Poll reveals disparities about city life

Residents happy with leaders but are concerned about safety


City residents are overwhelmingly impressed with the leadership of Mayor Martin O'Malley and other Baltimore officials, according to a new Gallup Organization poll.

That's the good news.

The possible bad news, especially as O'Malley runs for governor, is that very few of those same residents feel safe walking alone at night, the poll found. What's worse - since public safety has been O'Malley's signature issue - is that safety concerns in Baltimore were more pronounced than in its suburbs and in other cities.

"The leadership is really positive," said F. Warren Wright, a managing partner of the prominent polling firm. "On the other hand, if you look at safety and law enforcement - that's really not good."

The entire poll sampled 3,128 residents in 21 American cities in May and June. That includes residents from the Baltimore and Washington suburbs. The bulk of the telephone polling took place in Baltimore, with 312 people, and an additional 428 in the region. In Washington, 300 people were contacted, as well as 393 in the surrounding areas.

The poll, called the "Soul of the City," was conducted in partnership with an international group of city leaders that counts O'Malley and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams as members. Both mayors participated in a conference hosted by the group, called The Glocal Forum, in Washington in early October.

The goal of the poll, which was discussed at the conference, was to provide a statistical tableau for urban areas throughout the world to determine their political, economic and social well-being through what is essentially a resident-satisfaction survey.

Among the 312 Baltimore residents polled, 70 percent said elected officials were leading the city in the right direction - a sense of satisfaction that far surpassed all other cities involved in the poll. (In Washington, slightly more than half said the city was on the "wrong track.")

But Baltimore and Washington did have one problem in common: Their residents feel far less safe than people who live in surrounding suburbs or in other cities.

When asked how safe they felt walking alone at night within a mile of their homes, only 12 percent of Baltimore residents said they felt "completely safe," and 23 percent said they felt "not at all safe."

Residents in the surrounding Baltimore region and in cities of comparable size felt much safer. Thirty-five percent of people in Baltimore's suburbs said they felt completely safe. In cities of similar sizes, 23 percent expressed a feeling of security. In Washington, however, only 16 percent of residents stated confidence in taking such a stroll.

Wright said that the poll's margin of error is plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.

O'Malley officials would not discuss the poll last week because they had not seen all of the official results from Gallup.

Wright acknowledged that it is impossible to gauge whether progress has been made on public safety by simply looking at the poll numbers.

"This only has so much utility because it is of a certain point in time," Wright said. But he did say the city's safety rating was troubling because it was so low compared with its region.

Washington's mayor could not be reached directly, but he issued a statement through a spokeswoman.

"The Gallup Soul of the City findings for Washington, DC confirm that our city is a vibrant, beautiful place that is attractive to young and old alike," Williams' statement said. "That said, we've definitely got areas where - although we have made tremendous strides - we need to continue our work, areas such as affordable housing and transportation. We will continue to focus on these issues as we strive to make Washington, DC a great place to live, to work and to visit."

Baltimore registered only one main strength - affordable housing - in relation to other cities its same size. Compared with the cities in the poll, Baltimore's assets also included leadership, economic momentum and "zoo and aquarium usage."

The poll found that city residents are highly engaged in their faiths and in civic affairs. They are also more optimistic than people who live in the suburbs, fueled in part by the availability of public transportation and housing, and access to cultural venues. Both city and suburban residents said they believe economic conditions are getting better.

People in Baltimore give the city high marks for its social scene, its acceptance of minorities, its quality health care and higher education, its friendliness as a place for families to raise children, and its opportunities for recent college graduates.

The quality of public schools ranked low with residents of all cities involved. The poll also found that the city could improve on its physical setting, job opportunities, air quality, parks and "being a good place for entrepreneurs."

As for the city's overall "soul" ranking - which is measured by residents' satisfaction, their likelihood to recommend the city and their positive outlook - Baltimore ranked 16th of the 21 cities measured.


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