Since taking my current job, people frequently ask, “how is it going downtown”? In typically Minnesotan fashion I usually respond with a short but enthusiastic, “just great” (leaving out “don’t ya know” since I was actually born in Iowa and am not totally fluent in Minnesota speak, even after living here 34 years).
Fortunately, due to the sixth annual Downtown Improvement District (DID) Perception Survey, I can offer facts to back up that optimistic outlook. The survey also reveals a few areas where “just great” probably isn’t the most accurate response, which only points us in the directions needing more work to make downtown a truly exceptional place.
First, about the survey. With the help of Wilder Research this year’s questionnaire was fine-tuned to help elicit the best, most informative responses possible. We will also be better able to compare year-over-year results from future surveys starting with 2013 as a baseline.
Between Nov. 19 and Dec. 31 of last year, 4180 individuals completed the DID survey. The largest percentage of respondents identified themselves as a downtown employee, although 26.4 percent were visitors and a growing number (18 percent, doubled from two years ago) were residents.
Here are some of the more interesting findings:
— Eighty-eight percent of people responding are downtown during the work day, but 36 percent also spend time after work and 78 percent visit downtown on weekends.
— Almost half of respondents (45 percent) reported no safety concern downtown. Of those who did identify an issue, loitering and panhandling were at the top of the list. (This a topic a broad based working group the Downtown Council has organized is tackling. More to come on their work in a future column.)
— When asked about their overall sense of safety, 79 percent of the 4,000-plus respondents felt safe downtown, an improvement from the response in 2012.
— Two-thirds reported no concerns about cleanliness. Eighty-eight percent felt that, overall downtown is clean. This compared to a response of 80 percent to a similar (but not exact) question in the 2012 survey, so the direction of change appear positive.
— Not surprisingly, DID Ambassadors are the most recognized service provided, followed by greening activities. Of the tasks accomplished by Ambassadors, greeting people and providing information/directions, and picking up litter and recycling were the most valued.
— Areas to work on are indicated by slightly lower scores for feeling of safety and quality of public realm in both the Warehouse District and Downtown East. As I mentioned earlier, this give us clear direction about areas for improvement, with plans to address these concerns like the one and three-fourths block open space as part of the Ryan Companies/Wells-Fargo project near the stadium site already in the works.
— Because of the focus on public engagement around planning for the new Nicollet Mall, the survey included several questions geared to help the design team with their work. Over 9,000 mall related responses were received and complied, far too much information to detail here. But by way of summary a word cloud analysis demonstrated the farmer’s market, restaurants and sidewall cafes, shopping and limited traffic were among the most favorite features of the mall today. Looking forward, respondents hope for more sidewalk space, retail, seating and greenery as the new design take shape.
I look forward to future surveys, which will enable us to track progress on important quality of life indicators for downtown. Meanwhile, these results give the MDC, DID and our many partners great information to direct our resources and efforts for the year. And they renew my faith that “just great” is a fine way to characterize the health of downtown Minneapolis!