percent were neutral on the topic and 24 percent either agreed or strongly agreed with the idea.) As a matter of full disclosure, The World Company — the owner of LJWorld.com — has proposed a new conference center on property it owns at Sixth and Massachusetts in downtown. The other issues that scored low: More housing in and around downtown (23 percent disagreed), and more recreational opportunities near Clinton Lake (20 percent disagreed.)
• Respondents were asked to rate major strengths of the community. Downtown was a winner in this category, with 83 percent rating it a strength. Next in line was the community's overall quality of life, with 82 percent, and the availability of arts, music, and cultural amenities with 81 percent. In contrast, only 14 percent of respondents said job opportunities was a strength of the community.
• On the transportation front, residents might be more satisfied than you would think given the number of orange traffic cones stuck in grills this summer. The survey found 47 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with the "ease of travel by car on major streets," while 35 percent were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. The other 18 percent must have been in a coma because they were neutral on the subject. The category receiving the highest level of dissatisfaction was the safety of bicycling in Lawrence, with 40 percent giving it a negative rating.
• On the retail front, not surprisingly, most folks would rather see existing retail buildings filled before new ones are built. Eighty-two percent agreed with that statement. The survey also found that a majority of respondents (69 percent) believe the expansion of retail development should be supported downtown. Perhaps in a sign of the times, the other questions related to retail development failed to produce a consensus.
The survey, conducted by Olathe-based ETC Institute, was a scientifically valid survey, according to the authors. But it is worth noting that the demographics of the respondents were pretty different than the demographics of the community. For example, 85 percent of the respondents were over the age of 35, even though Douglas County is much younger. According to Census numbers, only 40 percent of our population is 35 years or older. Another example is the number of homeowners surveyed: 83 percent of respondents owned their home. That's not anywhere close to reality in Douglas County. According to Census data, 48 percent of housing units are rentals. Of course, the three universities in the county contribute greatly to those numbers, and students weren't a big part of this survey. Only 1 percent of respondents were listed as full-time students.
Perhaps that is the way it should be. Students may not be around long enough to care much about the community's future vision. Or perhaps, we should care more about what they think because they drive our economy. I don't know. I'll leave that to you, and the city/county-appointed committee reviewing the full survey results.
As for me, I've got enough on my plate. I've got to take care of a pig that is causing a major problem in the cotton candy line.