Needham is a pretty great place to live.
That’s the overall finding of the town’s 2012 National Citizen Survey, a questionnaire sent out every two years to local residents to gauge satisfaction with town services and identify areas of improvement.
Ninety-seven percent of residents who responded to the survey rated the quality of life in Needham as “good” or excellent,” and 91 percent said they planned to remain in Needham for the next five years.
The survey was mailed to about 1,200 households in Needham in late April, with 542 surveys returned (a response rate of 48 percent), according to Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick, who presented the results to selectmen on Tuesday, Aug. 14, along with Needham Fire Chief Paul Buckley.
The survey is a collaboration between the National Research Center Inc. and the International City/County Management Association and is conducted by people not affiliated with Needham, Fitzpatrick said. The survey has been done twice before, in 2008 and 2010, and costs $9,500 per year.
One area of the survey that is valued highly by town officials is how residents feel about public safety, Fitzpatrick said. In the 2012 survey, 98 percent of residents felt the offered good or excellent service, while 94 percent gave the high marks.
Ninety-five percent said they felt somewhat to very safe in their neighborhoods after dark, with 99 percent saying they felt safe during the day. Ninety-four percent felt somewhat to very safe in downtown Needham after dark, with 98 percent feeling that way during the day.
Under the Department of Public Works, 52 percent of Needham residents rated street repair as good or excellent—up 13 percent from 2010. And 51 percent considered sidewalk maintenance to be good or excellent—an increase by 5 percent from the 2010 survey.
Fitzpatrick said the results could be evidence of the town’s ongoing plan to invest millions of dollars in public roadways.
“We’re seeing that people are happy. They’re happy here, and they’re happy with our services,” Fitzpatrick said.
Also under Public Works: 89 percent of survey respondents rated the town’s drinking water supply as good or excellent (no change from 2010); 77 percent rated storm drainage as good or excellent (up 10 percent from 2010); and 92 percent felt sewer services were good or excellent (up 6 percent from 2010).
Eight-five percent of respondents felt the overall appearance of Needham was good or excellent.
On the subject of parking, about half of the respondents felt Needham had an adequate amount of public parking.
Each town participating in the National Citizen Survey can select three questions that are unique. In Needham, one of those questions was related to parking, asking how easy it was to find parking when visiting Needham Center on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The results: Thirty-eight percent said “somewhat easy”; 22 percent said “somewhat difficult”; 15 percent said “very easy”; and 5 percent said “very difficult.” (Twenty percent felt the question was not applicable to them.)
The second question asked residents how often they visited Needham Center on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The results: Twenty-nine percent said they visited 1-2 days per week; 20 percent said 3-4 days per week; 16 percent said never; 13 percent said 1-3 days per month; 12 percent said less than one day per month; and 9 percent said every day (five days per week).
Fitzpatrick said the results were “sort of in the middle” regarding the ease of parking in the downtown area.
“I think we’re really going to have to delve into this a little more,” she said of the parking issue, which has drawn criticism in the past from some residents.
The third question unique to Needham asked residents how they felt about building a new outdoor pool at the site. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they would “somewhat” or “strongly” support the project. Nineteen percent said they would “strongly oppose” reconstruction of Rosemary Pool, and 15 percent said they would “somewhat oppose” it.
Fitzpatrick said the results don’t necessarily mean residents would support spending money on the project, but they do mean rebuilding the pool could be an option for the town to consider.
Here's a quick look at some of the other results of the 2012 National Citizen Survey:
- Ease of bike travel in Needham: 60 percent said good or excellent
- Ease of car travel in Needham: 79 percent said good or excellent
- Traffic flow in Needham: 51 percent said good or excellent
- Availability of paths and walking trails in Needham: 57 percent said good or excellent
- Cleanliness of Needham: 89 percent said good or excellent
- Recycled at least once in the last 12 months: 89 percent said good or excellent
- Quality of the natural environment: 84 percent said good or excellent
Parks and Recreation
- Recreational opportunities in town: 67 percent said good or excellent
- Quality of town parks: 89 percent said good or excellent
- Participation in recreational programs or activities in Needham: 62 percent participated in the last 12 months
- Quality of Needham's recreational programs or classes: 86 percent said good or excellent
Culture, Arts and Education
- Use of services: 88 percent used services in the past 12 months
- Quality of public library services: 94 percent said good or excellent
- Educational opportunities in Needham: 84 percent said good or excellent
- Quality of Needham Public Schools: 93 percent said good or excellent
- Needham's sense of community: 87 percent rated it good or excellent
- Needham as a place to raise children: 97 percent said good or excellent
- Needham as a place to retire: 59 percent said good or excellent
- Services to seniors: 78 percent rated services as good or excellent (up 12 percent from 2010)
- Services to youth: 79 percent rated services as good or excellent
- Opportunities to volunteer: 87 percent felt opportunities were good or excellent
- Attended local public meeting: 30 percent attended at least once in the last 12 months
- Watched local public meeting on TV: 38 percent said they watched in the last 12 months (down 8 percent from 2010)
Information and Awareness
- Visited town website (needhamma.gov): 71 percent said at least once in the last 12 months
- How useful is the town website for conducting business with the town? 63 percent said somewhat useful; 30 percent said very useful; 5 percent said not very useful; 2 percent said not at all useful
- Value of services for taxes paid in Needham: 67 percent said good or excellent (up 6 percent from 2010)
- Overall direction the town is taking: 70 percent said good or excellent (up 5 percent from 2010)
- Overall image or reputation of Needham: 95 percent said good or excellent
Trust in Levels of Government
- Level of trust in services provided by the town: 90 percent said good or excellent
- Level of trust in services provided by the state government: 52 percent said good or excellent (up 6 percent from 2010)
- Level of trust in services provided by the federal government: 55 percent said good or excellent (up 5 percent from 2010)
- Level of trust in services provided by Norfolk County government: 61 percent said good or excellent
- Had in-person or phone contact with town employees: 61 percent said within the last 12 months
- Overall impression of contact with town employees: 84 percent said good or excellent for contact within the last 12 months
See the full survey results as a PDF in the image gallery above or on the town website, needhamma.gov.