VoiceGR grades Grand Rapids

(File photo)


GRAND RAPIDS (WOOD) — How does Grand Rapids rate as a place to live? It depends on who you ask and where they’re from.

That’s what the results from Grand Valley State University’s annual VoiceGR survey suggest.

The survey has been around since 2001, and it gives a year-to-year snapshot of what people think about major issues like education, housing, employment, inclusion and health.

“Overall, people are still very happy with Grand Rapids,” said Dr. Jodi Peterson, director of GVSU’s Community Research Institute.

The survey numbers are meant as a guide for politicians and other policy makers when it comes to city issues.

“When you start breaking it down by demographics, characteristics and by different neighborhoods, you see differences there,” said Peterson.

One surprise from this year’s survey is the attitude toward crime in Grand Rapids. While crime rates have been on the decline in Grand Rapids in recent years, 15 percent of those who responded to the survey felt somewhat unsafe or very unsafe.

The number more than doubled in three years; seven percent of respondents felt that way in the 2013 survey.

Peterson suggests perceptions may play a role.

“You hear things like, people loitering or certain types of people hanging out. That idea of certain types of people hanging out could have to do with social cohesion,” she explained. “So it’s not actually crime that’s happening, but I’m seeing people in my neighborhood that I don’t know, and therefore, that makes me feel unsafe.”

Overall, 80 percent of those surveyed gave Grand Rapids an “A” or “B” rating for living. The survey shows white residents responded more positively about their communities, followed by Asian, multiracial, American Indian, Hispanic/Latino and black/African-American residents.

One of the biggest gaps has to do with the question of whether residents feel they’re part of the community. That particular part of the survey relied on the word “cohesiveness.”

“Cohesiveness is essentially, ‘Do you feel like you’re welcomed and you belong in your neighborhood?’” Peterson explained.

For many who took part in the survey, it was one of the city’s top strengths. For others, it one was of the biggest problems in their community.

“When you start breaking it down by demographics, characteristics and by different neighborhoods, you see differences there,” said Peterson.

Peterson suggests the great divide may have to do with the nature of each community.

“Are these transient neighborhoods, where maybe you don’t get to know your neighbor, because people are having high mobility? Are they neighborhood where crime rates are higher, or where people are feeling more unsafe?” Peterson asked.

The survey found areas with strong neighborhood associations fared better.

Peterson says the city is already taking steps to bridge the gap.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss has made equality a top priority. Along with increased efforts to address the issue, she’s putting together a plan to measure the strengths and weakness of city programs to make sure equity issues are being addressed.

Graduation rates for Grand Rapids Public Schools have increased nearly 50 percent since the district launched its Transformation Plan five years ago, a plan which heavily relied on community support.

“I think we already have a lot of good programs started.” says Peterson. “But yes, it will take time to see change in numbers.”

Residents can see results for all questions that apply to their neighborhood in the new VoiceGR neighborhood summaries available online.

The 2016 VoiceGR survey was conducted between June and December of last year.

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Online:

2016 VoiceGR survey results