Survey Says: Negative City Perceptions Abound

The Urban Phoenix has begun a series of small “initial” single-question surveys through Google Surveys in an effort to gain and share knowledge with regard to how people perceive our cities today.  Note that the data below cannot be considered “statistically significant” (mostly due to a relatively small sample size) enough to make any formal conclusions, but we can make some basic assessments from the results that might guide future research.

I typically approach urbanism from a perception-based standpoint.  After all, if we want to transition our cities to a more humanistic model, one based around people instead of cars, skyscrapers and concrete, we have to understand people and how they see the world around them.

In a recent Urban Phoenix online survey of 334 random participants in the United States, we asked the question “What Do You Think Of When You Hear The Word “City?”  The answers to select from included 3 “negative” options (congestion, dirty, crime) and 3 “positive” options (family, home, pretty).

Of the respondents, 61.7% gave a negative response, compared with 38.3% who gave a favorable one. This number alone suggests that the general perception of our cities is still lagging, despite a resurgence of urban culture and development.

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“Congestion” (negative answer) was by far the most common response at 41.3%. Coming in second was the positive response of “Home” at a distant 26.3%.

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Finally, the shocking number in this group of answers was the incredibly low percentage of participants who said “Family” was the word they associated with cities, at 1.7%. This abysmal number indicates just how far we are from seeing our cities as places where family life is even possible.  This is likely due to our struggling city schools and higher-than-suburban crime rates, even though crime in most cities has drastically decreased since 1990.

An admitted flaw in the “positive” options offered in this survey is that two answers might be construed as similar, “home” and “family.” In retrospect, a choice that included “fun” or “entertainment” might have garnered different results.

While not statistically significant, the data clearly suggests that our “view” of cities is still one that revolves around negative connotations. The dominance of the “congestion” response implies that most Americans want more space and less noise, factors we need to consider when we make decisions about our cities going forward.