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Results are in: Denver citizen survey finds good and bad for Council consideration

Author: Mike McKibbin - May 1, 2017 - Updated: May 8, 2017

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Denver citizens listed their quality of living as high, but said the cost of living and affordable housing were issues of concern, among the findings in the 2016 National Citizen's Survey. Results were recently presented to a City Council committee.
Denver citizens listed their quality of living as high, but said the cost of living and affordable housing were issues of concern, among the findings in the 2016 National Citizen’s Survey. Results were recently presented to a City Council committee. (Photo by Steve Sokolik/The Colorado Statesman)

Getting a sense of what the citizens of the City and County of Denver think are key issues their elected officials should address depends on who is asked.

So, Denver City Council, like many other governing bodies in other cities, often seeks survey results to help tell them what they should spend their time — and taxpayer dollars — on as they make policy and budget decisions.

To that end, Damema Mann, senior survey associate at the National Research Center in Boulder, recently presented the results of the 2016 National Citizen’s Survey to the Council’s Finance and Governance Committee.

Denver has participated in the annual survey since 2002. The survey is a random scientific sample of standardized questions, taken from 6,050 households in the late fall through the mail with an online option to complete the survey, Mann said. Questions were written in English and Spanish and results were also broken down by Council districts, she added. More than 1,200 were returned, a 22 percent response rate.

“That’s a pretty good response rate, considering it was the middle of the presidential and political campaigns,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech noted.

Compared to national standard benchmarks of cities larger than 300,000 people, Denver had 17 areas that ranked higher than average, eight received lower ratings and 91 had similar rankings, Mann said. To be ranked higher or lower, a city needs to be 10 percent above or below the benchmarks, she added.

Compared to the 2015 survey, Denver had one area ranked higher, 41 were lower and 74 had similar rankings.

Overall quality of services has had ups and downs from year to year, Mann said, but the 2016 survey found the 64 percent “excellent” or “good” ranking was very close to the initial 2002 survey results of 66 percent.

Safety and the local economy were the most important key focus areas — “those are typically the most important,” Mann said — with others such as mobility, transportation, the built and natural environments, recreation and wellness, education and enrichment and community engagement listed as well.

Key findings good and bad

Among the key findings were that Denver residents continue to enjoy a high quality of life, with 81 percent reporting either “excellent” or “good,” and 85 percent said Denver was an excellent or good place to live.

Also given high marks were community characteristics such as neighborhoods, overall image and appearance and as a place to raise children. At least three of every four residents were likely or very likely to recommend Denver as a place to live, Mann stated.

Another key finding was residents felt the economy remains a top priority with many areas such as shopping, a place to work, having a vibrant downtown area and overall economic health ranked high.

The cost of living was singled out as the area with the most concern at only 16 percent excellent or good. But when asked what impact they felt the economy would have on their family income in the next six months, 30 percent responded very or somewhat positive.

The third key finding listed safety as a top priority. Survey respondents ranked their safety level as 62 percent excellent or good, along with high marks for feeling safe downtown and in their neighborhood.

“You hear a lot about crime when something is in the news, but the idea that downtown isn’t safe is really based on misperceptions,” Mann said.

The city’s fire and emergency medical services departments had 90 percent and 83 percent excellent or good ratings, respectively.

When asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “The City of Denver does a good job of managing police officer conduct,” just 51 percent said they somewhat agree and 30 percent said they either somewhat or strongly disagree. Denver police, like many other large city departments, had high-profile officer misconduct incidents in the last few years.

The fourth key finding was that the city’s built environment was strong, but with room for improvement, especially in housing options and affordable housing.

“Those were both below the benchmarks and have trended down,” Mann said. “And when you consider what Denver’s housing prices are doing, that’s not surprising.”

Affordable housing and the cost of living were also listed as the most pressing issue, followed by traffic and growth and development.

“Really, you don’t want to have the best rankings when it comes to some things like traffic, because that means you’re not growing,” Mann said.

When asked how representative the survey results were of the actual makeup of the city, Mann added they intentionally over-sampled multi-family, low-income areas “so we get a response that’s similar to what you have in the population. We don’t want to artificially tweak the data, but we want a response that’s representative and accurate.”

According to the city, the last U.S. Census found Hispanics made up 27 percent of Denver’s population and the survey results represent that reality as well.

Mike McKibbin

Mike McKibbin

Mike McKibbin is a Denver and Washington political reporter for The Colorado Statesman. A long-time Colorado-based journalist, he has worked as an editor and bureau reporter and won numerous Colorado Press Association and Associated Press awards. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcKibbin7 and email mike@coloradostatesman.com.