Focus on Allentown: Quality of Life

Written by: Samantha Shaak, Scott Hoke, Hannah Clark, & Hasshan Batts

Surveys can help us understand a lot about our community. From capturing community concerns about changes in our neighborhoods to identifying future opportunities, recent survey efforts by organizations across Allentown each tell us something about how those who live, work, and play in Allentown are feeling about the community.

This series, entitled Focus on Allentown, highlights some of the key findings from three recent survey efforts in Allentown. The aim of the Focus on Allentown series is to identify common trends and identify collective actions we can take to enhance our city.  The surveys included in the Focus on Allentown series are from Allentown Promise Neighborhood, Upside Allentown, and Allentown Vision 2030 during 2017 and 2018.

The first story in the Focus on Allentown series looks at Allentonian’s quality of life. As the redevelopment in downtown Allentown has expanded, those who are invested in Allentown’s future want to know how the redevelopment has impacted the quality of life and what additional investments would further improve the quality of life. The Allentown Promise Neighborhood, Upside Allentown, and Allentown Vision 2030 all included quality of life questions in their survey efforts, and, while there are some differences in the messages heard from these three sources, there is a consistent message across all demographics and response groups about the need for a community focus on safety and the educational system in Allentown.

Below key quality of life findings from each survey are highlighted:

Allentown Vision 2030 (Fall 2018):

  • The Allentown Vision 2030 survey obtained input from residents across the entire city of Allentown as well as those who work in Allentown.
  • Respondents were asked to select the top three investments that should be made to improve quality of life and respondents felt investments should be made in safety and security (48%), public schools (34%), and affordable housing (29%).
  • Figure 1 shows survey respondents comfort level with a variety of services and amenities in Allentown. Comfort levels in public safety spaces and education and childcare spaces were among the lowest by respondents of the survey.
Figure 1. Allentown Vision 2030 Survey

Upside Allentown (2017):

  • Upside Allentown surveyed those who lived in the areas in and around Center City Area. Despite the smaller footprint, the responses were similar to those from Allentown Vision 2030. 
  • Community members pointed to three areas for continued investment to improve quality of life in center city Allentown: quality of services & opportunities for children, community/neighborhood appeal, and community relations and public safety.
    • Quality of services and opportunities for children:  Nearly 66% reported that center city was poor or average for raising children, pointing to the quality of childcare in Center City and to poor perceptions of the school district. Respondents also highlighted that the availability of facilities for recreational activities is often lacking.
    • Community and neighborhood appeal: Questions highlighted a need for a focus on street cleanliness and appearance and improved options for affordable, quality housing.
    • Community relations and public safety:  Over 33% of respondents expressed that they did not enjoy their neighbors and over half would like better opportunities to engage in social activities with neighbors or through community organizations.

Allentown Promise Neighborhood (Summer 2018):

  • Survey respondents were residents from four census tracts located in Center City Allentown. The survey results suggest that having a child or children in the home (N = 506) influences the way a resident feels about issues surrounding the quality of life and public safety.
Figure 2. PNLV 2018 Survey
  • As Figure 2 shows, when asked whether behaviors, such as gang activity or drug selling, were happening in their communities, residents who had children in the home thought these behaviors were occurring at higher percentages than those who did not have children, with the exception of alcohol use.  
  • 40% of respondents who have children in the home, reported that someone was a victim of a crime in the past 12 months, while only 20% of households without children reported being victimized.
  • Among those who reported having children in the home, only 33% said they felt safe having their children walk to school alone.             

What are these surveys telling us about quality of life in Allentown?

Findings from the Allentown Vision 2030 and Upside Allentown surveys show that those who live and work in Allentown overwhelmingly are asking for improved safety and cleanliness in the neighborhoods in Allentown as well as safe and quality spaces for children to learn and play. This narrative is deepened when you look at the responses to the Allentown Promise Neighborhood survey, suggesting that the desire for a focus on safety and schools may be even stronger among the families with children living in the area than other groups.

The quality of life findings from these surveys provide a starting point for a collaboration between residents, parents and caregivers, the City, nonprofits, community organizations, private sector, and institutional partners to co-create programs and strategies to enhance quality of life for all residents of Allentown. The surveys confirm the conversations many of us have around our dinner tables, in our places of worship, with our public officials, and in our community spaces – feeling safe in our communities, particularly in regard to our youth, is a top priority for a high quality of life in Allentown.

There is an opportunity to create community-led, place-based solutions to enhancing public safety and creating welcoming neighborhoods for all ages. The City of Allentown has a major role to play – from advancing community policing efforts in the Allentown Police Department to facilitating neighborhood planning and community capacity building through the Allentown Vision 2030 Plan. However, what will be key to the success of creating safe neighborhoods is collaborative partnerships between residents, community-based organizations, nonprofit partners, corporate partners, and institutions in order to advance real projects and actions in our neighborhoods. We all can contribute to a part of the solution.

Author Affiliations:
Samantha Shaak, Lehigh Valley Health Network Department of Community Health
Scott Hoke, Cedar Crest College
Hannah Clark, City of Allentown
Hasshan Batts, Allentown Promise Neighborhood