Survey of 2,500 area residents finds them mostly satisfied


June 20, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

An overwhelming majority of Baltimore-area residents say the quality of life here is good or excellent, although city residents are less enthusiastic than are their county neighbors, according to a massive metropolitan survey announced today.

The poll, prepared by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy this spring in a partnership with the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, asked 2,500 area residents to rate life in their community and identify the region's most pressing concerns.

The result, said co-author Don Haynes, is "a gold mine" of information about how people in this area define the quality of life in tangible terms.

"The stuff that people really care about is security -- economic security and physical security," said Haynes, an associate professor of government and public administration at the university.

"Other things that often are considered important [in national rankings] -- restaurants, shops -- are not nearly so important as the basics of life."

In telephone interviews this March, pollsters asked 2,562 adults in selected households 80 questions. About 420 people were chosen from each jurisdiction -- the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

To come up with a regional perspective, researchers weighted these replies to reflect the population of each county, Haynes said.

The results for any county have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. This means there's a 95 percent chance that surveys of similar design will produce results with 5 percentage points of results from a poll of all adults in the county.

4 The preliminary results included these findings:

*Overall, 78 percent of the respondents considered their community's quality of life good or excellent. However, the positive results range from only 61.1 percent in Baltimore to 95.4 percent in Howard County. In other counties, at least 80 percent of respondents described the quality of life as good or excellent.

At the other end of the scale, 8.2 percent of city residents described life as poor, while less than 1 percent of the county residents felt that way.

*Less than 40 percent of those polled said the quality of life is better in their community than it was five years ago. A third said the quality was worse and 28 percent said there was no change.

But the city was the only jurisdiction in which more respondents said their lives were worse than said they were better -- 46.2 percent compared to 22.8.

*Asked what issues were most important to the quality of life, a majority picked schools, a low crime rate, health care, good jobs and wages, a clean environment, affordable housing and good race relations as "extremely important."

Other items such as the arts, entertainment, sports, and restaurants and shops -- often used to determine quality of life in national rankings of cities -- were of far less importance.

While pollsters gave residents a list of positive aspects to rank, they did not prompt people when asking about the problems facing their communities. Instead, respondents were asked to name their two or three biggest concerns.

*The six community problems mentioned most frequently were drugs, cited by 34 percent in the aggregate regional sample; crime, 31 percent; improving education, 22 percent; taxes, 19 percent; the environment, 18 percent; and welfare and homelessness, 12 percent.

City residents worried most about drugs (58 percent) and crime (46 percent), and less about the environment.

In the counties, drugs and crime were also pressing concerns, but the environment and taxes were close runners-up.

Because the poll was underwritten by the Regional Council of Governments, the preliminary results focus largely on the issues of growth and transportation. The council is to review the poll at its meeting tomorrow.

A majority of the respondents agreed growth was a serious or very serious problem for the region. But on a community level, some jurisdictions seemed less worried than others.

Fewer than one-third of Baltimore and Baltimore County residents said they were worried about growth. But in Harford and Carroll counties, more than 50 percent saw growth as a problem and about 80 percent wanted to limit growth.

Haynes, who did similar polling work in Texas, said he hopes this report will be the first of a series of annual surveys in the metropolitan region. Results from this poll will continue to be released as the survey is developed and analyzed.

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