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'Be Well' survey, a collaborative effort

What does a good “quality of life” mean? Starting in the fall of 2021, the University District Organization and University Area Commission sought to analyze what was happening in their own backyard. The project team wanted to understand the quality, values, and culture of everyone who interacts with the University District. As one of the most diverse and exciting areas of Columbus, understanding the perspective of its occupants is critical. These organizations tapped NDC to help design and facilitate a public engagement process and survey to take the pulse on the quality of life of the District. This initiative led to the development of the BeWell Survey and public outreach.

University District is a collection of 13 neighborhoods and home to The Ohio State University.

To capture all voices, BeWell included three main components: a survey, guided discussions, and focus groups. Led by an advisory group, a series of focus groups and guided discussions with stakeholders were conducted to identify the state of the University District. This collaborative exercise gave perspective on the shared values of residents and visitors. Over seven months, the effort gathered nearly 500 survey responses and engaged approximately 65 stakeholders. The results have been analyzed and compiled in a report to be shared as a resource for community groups, local government, civic associations, The Ohio State University, and the City of Columbus.

BeWell process and schedule

The BeWell team asked people what they love about the District and what would make it better. Of the people who answered the survey, over 57 percent were residents, with 65 percent of those being homeowners. The survey responses mainly reflected the demographics of the district, with a high number of answers from white respondents (81 percent). In terms of age, the largest group was in the 25-34 age group (25 percent). Respondents were specifically asked about their level of satisfaction and opinions centered around specific themes: housing, transportation & mobility, neighborhood amenities, and community character. Questions like, “How likely (or unlikely) would you recommend…” asked respondents about living, visiting, or starting a business in the community. Additionally, respondents were asked to rank different aspects of quality of life in the district and supplement their responses by answering open-ended questions.

Summary of outreach and demographics who responded to the survey

The overall community sentiment on what is missing revealed three categories of concern: community safety, infrastructure improvements, and neighborhood development. Respondents had safety concerns but noted that increased police presence was unfavorable. Instead, respondents preferred solutions like community patrols, improved walkability, and better code enforcement for landlords and other big property owners. Principal infrastructure concerns and comments included the gap in safe pedestrian crossings, requests for improved lighting, and a resounding call to convert 4th Street and Summit Street to two-way traffic to encourage slower speeds.

As for neighborhood development, respondents wanted to improve relationships with their neighbors, representatives, and outside groups of influence. As continued growth and development occur and new residents move into the district, there are emerging social-economic and cultural differences calling for difficult and uncomfortable conversations to take place. Among desired improvements are community gathering spaces, dog parks, more green areas, benches, and areas to have informal meetings and run-ins. Respondents also hoped for more resources for families and individuals in the University District. Ultimately, this showed that respondents wanted to maintain the character of their neighborhood and support those who want to be part of it.

From these responses, the BeWell team began to understand the specific aspects contributing to one’s definition of “quality of life.” The University District offers opportunities to enjoy life in different ways. Its setbacks, identified by respondents, can impact whether or not the experience is viable. It is up to outside groups of influence and community leaders to truly understand these perspectives before moving levers that will continue to affect the residents and visitors of this unique area.

Results of the four focus group meetings held in each of the area districts

Moving forward, these insights will serve as valuable evidence when it comes to near- and long-term decision-making in the University District. The District is not immune to outside forces shifting affordability, housing shortages, and population changes. As such, it will be essential to address these concerns appropriately, keeping these perspectives in mind. These findings are summarized in a full report that will soon be published by the BeWell team. The University District Organization and University Area Commission will then set intermediate and long-term goals, including identifying projects to pursue based on these findings, building relationships among community leaders, and empowering each neighborhood to start and maintain improvement projects.

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