Op Ed City Budget

Why we're asking New Yorkers to assess the quality of life in their neighborhoods

January 24, 2017
New York Daily News

Essential to the competitiveness of any city are the effective delivery of municipal services and the quality of life in its neighborhoods. Those attributes must be understood both through performance measures and through public perception. It's not enough, for instance, to demonstrate that crime is low. The public must also feel safe. For competitiveness, perception is crucial.

That's why the Citizens Budget Commission earlier this month launched a citywide resident survey to gauge New Yorkers' views of municipal services and quality of life. 72,000 New Yorkers selected at random from all five boroughs and each community district will receive this survey in the mail. If you receive it, please fill it out and send it back so your voice will be heard.

CBC has long maintained that regular citywide surveys should be used as a management tool. The City of New York conducted a similar comprehensive survey in 2008, but it has not been repeated. That's what spurred us to action.

We believe that a survey should be conducted every two years — or every four years at the least — and preferably by a non-governmental entity. While it's tempting to think that the city should conduct the survey, as it did eight years ago, that leaves the timing of any survey, as well as its questions, to the political preferences of City Hall. And, as is evident, a subsequent survey has not been a government priority.

We also believe that a survey should be conducted early in every mayoral election year, when the public focuses especially on city government's performance. That's why we are conducting the survey now.

The survey questions do not, however, mention any government official by name or office. They are intended solely to gauge public perception of city services and quality of life.

The households participating in the survey have received it and will be receiving reminders this week to complete it. Recipients can answer its questions in hard copy or online. They can also request the survey in one of three languages other than English — Chinese (traditional and simplified), Spanish or Russian — or can go online and complete the survey in any of those languages.

The survey is being conducted by the same expert research firm that conducted the 2008 version, the National Research Center, in order to benefit from their experience. By fielding many of the same questions, the survey will also track changes in residents' views since that time.

The results will be made public by June at the latest. CBC hopes to field similar surveys regularly in the future.

Tracking public perceptions over time and on a regular basis will provide a valuable civic tool, reflecting not how City Hall assesses the delivery of its services and the city's quality of life but how residents of our neighborhoods judge them. The scope will allow residents to see how their perceptions compare with those of residents in other neighborhoods and illuminate for City Hall where its services — and the quality of life — are most and least appreciated.

If your household receives this survey, please fill it out. You have a crucial role to play in helping keep New York a great place for everyone to live and work.