Written by: Hannah Clark, Hasshan Batts, Samantha Shaak, & Scott Hoke
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 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 (Hub Homepage).
The first two stories in the series presented data about quality of life and housing-related issues in Allentown. In these stories, we highlighted community members’ suggestion that further investments should be made to address safety and education. The surveys also showed that community members, who both rent and own properties in Allentown, are often remaining in the city for many years and would like to stay in Allentown. To further enhance the understanding of Allentown residents’ lived experience, this story focuses on the services and amenities accessible to residents in their neighborhoods. Being able to easily access necessary services, such as medical care and healthy foods, as well as neighborhood amenities like parks, playgrounds, and cultural institutions can affect residents’ health and well-being as well as create connections within the community .
This story explores community perspectives on access to essential services (such as healthcare and childcare) and amenities (such as parks and cultural institutions). The three surveys asked about a wide range of services, but we concentrate our discussion on those services that were included in at least two of the three surveys: childcare, parks and recreation, and healthcare services. Since the three surveys are at different scales within the Allentown Community, i.e.
- the specific area of Center City, and
- the specific neighborhood of the Promise Neighborhood,
the core question of this story is: Are the opinions residents have about the city as a whole similar to those they have about the individual neighborhoods they live in?
Accessing services and amenities is not just about physical proximity but includes feeling welcome and comfortable while using them. The Allentown Vision 2030 city-wide survey asked residents to identify the aspects, elements, or amenities in the city that each felt most comfortable using or accessing. Figure 1 shows the results to this set of questions, showing, at a city level, respondents felt most comfortable utilizing: arts and cultural amenities, healthcare, and parks/open spaces.
Figure 2 shows The Upside Allentown survey results, which focused on Center City Allentown residents. In that survey, “Access to amenities” was identified by nearly half of city residents as being one of the things they liked most about living in Center City.
Parks and Recreational Spaces
The Allentown Vision 2030 Survey asked residents to identify priorities for investment in neighborhood infrastructure. Close to 50% of respondents in the citywide survey identified the category of parks, entertainment, recreation, and bike/walking friendly paths and streets as areas for investment and improvement in their neighborhoods. The responses to these two questions show residents’ comfort level with parks and recreational area, but also their recognition that they could be improved to make them even better.
The Upside Allentown Survey found that 62% of center city residents said they live within walking distance to parks and open spaces, making it one of the highest percentages reported. Figure 3 displays how center city residents rated the public parks in comparison to other elements of the neighborhood infrastructure, and most felt that they were average or good.
While residents in the Center City neighborhood feel they have access to and are comfortable in the parks and open spaces, Figure 3 highlights there might be room for improving the condition of these spaces – a sentiment also reflected at the citywide scale in the Allentown Vision 2030 survey.
The Upside Allentown survey asked Center City residents to evaluate parks and open spaces in more detail. As shown in Figure 4, residents felt that areas of “active recreation” needed more attention than areas of “passive recreation”, such as parks and walking trails. A greater percentage of neighborhood residents rated active recreation areas as “poor” and fewer rated it as “excellent”. This type of detail at the neighborhood level can help city officials prioritize planning and development of neighborhood improvement projects.
Access to Healthcare
The Allentown Vision 2030 survey results also indicated that Allentown residents are comfortable accessing healthcare services in the city in addition to the parks and recreation facilities (Figure 1). Nearly 50% of respondents reported being “somewhat comfortable” or “most comfortable” with that service, and only about 20% of respondents reported being “somewhat uncomfortable” or “mostly uncomfortable” with their access to healthcare.
The Promise Neighborhood survey provides further information about perception of access to healthcare in the Promise Neighborhood section of Center City. Figure 5 shows that nearly 33% of respondents noted they needed greater access to either dental, medical, and mental health care. From the perspective of the residents of this neighborhood, access to quality healthcare seems to be a more pressing issue than it is for the residents of the city as a whole. This data speaks to the importance of looking more closely at the needs of citizens within specific neighborhoods or sections of the city.
Given the growing importance of tele-medicine in the post COVID-19 era, 38% of respondents to the Promise Neighborhood survey indicated that they did not have access to the internet in their homes. Of those who did not have access, 4 in 10 indicated that the reason was because the service was too costly. Understanding broadband access would seem to be an important issue to address in future neighborhood planning.
Access to Child Care
In the city-wide survey conducted by Allentown Vision 2030, respondents were least comfortable with accessing child care (Figure 1). This discomfort takes on greater meaning when assessing the use of childcare services across different neighborhoods. In the Promise Neighborhood area of Center City, a third of residents who have children under age 5 reported that their child or children were enrolled in early child care or preschool programming.
The Upside Allentown survey similarly reported that the perception of quality and affordable childcare is an issue in the Center City neighborhoods. More than twice as many respondents noted that their perception of affordable and quality day care was “poor” or “average” as compared to those who rated it “good” to “excellent” (Figure 6). The importance of childcare that is high quality, accessible, and affordable is both an issue experienced citywide as well as within individual and neighborhoods.
Allentown residents felt most comfortable with access to services and amenities such as those surrounding healthcare, parks, recreation, and open spaces. However, as this story and the others in this series have shown, residents can think differently about their individual, smaller neighborhoods than they do about the city as a whole. The differences in city-wide and neighborhood specific results suggests that there is value in understanding the opinions and attitudes of both populations. It is important for city and community leaders to support the larger city community while ensuring that the smaller neighborhoods maintain their vibrant, individual identities. A more comprehensive survey process would identify how opinions and attitudes shift within the changing social landscape.
Hannah Clark, City of Allentown
Hasshan Batts, Allentown Promise Neighborhood
Samantha Shaak, Lehigh Valley Health Network Department of Community Health
Scott Hoke, Cedar Crest College