This week, the Pensacola Young Professionals released their 2015 Quality of Life survey. Now in its eighth year, this important annual poll gives us a wealth of data. This year’s survey, conducted on June 11-16 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, used a sample of 800 registered Escambia County voters, selected at random and constructed to reflect the demographics of the county.
A lot has happened in eight years: both the city and county governments have seen major leadership changes, including the City of Pensacola’s adoption in 2009 of a new city charter and strong mayor form of government; the economy has stabilized and unemployment continues to drop; and all across the region, we’ve seen a surge of development and investment as confidence continues to grow.
Here are our top five takeaways from this year’s survey:
1. People feel good about Pensacola & Escambia County.
There’s no denying the momentum felt by many city and county residents. Seventy-nine percent of City residents believe the city is headed in the right direction, a more than 300% increase since the first Quality of Survey in 2008, when a majority of residents felt that both the city and county were on the wrong track.
On the County side, the numbers are a tad less enthusiastic, but still mark a dramatic swing since 2008. Countywide, 61 percent of respondents said they feel Escambia County is headed in the right direction.
2. People have confidence in Mayor Hayward and County leadership.
Despite the Pensacola News Journal‘s best attempts to convince us that citizens are up in arms and demanding answers about whichever manufactured controversy is featured on their editorial pages, the data simply doesn’t bear it out.
Seventy-six percent of City residents approve of Mayor Ashton Hayward’s job performance, one of Hayward’s best figures in the five years since he took office as mayor.
“I’m incredibly humbled by the results of the PYP poll,” said Hayward. “Pensacola is continuing to thrive due to the private and public sector partnerships that are growing our economy and moving Pensacola upward. Pensacola is continuing to make strides in leading Northwest Florida.”
As with the right track/wrong track metric, residents of the county’s unincorporated areas are a little more lukewarm, but countywide, a majority of residents — 51% — are confident in Escambia County’s vision and leadership. While only 39% of residents gave the County Commission a good or excellent rating, another 43% said commissioners were doing a “fair” job.
3. Jobs and the economy are still everyone’s top issue, but it’s getting better.
In every one of the eight Quality of Life surveys done since 2008, Escambia residents have named jobs and the economy as their top issue, but progress is being made. In 2008, just 13% of those surveyed rated Escambia’s economic conditions as good or excellent; in 2015, that number is 34 percent. Forty percent of those surveyed this year believe that Escambia’s economy will be better off five years from now, compared to just 30% back in 2008.
4. Public transit sucks.
Less than a third of Escambia residents rated public transportation as good or excellent, while 64% called it “poor” or “just fair.” Public transportation has been a perennial lowlight in the Quality of Life surveys, never once achieving a satisfaction rating of more than 32% in eight years.
To its credit, Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) is taking some steps to modernize its offerings and provide additional customer benefits, including the addition of Wi-Fi to all buses and the introduction of a new real-time bus locator app. ECAT should also focus on optimizing routes, decreasing rider wait times, and finding ways to move people from point-to-point more quickly.
5. The availability of affordable housing continues to be an issue.
Affordable housing has been another persistent low point in the data, and that trend continues this year. Just 37% of respondents gave the availability of affordable housing a positive rating, with a strong majority calling it either “poor” or “just fair.”
As Pensacola continues to grow, encouraging and incentivizing affordable housing — especially in and around Pensacola’s resurgent downtown — needs to be a top priority of local government. The addition of Quint and Rishy Studer’s 260-unit development on East Romana Street is a definite step in the right direction, but City and County leadership should do more to promote infill development and neighborhood revitalization.