A new survey released last week reveals that despite record homelessness, an increasing income gap and slow job growth, New Yorkers see the bright side of living in New York City. For the third consecutive year of the MAS Survey on Livability, 84 percent of respondents say they are quite satisfied living here.
Comparing borough responses to 2011, satisfaction in 2012 increased the most in Queens, jumping from 77 to 85 percent. That good feeling in Manhattan dipped from 91 to 88 percent; rose in Brooklyn from 87 to 90 percent; fell in the Bronx to 75 from 77 percent; and remained steady in Staten Island at 77 percent.
The poll, conducted by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) in partnership with the Marist Institute, also shows that the most common concerns across boroughs are employment opportunities, safety, housing options and cost of living.
By asking questions on overall satisfaction with life in New York, particular services, housing and cultural amenities, as well as where priorities should be placed, the MAS sees the survey as a “roadmap for how to build a better city,” said Vin Cipolla, president of MAS.
The survey announcement kicked off the Municipal Art Society’s third Summit for New York City , a gathering of policymakers, funders and community leaders that looks at issues such as infrastructure, sustainability and cultural concerns in a kind of “urbanism bootcamp,” as Cipolla quipped at the summit at Jazz at Lincoln Center. MAS invited a panel to specifically respond to the survey results, and for the most part, they expressed surprise at the level of optimism.
With the amphitheater’s sunny open view onto Columbus Circle, a roster of 90 speakers not shy to politely disagree with one another and the 1,300-odd respondents represented in the survey, the summit managed to conjure up the ancient ideal of an engaged democracy setting an agenda.
Speaking to the survey’s top concern about jobs, in his keynote speech Deputy Mayor Robert Steel called the city’s level of unemployment “unacceptable,” while at the same time extolling that the city had recovered 200 percent of the jobs it lost in the recent recession and that it now has 3.3 million private sector jobs — more than any other time in the city’s history.
A majority of survey respondents in four boroughs agreed that large real estate development is good because it creates jobs and new places to shop (Staten Island stood out for having only 44 percent agree with that view). That sort of feedback plays to the Bloomberg administration, which is pushing for a Midtown East rezoning to allow for much more office space, calling it crucial to keeping the area a premiere business address and tax base. Steele focused on the rezoning in his speech and a panel discussion later in the afternoon reflected the differing opinions on how to direct growth in Midtown East.
The public’s priorities and Bloomberg’s are in alignment when it comes to higher education. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said being a city with major universities and high quality colleges was a top priority; creating world-class ground transportation was a close second, with 61 percent calling it a top priority. Steel cited that New York at least has the numbers in higher learning.
“With 600,000 post-secondary students, New York is by far the largest college town in America,” he said. As has been reported, Bloomberg looks to the new applied science campuses across the city to create start-up jobs in the future.
In a panel discussion on the survey, Richard Kahan, CEO of the Urban Assembly, a network of small NYC public schools, said that it was missing comments on socio-economic policies. “We have greatest disparity of income and one-third of our kids live in poverty and that number is growing,” he stated plainly.
“The way public services are delivered and where things are built…you get different level of service and placement of infrastructure [compared to] down here,” he said, referring to the Columbus Circle area.
Ruth Finkelstein, senior vice president of the New York Academy of Medicine, brought up survey demographics.
“I looked at the breakdown of answers by level of education and income and by age and striking to me was the fact that income and education were larger drivers than race or ethnicity or age” in poll responses, she said.
“The survey showed hunger to see the city improve,” she continued. “The strength of support for world class colleges and universities was highest among African-Americans, Latinos and older adults.”
The moderator of the panel, Pat Kiernan of NY1, voiced a consensus when he said, especially in terms of transportation projects, “There’s a sense in some of these answers that [New Yorkers] will tolerate inconveniences if they know the real benefits.”
Finkelstein agreed, but with a caveat: “A participatory process is extremely important. People in New York know the difference in what appears to be participatory, and what can really shape the outcome.”