Op Ed City Budget

Inside New Yorkers’ Satisfaction, or Lack Thereof, with City Services

June 01, 2017
Gotham Gazette masthead

Read the original op-ed here.

New Yorkers are notoriously opinionated, but how often do they get to tell city leaders what they think?

In January the Citizens Budget Commission surveyed 72,000 randomly selected households across the five boroughs to ask about satisfaction with city services and quality of life. More than 10,000 New Yorkers responded and the results speak loudly about the areas where city leaders must focus on improvement.

Overall only 44% of city residents rate city services as “excellent” or “good.” New Yorkers are most dissatisfied with services for homeless people (14% positive), public housing (20%), services protecting at-risk children (23%), and maintenance of streets and roads (39%). Only 20% believe the City spends tax dollars wisely.

Only half of New Yorkers are satisfied with quality of life in the city overall. Grievances include traffic, air quality, street noise, and rat control. Respondents identified infrastructure, safety, housing, and traffic/mobility as the most important issues requiring greater attention from city government.

Demographic information collected also reveal disparities in ratings between white non-Hispanic residents and Hispanic and black residents. White residents are generally more satisfied than Hispanic and black residents: On 13 of 45 indicators, the disparities in ratings exceed 12 percentage points. For example, 74 percent of white residents were satisfied with their neighborhood as a place to live compared to 50 percent of Hispanic and black residents.

These data provide a valuable management tool to citywide elected leaders, and the Citizens Budget Commission will be analyzing and releasing community board results in coming weeks that will prove useful to local elected leaders, as well.

Surveys gauging satisfaction with city services should be a regular part of how the city does business, but city agencies rarely ask their customers to rate their performance. The results add an important lens to the reams of management data regularly collected and reported; these metrics may not be calibrated to capture results that residents actually care about. For example, the Parks Department consistently states that cleanliness and condition of its parks and playgrounds is acceptable in 85% of cases; however, approximately 55% of New Yorkers rate neighborhood playgrounds and parks positively.

The City of New York conducted a broad citywide satisfaction survey only once before, in 2008. CBC believes city government should conduct such a survey regularly to capture vital insights that can guide administrators in improving government performance. The Mayor and City Council should now create and make public a plan for improvement in the areas that city residents found wanting.