A community that sounds out its citizens can design its own future accordingly. Credit the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County for doing the Wichita-Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan survey and, more important, for promising to gather and be guided by more input in the coming days. It was good of them to ask, and the survey findings are illuminating and encouraging as far as they go.
“This is just the start of the conversation,” Mayor Carl Brewer said.
The survey will be followed by public meetings and other opportunities for input this summer, including online via the new www.activate-wichita.com, and will help in crafting the next Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan.
Developed by Wichita State University’s Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs, the survey was filled out and returned by a little more than 4,100 of the 25,000 randomly selected Sedgwick County voters who received it in January. The results show surprising levels of unity and interest in the community’s well-being and improvement.
There was strong agreement on the need to develop new sources of water (97 percent); encourage less water use to delay investment in water infrastructure (81 percent); improve public transportation (76 percent), especially to serve those who are elderly, disabled or poor (91 percent); and invest in passenger rail service through Wichita (74 percent).
More than 86 percent want public resources to be spent to encourage local business expansion and nearly 84 percent to encourage business relocation to the community; 77 percent want public resources to be spent on preparing industrial sites, while 89 percent want public dollars spent to improve quality of life so young talent will move and stay here.
Plus, 82 percent want local solutions for homelessness – which looks like an endorsement of the ongoing city-county efforts to address chronic homelessness in particular.
Meanwhile, only 35 percent want to see more investment in downtown redevelopment and only 38 percent in more parks and green space.
The survey results came under heavy fire from Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, who disparaged the methodology and the questions for “politically correct language.” He’s entitled to his opinion (even if it dismisses the opinions expressed by 4,100 others), and he has a point about the survey’s failure to attach costs to initiatives.
Perhaps the real rub for Peterjohn and his political allies is that the results don’t fit with their libertarian view that government should sit back and let the future happen rather than try to guide and invest in it. (Not coincidentally, the survey found 74 percent think political divisions are having a negative impact on our community’s ability to respond to global economic challenges.)
The survey results provide some enlightening context for the anti-government views heard so often and so loudly at City Council and County Commission meetings, balancing the gripes with some high expectations for the community. We look forward to seeing where the survey leads.