Saturday, January 06, 2007

Surveying Sarasota Residents

In the recent Pelican Press issue, Rick Barry has a story about the commissioners reaction to he latest City Survey. He writes:

Sarasota residents are sorely displeased with the general direction in which the city is moving, with its heavy traffic and the amount and density of new development. They dislike the quality of its drinking water - and don't think their leaders in City Hall are listening to them.

Those were among the findings of a citizen survey by a national organization based in Boulder, Colo., hired by the city to pinpoint problems.

Assistant City Manager Debra Figueroa formally presented the survey to the commission Tuesday afternoon.

The commissioners' reactions? Disbelief; much chuckling at citizen ignorance as reflected in contradictory answers; noting that some problems cited should more properly be blamed on the county or some other jurisdictions; and a general belief thing were going quite well, in reality.

The solution? Better "communication" - articles on the city Web site explaining how good the city's drinking water actually is - and generally more and better public relations.

Citizens' overwhelming dissatisfaction with permitting so many high-rise condominiums and large-scale retail development downtown was downplayed as residents' failure to grasp that the city is merely fulfilling its role in the "New Urbanism" approach to concentrating growth in urban areas as an antidote to sprawl in the suburbs beyond.

Check the entire article.

I attended the presentation and also took notes. Some of my notes about the reaction to the survey:

Shelin: the low score on park maintenance is because of county, not city. We can't interpret this - not enough data points to see if there is a trend, this is only the difference between perception and reality, absolutely disagrees with comment that Sarasota does not listen to citizens - the commission must communicate that there is more than one master (business, etc) to serve and only one group thinks no one listens.

Bilyeu: While the survey seems to show that long time residents say that development is too much and we are going in the wrong direction, he belives that long time residents are probably OK with change except for those that cannot accept change; not enough difference in year to year change (presenter indicated that 4% or more change year to year was statistically different) and that 5% wasn't enough for him.

Servian: need to look at response to open ended questions. We need to ask the right open ended questions. City doesn't communicate what it is doing. McNees: city is not teaching citizens that city is anti-sprawl.

Atkins: this is not a reflection of what the city has done, it reflects more about what the area (county) is doing, the community, not the city.

Shelin: in order to improve we need to know the basic concerns, this takes analysis and many years of surveying. McNees response: important to resist cause and effect for a particular data point, need years and years to see trends.

Bilyeu: we should take down the statue "nobody is listening". Servian: yes, that was a response to the Viet Nam war, now everyone thinks it is a commentary on city hall.

Palmer: I think we have a problem here, I don't think we should react quickly and agree we need to continue surveying...

The video of the discussion is available on the city web site (starts about 18 minutes from start.) Mike McNees has commented on the article by Rick Barry on the City Managers Blog. He disagrees with the article.

And so it goes... makes you think about the story of the emperor that had no clothes.

In the same issue of the Pelican the City Manager, Mike McNees says the city really is listening. Also, M C Coolidge (aka Reality Chick) says:

Sarasota was a simple city with soul - a partly cultivated, partly serendipitous confluence of artists, farmers and ranchers, the winter "snowbirds," tourist and service industry workers and professionals, retirees, and families.....

Meanwhile, Sarasota's decision-makers continue on their quest to make Sarasota into a world-class "destination." Only just like the Botoxed brows and pumped-up poitrines of our populace, the changes are all superficial. We're selling out old-world grit and real glamour for a nouveau-riche development mindset of blitzed-out glitz....

Sarasota's changing. Decisions are being made faster than they have to be and the results are causing more collateral damage - to our people, our wildlife, our natural environment - than they have to. We're losing too many of the things that matter, and gaining a lot of things that never will.

Well said. Straight from the soul.

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