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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Area Residents Rate Hampton Roads Quality of Life Higher In New ODU Survey

After recording perceptions of an overall decline in the quality of life in Hampton Roads between 2010 and 2011, an annual survey conducted by Old Dominion University's Social Science Research Center (SSRC) reveals that area residents are starting to feel a bit more optimistic about living conditions in the region.

For the third straight year, the center conducted a comprehensive telephone survey to gauge perceptions and attitudes on a variety of local issues, ranging from transportation (including light rail) to the environment to crime.

The principal goal of the Life in Hampton Roads survey is to gauge the relative satisfaction among residents regarding life in the region. This year, 762 completed interviews were obtained via calls to randomly selected residents of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth and Suffolk between June 2 and Aug. 10.

From 2010 to 2011, the surveys reported a 21.3 percentage point drop in local respondents' positive perception of quality of life in the region (from 80.5 percent to 59.2 percent). In this year's poll, however, that figure began to rebound, with 68.4 percent of the residents surveyed rating the quality of life in the region as either "excellent" or "good." From this year's survey, 85.3 percent also rated the quality of life in their neighborhoods as excellent or good.

"There is good news from a variety of perspectives in this survey," said Jesse Richman, SSRC director. "Overall, the quality of life rating is higher this year than last year."

Respondents were asked to provide a reason as to why they rated the quality of life in Hampton Roads as they did. Those who responded "good" or "excellent" often cited the variety of things to do in the area, such as cultural and recreational events. Other common responses were that the quality of life in Hampton Roads is better compared to other areas of the country; that there are adequate employment and job opportunities; and that the area is relatively safe. Those who rated the quality of life as "poor" or "fair" often cited unemployment or lack of jobs; issues regarding crime or the police; and traffic congestion.

When asked to rate economic conditions in Hampton Roads, the 2012 survey respondents were relatively optimistic compared to previous years. In the current-year survey, 62.2 percent indicated that economic conditions are either "fair" or "poor," compared with 75.6 percent in 2011 and 66.5 percent in 2010.

The perception of the Hampton Roads economic situation was not rated as low as the perception of the U.S. economy as a whole, however: 84.2 percent responded "fair" or "poor" in 2012, compared with 90 percent in 2011, and 86.6 percent in 2010, to the question about the country's economic status.

Questions regarding neighborhoods and crime found that 88.7 percent strongly agreed or agreed that they were satisfied with the police in general. Additionally, 78.8 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that local police were doing a good job in working with residents to solve neighborhood problems. Only 6 percent of respondents stated that in the past 12 months they or a member of their household had been a victim of a serious crime.

Both Richman and Tancy Vandecar-Burdin, SSRC associate director, noted modest improvements this year in terms of respondents' perceptions of government waste. "There was a slightly higher percentage of people saying that at both the local and state levels, governments are using public resources wisely," Vandecar-Burdin said.

Still, on the questions about evaluating the effective use of public resources by local and state government, the majority of respondents generally felt that both local and state government waste a fair amount of resources rather than use them wisely (58.9 percent for local government, and 65.4 percent for state government).

Among other interesting findings from this year's survey was the "depth of support for the extension of light rail," Richman said.

Approximately 90 percent of respondents indicated they would like to see the area's light rail system extended. The top three expansion destinations given were: Virginia Beach oceanfront (75.3 percent), Virginia Beach Town Center (58 percent) and the Norfolk Naval Base (55.7 percent). Asked how expansion should be funded, respondents gave the following answers: increase the sales tax (22.6 percent); borrow money (19.2 percent); and increase the fuel tax (10.1 percent). Thirty percent of the respondents specified something "other" and 17.9 percent replied, "don't know."

Since the debut of The Tide, 20.2 percent of respondents said they had ridden on it, but only 2.3 percent said they had ridden the system more than once a week during the six-month period prior to the survey.

Another interesting finding in the area of transportation had to do with awareness of impending tolls in the region. "We found that nearly a third of respondents had not heard there were plans afoot to put tolls on the tunnels," Richman said.

Richman said he also found it interesting that while 37.4 percent of survey respondents indicated they are concerned that sea level rise in Hampton Roads will affect them personally, a significantly higher percentage (62.2 percent) were concerned about sea level rise in the rest of the world.

"I thought that was kind of striking and somewhat puzzling, given the vulnerability of the area, particularly since it has been ranked second only to New Orleans among U.S. metropolitan areas vulnerable to sea level rise," he said.

Other questions in the 2012 Life in Hampton Roads Survey covered political issues, health and education, housing, neighborhood issues, military life and basic demographic information.

Funded this year by the ODU Office of Research and the Dean's Office of the College of Arts and Letters, the random-sample survey offers ODU faculty access to data to assist in their own research as well as provides information that can be used by local and regional planners and other organizations.

Vandecar-Burdin and Richman received approximately 100 suggestions for survey questions from ODU faculty members this year. Information from the 2012 survey was released to the faculty on Monday, Sept. 17. "We encourage them to take advantage of the data for their own scholarly research and for use in class presentations and student projects," Vandecar-Burdin noted.

Local governments, as well as a variety of civic groups and agencies, also are typically interested in the survey results.

"We are working hard to develop a funding stream for future years of the survey," Richman said. "We think it's an important resource for the region and for the faculty at Old Dominion."

For more information visit the SSRC website at http://al.odu.edu/ssrc.

About the Survey Demographics

Of the 762 citizens interviewed, 56.3 percent were white, 30 percent black or African American, 3 percent considered themselves to be another race/ethnicity, and 3.9 percent indicated they were multiracial.

Just under half of the respondents received a high school diploma, completed trade or professional school, or attended some college (47.5 percent). An additional 37.7 percent of respondents completed an undergraduate or graduate degree.

Almost half of respondents were married (49 percent) and fewer than 17 percent were divorced, separated or widowed (16.6 percent). Just over one-quarter of those surveyed were single and not living with a partner (27.7 percent), while a small portion of single people did report living with a partner (6.5 percent).

The majority of respondents lived in Virginia Beach (30.1 percent), Norfolk (16.3 percent) and Chesapeake (16.2 percent). The majority of survey participants were employed (67 percent), 13.7 percent worked part time and 53.3 percent reported that they worked full time. Of the remaining respondents, 15.3 percent were retired, 8.3 percent were unemployed but looking for work, and 9.2 percent were not employed and not looking for work.

Nearly 15 percent (14.3 percent) of participants in the survey reported their family household income for last year as $30,000 or less, while 32.9 percent earned more than $80,000.

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