Rockridge Vision Survey: Comparing Rockridge Today to "Ideal' Urban Setting

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Knowing what Rockridge residents value most about our corner of Oakland, and what they see as priorities for the future can help the neighborhood meet the challenges of change.

RCPC has been organizing conversations and collecting data from residents over the past couple of years about how they describe aspects of the neighborhood, their vision for the future, and their communication practices. Most recently, RCPC circulated the Rockridge Vision Survey, to which 360 people responded. (The survey closed in November 2014). Although the survey did not use a random sample of the community, it collected information from a wide range of people demographically providing reasonably consistent results, which may suggest a degree of representativeness.

The survey asked resident's views of Rockridge, and also how they would characterize "the perfect neighborhood." The intent was to learn how Rockridge compared to this idealized standard, and included the classification of more than 2,000 terms and phrases provided by survey respondents.

Respondents' descriptions of Rockridge settled into four broad areas, which were, in order of frequency: 1) Community Spirit; 2) Mobility/Accessibility/Transit; 3) Commercial/Retail Options and Characteristics; and 4) Housing and Neighborhood Aesthetic.

The broad topics people identified as most important in an ideal setting ("the perfect neighborhood") turned out to be largely the same, based on the number of mentions of particular words and phrases, as in their description of the Rockridge neighborhood - although with some notable variations.

Priority 1: Community Spirit
By far, the most frequently named traits of an ideal setting included "a sense of community," "neighbors who interact and look out for each other" and are "engaged," "inclusive," "friendly," and "open and welcoming." There were also multiple variations of "village-like." Comparing this response to the terms most frequently used to describe Rockridge itself, the specific terms and proportional frequency were similar. Clearly, respondents placed a high value on neighborliness and community activism and a majority also viewed Rockridge as embodying these same characteristics.

The next priority in an ideal setting was "safe for all" and "low crime." Safety in Rockridge was mentioned but it came up less frequently, suggesting that people would like to feel safer than they do.

The next priority in this area for the idealist view included terms such as "open/public space," "trees/ green space for people with (and without) kids/ parks," "places to sit, eat, play outside," and "gathering spaces." Any parallel description was conspicuously absent from the descriptions of Rockridge, except for a few mentions of Frog Park.

The final "ideal" priority garnering significantly more mentions than the remainder of terms used in this category was "integrated diversity - in age, wealth, race and culture, housing availability." The Rockridge description had many mentions of demographic "diversity," although these were offset by several references to being "homogenous" and "less diverse than it used to be."

Other popular traits describing an ideal neighborhood included "good schools," "affordability" (including housing specifically), "family-friendly," "home prices and job availability allowing people to work and live in same area," "opportunities for the community to gather," "public displays of art and music," "courteous treatment of neighbors," and "connected to the broader community of Oakland." In addition to "strong community," "safety," and "diversity," the Rockridge description highlighted (but with fewer mentions) "family-friendly" and "good" and "improving" public schools. There were no references to "affordability" of housing or anything else, with numerous mentions instead of Rockridge being "expensive" and "unaffordable."

Priority 2: Mobility/Accessibility/Transit
When describing both the ideal neighborhood and Rockridge specifically, the majority of these traits included things like "transit-friendly," "pedestrian and bike friendly," "accessible," and "convenient." Rockridge's "convenient" location relative to surrounding destinations was much appreciated. A handful of respondents wanted more parking options when a car is needed, yet envisioned a community designed to reduce the need for cars.

Priority 3: Commercial/Retail Options and Characteristics
As an ideal, respondents wanted their neighborhood to provide "essential services" as well as "interesting specialty shops," "diverse shopping and eating options," and "great food and coffee." They also want shops to be "scaled to pedestrians," and predominantly "independently owned."

What they have in Rockridge is pretty close. Descriptions included "unique/small independently owned shops," "full service," "great restaurants," "foodie destination," "culinary delights," "bookstores and cafes," and "a coffee extravaganza." Rockridge's College Avenue was also described as "bustling," "thriving," "lively," and "vibrant." Here, too, the main trait missing from the Rockridge description was affordability.

Priority 4: Housing/Neighborhood Aesthetic
The final standout cluster of traits in both the ideal neighborhood and in Rockridge described housing stock and residential streets and services. Here, Rockridge fully matched the ideal neighborhood in "attractive homes" and "tree-lined streets" as well as being "charming," "peaceful," "pleasant" and "having character."

The ideal neighborhood descriptions also included a number of public services not mentioned in the Rockridge description, such as "well-paved streets," "reliable garbage pick-up," "smooth and wide sidewalks," "good tree maintenance" and "well-lit streets."

However, several respondents expressed a preference for medium- to low-density development with height and design restrictions to preserve historic architecture and character, while a few others wanted "environmentally responsible," "good density," that is "less suburban."

Many observations in other topic areas appeared just once or twice each and in a wide range of other topical areas. Nonetheless, the above provides a reasonably complete overview of the full array of responses.

Who Took the Survey? Highlights
The survey results may not be surprising, and might even be predictable. Still, they are useful. The next time RCPC or any other group of residents wants to convey to the city of Oakland, to a new developer, or to a potential grantmaker what Rockridge residents care about, they can share that Rockridge has initiated a robust conversation in which over 400 people participated to date, and what the data shows. It's not a bad starting position in conversations that could lead to decisions affecting the future of this place we call home. Moreover, this input can guide us in applying one of the strongest values expressed in the survey: doing and accomplishing things together as an engaged and generous community.