“Philadelphia residents complain about city services” is hardly breaking news, but that’s the main takeaway from the City’s most recent resident survey.
For the second time, the City worked with the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University to scientifically gauge the attitudes of residents on their experiences living in Philadelphia. The top issues residents identified as priorities were the conditions of streets, police and public safety, and education. In his second inaugural address, Mayor Jim Kenney said that the survey helped shape the administration’s priorities for the upcoming four years.
The City deserves credit — first, for conducting the survey. But it should also get credit for releasing the results in light of the fact the survey paints a picture of an unsatisfied populace. (The city would deserve even more kudos if they released the responses to a separate resident survey about the next police commissioner.)
Residents’ level of satisfaction with services has largely not budged since the previous survey two years ago. The most popular public safety services in both surveys were the Emergency Medical Services and the Fire department. The reputation of the police dipped slightly: The percent of residents who rated the services of the police department as “good or excellent” stayed around 50%, but the percent that rate them as “poor” increased about six points, to 17%. In both surveys, close to 30% of residents rated the police’s ability to prevent crime as “poor.”
Even though Kenney’s administration paved about 160 miles of road in the past two years and started a street cleaning pilot program, ratings for street, water, and sanitation services stayed pretty much flat. About half of residents rated the conditions of streets and street cleaning services as poor, just like two years ago.
Are the results a reflection of lack of progress or just a reflection of the Philly Shrug attitude, as columnist Helen Ubinas coined, it-is-what-it-is-cuz-it’s-always-been? It’s probably a combination of both.
But there is another explanation: Because of the low baseline Philadelphia starts from, the road ahead to improve the conditions of our streets, public safety, and schools seems so long that it dwarfs positive perceptions of improvements.
Philadelphia is safer than it was in the past but less safe than other large cities. Philadelphia’s poverty is slightly less than it was in the past but still the poorest large city. Philadelphia might be cleaner than it was in the past, but is still the only large city that doesn’t have a street sweeping program--- and the only one that has a nickname that includes the word “Filth.”
This page has argued in the past that the way to address these large problems is by setting ambitious and measurable goals. Kenney did that in the agenda for his second term -- including reducing homicides by 25% in four years. Further, in his inauguration speech, Council President Darrell Clarke set a goal of lifting 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty by 2024.