Bloomington residents love their city

Survey shows concern about condition of older neighborhoods.

Bloomington residents overwhelmingly say their quality of life and trust in the city are high, and most want to stay in Bloomington for at least the next five years.

But they're not much for volunteering, and they're beginning to get concerned about the condition of older neighborhoods.

Those are some of the results of a resident survey done earlier this year, the first since a similar project was completed in 2000. The city uses the results to gauge citizen satisfaction with city services and to spot areas for improvement.

"It's a good measure of where we are," said Diann Kirby, community services director.

While the new survey is too different from the old one to offer comparisons over time, it does give city officials a snapshot of how residents view their hometown.

Almost all the results were good, with 90 percent of survey respondents rating their quality of life as good or excellent. Characteristics that got especially high ratings included the overall natural environment, the city's image and reputation, cleanliness and shopping opportunities.

"Residents reported what we believed -- that it's a pretty cool place to live, reasonably affordable, and we like that people think we're headed in the right direction," said Larry Lee, director of community development. "All of those are very positive."

The least positive resident responses were about the availability of affordable child care and housing and the ease of bus travel. While those concerns ranked poorly for Bloomington, the results still were more positive than those of residents in cities nationally and in a group of similar cities that Bloomington chose as a peer group.

Almost one-third of Bloomington residents said housing consumed more than 30 percent of their income. Nationally, that was not high: The city ranked 125th out of 190 communities for housing cost stress, Lee said.

Only 20 percent of residents had ridden a bus in the last year, and just 10 percent had ridden more than three times. The city has four Hiawatha light rail stations in its northeast corner and is slated to get four bus rapid-transit lines in the next few years. But that service will not reach all parts of the city.

"I think we have to accept that some parts of Bloomington ... like the far southwest corner, will be poorly served by transit," Lee said.

Lee and other officials are puzzled by the city's poor showing for public participation. That was one of the few categories where Bloomington ranked lower than cities nationally or in its peer group.

Although 93 percent of respondents said they had provided help to a friend or neighbor in the last year, less than half had volunteered time with a group or activity in the city.

"It's kind of hard to dispute that result because it's based on a specific question," Lee said. "Maybe we just think of ourselves as really involved, but we don't have that much to brag about."

Lee, who has served on the board of the local food shelf and community assistance group Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP), said he hasn't heard of Bloomington groups that rely on volunteers being unable to find them.

"Our message would be that there are tons of opportunities for volunteering if [residents] want them," he said.

While Bloomington residents were more likely than people in similar cities to give high rankings to the physical condition of the city, city council members want to do better. Lee said the survey hinted at an emerging concern about upkeep in older neighborhoods.

Beginning with next year's budget, the council may set aside more money for a longstanding home improvement loan program aimed at older homes, Lee said. The proposal is to boost funds in that revolving loan fund by $500,000 a year for five years, he said. A decision will not be made until December.

The survey was conducted in May and June by the National Research Center of Boulder, Colo. Its National Citizen Survey was mailed to 3,000 homes, and 37 percent responded. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent.

The survey cost $23,875, of which $11,605 was paid by the state.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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