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The Biggest Takeaway from the 2014 Dallas Community Survey: We're Not Getting Worse

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Digging through the this year's community survey, which you can see in full below, is like looking at one of those magic eye posters. You have to look past it to see what is really going on.

On its face, the results of the survey are positive. The survey's "major findings:"

  1. "Residents generally have a positive perception of the City"
  2. "While there are some differences for specific services, overall satisfaction with City services is about the same in most areas of the City"
  3. "The City of Dallas is setting the standard for service delivery compared to other large cities"
  4. "The City continues to maintain high overall satisfaction ratings even though the results for most other large U.S. cities have decreased"
  5. "Although the City is generally heading in the right direction, there are still opportunities for improvement"

"Opportunities for improvement" puts it very lightly, especially with regard to how Dallasites feel about about the city's government and schools. Fewer than half of residents surveyed agreed with any of the following statements: I receive good value for the taxes I pay; city government welcomes citizen involvement; city employees are ethical in conducting business; Dallas city government listens to citizens.

The rampant distrust of city government evident in the findings is not presented as such. Positive response rates to the survey's questions about city government are compared to those of previous years. They haven't declined, so the city must be doing great, the results presentation to be given to the City Council on Wednesday implies. That only 31 percent of people in Dallas thinks their city government listens to them seems like it should be cause for immediate concern. But what would we know, we also think the most powerful person in a city should be elected, which is just crazy.

As you can see on the presentation's 16th slide, much of the negative sentiment expressed in the survey is concentrated in southern Dallas, which is disheartening but not surprising. Same goes for residents' perception of Dallas public schools. Only 27 percent of Dallasites rated them "excellent" or "good."

2014 Dallas Community Survey Results

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