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Survey of Wauwatosans provides a feel-good moment for the council

Nov. 21, 2012

"You should feel pretty darn good about the results in this survey," City Administrator Jim Archambo told aldermen at Tuesday's meeting of the Committee of the Whole.

The National Citizen Survey, commissioned by the city, took a reading of residents' satisfaction on a number of fronts, including overall community quality, economic sustainability, public safety, civic engagement, the environment - and even food.

Wauwatosa came out looking like a pretty good place.

"Most residents experienced a good quality of life in the city of Wauwatosa and believed the city was a good place to live. The overall quality of life in the city of Wauwatosa was rated as 'excellent' or 'good' by 95 percent of residents," said a summary of the findings.

The survey, a collaborative effort between the National Research Center and the International City/County Management Association, went out to 1,200 representative Wauwatosa households, and 430 surveys were returned. The response rate of 38 percent was considered higher than might be expected, and the responses were statistically weighted to reflect the population.

In the survey, respondents were asked, for example, to rate Wauwatosa's "variety of housing options" on a scale of 1 (excellent ) to 4 (poor). There were more than 100 questions, and responses were compared to national benchmarks from National Citizen Survey's database of about 500 jurisdictions.

Almost all respondents reported that they plan to stay in Wauwatosa for the next five years, and the two characteristics receiving the most favorable ratings were the "overall image or reputation of Wauwatosa and the availability of affordable quality food." The characteristics receiving the least favorable ratings were the amount of public parking and the traffic flow on major streets.

Some of the findings were a little surprising. For a community that prides itself on its bikeability, 84 percent of those traveling to work drive in a car occupied by only the driver - way above the national benchmark, according to the report. Just 1 percent bike to work, the same amount takes the bus, while 3 percent walk and 5 percent work at home.

Respondents were satisfied with the rate of population growth in the community - 82 percent said it was the right amount. But a rating of nuisance problems found that only 23 percent said they had no problem. The "minor problems" category came in at 55 percent.

City residents fell short on civic engagement, according to the data. Only 21 percent had attended a meeting of local elected officials or any other local public meeting in the previous 12 months.

Less than half had volunteered their time to some group or activity in Wauwatosa, lower than the benchmark, though more than 9 out of 10 had provided help to a neighbor.

When respondents were asked how frequently they participated in various activities, providing help to a neighbor or friend and recycling were the most popular activities.

Joining a club, and going to a meeting of elected officials - for example, the Common Council - were the least popular activities.

Of the 30 characteristics for which comparisons were available, Wauwatosa placed 28 above the national benchmarks, and two were similar to the benchmark.

Archambo said the survey is "part of the effort to measure our performance against other benchmarks, not just ourselves, and to see … how are we doing in the eyes of our citizens."

The survey claims a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, and cost less than $10,000, Archambo said.

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