Abstract: County Planning Survey Research and Community Engagement (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

19P County Planning Survey Research and Community Engagement

Thursday, January 17, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Dorlisa Minnick, PhD, Assistant Professor, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, PA
Antonia Price, M.S., Project Manager, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg, PA
Claire Jantz, PhD, Professor, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg, PA
Purpose: County planners seek to implement comprehensive plans that shape the physical landscape and improve residents’ quality of living. Public meetings are one way planners can obtain residents’ input for community planning, yet low resident attendance results in silent community voices (Blahna & Yonts‐Shepard, 2008; Burby, 2007; Afzalan & Muller, 2018). To gain resident feedback on proposed comprehensive plans, planners can distribute county-wide surveys. This study describes results from a survey collaboratively designed by social work, geography and county planners.

Methods: Six-thousand out of 35,000 residents received a postcard directing them to complete an online survey while others learned about the survey through a directed media campaign. Six areas on the survey reflected the county’s proposed comprehensive plan themes of conserve, grow, and connect. Sixty-two Likert-scale questions sought residents’ perceptions about Natural Resources (12), Economic Development (5), Housing (13), Community Facilities (7), Land Use (17), and Transportation (8).

Survey analysis included quantitative and qualitative methods: descriptive statistics of forced-response statements and theme analysis of three open-ended questions. Nearly 500 responses for two questions related to program expansion and 800 responses to the open prompt that solicited feedback.

Results: Out of 2,992 completed surveys, respondents were found to be highly educated (70.4%), older (x̅=51.02, SD=14.97; M=52), married (74%), women (52%), White (83%), employed within the county (50%), and retired (25%).

Conserve theme: Eighty-one percent favor increased taxes for expanding farm preservation (x̅=$10.43, SD=56.17; M=$5.00) and 77% favor increased taxes for park preservation (x̅=$9.11, SD=29.16; M=$5.00). Participants favor maintaining existing parks and trails (94%) over developing new ones (78%). Residents’ comments indicate a strong preference for more bike lanes.

Grow theme: Ninety-five percent support businesses reuse of existing developed sites and 83% favor rehabilitating existing housing stock. Seventy-two percent identify housing for older adults and people with disabilities as important, yet only 58% promote affordable housing at market rates across all income levels and 20% report it as not important. For community facilities, 90% report repairing existing sewer systems, protecting drinking water, providing emergency services, and maintaining solid waste disposal and recycling services to be important and 60% report inadequate public open spaces.

Connect theme: Residents indicate a preference to maintain existing roads (97%), replace deficient bridges (95%), and reduce congestion (86%), but only 57% want public transportation expanded. Comments reveal resident satisfaction with the planning office’s efforts to seek opinions on resource planning through a web-based survey; most cite that work or mobility impairment prevents their ability to attend meetings.  

Implications: County planners struggle to meaningfully engage residents even though land use decisions directly impact residents. Social work scientists can assist planning offices to be more thorough in eliciting citizen participation, yet web-based surveying is not the panacea of resident participation (Afzalan & Muller, 2018) as these results demonstrate a skewed sample of older, highly educated, White adults when compared to county-level Census data. Social work scientists have a role in educating officials in quality surveying methods and shaping human rights dialogue in county-level participation and decision making.