Survey lauds Grand Rapids’ quality of life

The findings of a community poll show satisfaction in addition to priority areas for improvement.
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Grand Rapids ranked at the top of comparable cities in opportunities for cultural, arts and music events. Pictured is Channing & Quinn at One Trick Pony in 2017. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Some new findings indicate Grand Rapids maintains a high quality of life in spite of recent challenges.

City officials have obtained the results of Grand Rapids’ 2022 National Community Survey (NCS), a questionnaire that measures a community’s quality of life. This marks the second time the city has participated in the NCS to survey Grand Rapids residents.

Overall, the recent NCS shows residents continue to believe Grand Rapids offers a favorable quality of life, although participants also highlighted areas of improvement.

The NCS methodology includes the measurement of 10 livability factors: economy, mobility, community design, utilities, safety, natural environment, parks and recreation, health and wellness, education, arts and culture, and inclusivity and engagement.

The National Research Center at Polco (NRC) then compared local results against a database of resident opinions and perspectives gathered in surveys from over 600 communities — including 38 peer cities — whose residents evaluated the same kinds of topics.

Feedback from the survey indicates how well the city is doing not only as a local government but more broadly as a community as well.

The city said it will use this information to assess performance, inform the strategic planning process and make decisions in alignment with accountability. 

“These results demonstrate that despite the challenges of the last two years, Grand Rapids remains a resilient community and a highly desirable place to live, work and raise a family,” City Manager Mark Washington said. “The feedback also informs the implementation of our strategic plan and helps us identify areas where attention is needed so we can prioritize our work and focus resources appropriately.”

According to the 2022 NCS results, Grand Rapids ranked at or near 85th percentile vs. comparable peer cities in eight areas:

  • Opportunities to attend cultural/arts/music activities (No. 1 among peer cities)
  • Community support for the arts (No. 1)
  • Opportunities to attend special events and festivals (No. 1)
  • Water resources (No. 2)
  • Bus or transit services (No. 2)
  • Opportunities for education, culture and arts (No. 3)
  • Ease of travel by public transportation (No. 3)
  • Public library services (No. 3)
  • Overall opportunities for music/culture/arts (No. 3)
  • Employment opportunities (No. 4)

Grand Rapids also scored similar to the national benchmark in areas of mobility, built environment, economy, parks and recreation, health and wellness, education and enrichment, community engagement and utility infrastructure.

The city scored lower than the national benchmark in two opinion areas: safety and natural environment.

Assistant City Manager Doug Matthews presented the benchmark statistics at the Committee of the Whole meeting on July 12 and outlined several other key findings of the report to Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, city commissioners and city administrators.

In terms of overall quality of life, survey participants provided positive ratings on par with the city’s 2019 results and with comparison communities across the nation. At least 8 in 10 residents were pleased with Grand Rapids as a place to live, would recommend living in Grand Rapids to others and were likely to remain in the city for the next five years.

Economic feedback from the survey also tended to be positive with 6 in 10 participants providing high marks to the city’s economic development and the overall economic health. A majority of residents were pleased with the quality of business and service establishments, employment opportunities and shopping opportunities. 

According to the NCS, Grand Rapids residents highlighted safety and inclusivity as key areas for growth.

In particular, 85% rated safety an essential or very important focus area for the city in the next two years with opportunities for improvement.

At least 8 in 10 respondents reported feeling safe in their neighborhoods and Grand Rapids’ downtown/commercial area during the day. Most respondents also felt safe from property crime (64%), violent crime (71%) and natural disasters (81%), which was similar to comparable communities within the custom benchmarks.

However, roughly 6 out of 10 gave excellent or good reviews to the overall feeling of safety in Grand Rapids; this rating was similar to the city’s 2019 results but lower than the national benchmark. In addition, police and sheriff services as well as crime prevention in Grand Rapids both received ratings that fell below benchmarks.

In regard to inclusivity, less than half (46%) of participants feel the city does an excellent or good job in valuing and respecting diversity while 32% feel the community does an excellent or good job caring for its vulnerable residents. These findings remain lower than the national benchmarks.

Other priorities from the NCS feedback include overall utility infrastructure and the overall quality of their natural environment and parks and recreation opportunities.

The statistically valid survey was conducted between Feb. 11 and April 1 by Polco’s National Research Center (NRC), a nationally recognized civic engagement firm. With availability in English and Spanish, the survey was distributed in two phases — the first with random selection and second with open participation.

The report provides the opinions of a representative sample of 750 residents of the city of Grand Rapids. The margin of error around any reported percentage is 4% for all respondents and the response rate for the 2022 survey was 13%. 

In addition, survey results were weighted so the demographic profile of respondents was representative of the demographic profile of adults in Grand Rapids.

In addition to being shared at the recent Committee of the Whole, results will be shared with city executives and departmental leadership.

Results also will inform updates to the current development of the city’s strategic plan, which could impact budget planning and proposals for Fiscal Year 2024.

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