Top 5 Strengths of the Burnet Rd Community – Survey Results

posted Jan 9, 2016, 2:44 PM by Steven Zettner   [ updated Jan 10, 2016, 1:32 PM ]

In June 2015, in anticipation of the upcoming City of Austin Burnet Rd Corridor Plan, Sustainable Neighborhoods (SN) conducted an online survey of Burnet Rd area residents, to determine why people already live in the Burnet Rd area.  Council Member Leslie Pool distributed the survey request in her newsletter.  Over 500 area residents responded. 

The complete set of results, including tables and charts, a discussion of likely biases, the original survey questions, and the anonymous respondent-level answers, is available in a spreadsheet attached below, or through this link:  Survey Results. (You will have to download the file to view it correctly as a spreadsheet - by default Google docs displays a distorted version).


Please treat the survey results with care.  The survey’s original intent (to better understand the needs of families with children), the channel (community email distributions) and the self-selecting nature of respondents, all represent potential bias.


If used cautiously, however, such a survey can help to inform conversations early in the planning process when better information isn’t yet available. The survey results are offered in that context.


Burnet Rd’s Top Five Strengths for Existing Residents


The survey used two different ways to ask residents why they live in the Burnet Rd area.  One question asked respondents to prioritize 30 features of the community.  The other question was open-ended.  The open-ended responses seem more compelling because the resulting 'strengths' were developed based on the open-ended responses, and not based on ranking categories pre-determined by SN.


What Are The Top 3-5 Reasons That You Choose to Live in the Burnet Rd Area?


All Local Residents Responding, N = 475


  1. Central location in city, proximity to Downtown/UT (54% of responses)

  2. Community, friendly neighbors, diversity, family-friendly (43%)

  3. Easy access, especially by walking, to amenities (restaurants, grocery, bars/pubs, shops, healthcare, services (43%)

  4. Option to walk, bike, use transit (34%)

  5. Greenery – parks, trails, trees, lawns, gardens (28%)


The large number of respondents means it’s possible to break the data down demographically. 


Households with Children:  responses from households with children were consistent with the strengths above, except 'Quality, convenient schools’ was ranked third  (48%). 


Households without Children  gave ‘Neighborhood architectural character’ as their fifth strength (27%)


Long-Term Residents (> 5 yrs residence in neighborhood) gave greenery as their #4 strength (30%).


Recent Residents (< 5 yrs residence in neighborhood) gave ease of access to amenities as their top strength (53%), ranked walking, biking, transit #3 (45%), and school quality #5 (29%).


Renters gave the most divergent responses:


    1. Easy access, especially by walking, to amenities (56%)

    2. Central location (44%)

    3. Option to walk, bike, use transit (44%)

    4. Easy commute to work (34%)

    5. Affordability (32%)


It should be noted that renters were hugely underrepresented in the survey, at only 9% of respondents, versus 45% renters in the population for the 78756-57 zip code areas.  While only 41 renters answered this question, their perspective may represent a large number of people in the Burnet Rd area. The main list above is essentially a homeowner set of priorities.



What Does Diversity Mean to You?


The Burnet Rd area today is one of the most diverse in the wider Austin area and certainly within the urban core, not by race (we’re very white), but by age, income, and owner/renter mix.  One of SN’s key goals for the Burnet corridor plan is to ensure that City land use and other policies prioritize retaining this diversity. 


It’ll be a challenge. New housing is always more expensive than old housing, and the type of housing (by bedroom count, for instance) determines whether the housing is suitable for all people, or excludes some people.  The long-term trend for urban areas is for most new housing to be tiny apartments that in practice segregate out families with children.  A feedback loop emerges.  Most new residents aren’t families.  Retail services shift to meet new demand.  Existing families, especially the middle class families that bolster public school quality, leave, and that leads to a further shift in new housing demand towards tiny apartments. Because families with children are most vulnerable to long-term urban real estate trends, SN has made that part of the population a special priority.


One of the questions in the survey was intended to test whether Burnet area residents agree that families with children are vulnerable, and are even more so if a critical mass of families aren’t retained.    We asked,


“Not just the absolute numbers, but the proportion of families in a community affects the viability of parent support networks, family-friendly retail and services, and quality schools.  Do you agree or disagree, and why?”


Unfortunately, the wording of this question was so atrocious and lacking in context that nobody really understood it.


To get value from this part of the survey, then, one needs to treat it like a Rorschach test about families.  Read the open-ended responses, and it becomes clear that most people (72%) support having families with children in our community.  About 7% seem suspicious of a ‘family-friendly’ agenda, and 20% offer neutral or nuanced responses (including about the validity of the question).


Several people independently directed their response towards the matter of diversity, but from different vantages.


The following respondent specifically connected family-friendliness to diversity:  “Agree. I think the whole community benefits from diversity, and the whole community benefits from a healthy environment for families.” 


A few respondents, perhaps seeing in the nature of the question a desire to turn urban Austin into Cedar Park, challenged the value of a community supercharged with kids.  “Disagree. Diverse types of households is much better… If one type of household (like families) then neighborhood is boring, homogenous…”.  


I liked this thoughtful response in particular:


“Diversity is good.  I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that’s filled with young kids because I’m not in that demographic and I like having a mix of demographics (young, old, couples, gay, straight, families, singles, kids).  I love this neighborhood just how it is.”




Implications for Sustainable Neighborhoods and for the Corridor Plan


For me, the results of the survey were very positive.  Four of the top five strengths (after “Central Location”) are features that the SN corridor vision specifically addresses:  sense of community, multi-modal access to amenities, alternative transportation options, and green space/public space. 


The responses around diversity were healthy.  Clearly many people like our diverse community.  Not everyone probably understands the macro-trends that are pushing out families with children and decreasing our diversity.  Explaining that better during the planning process could help to shore up consensus.


Finally, the survey reveals how different constituents within our community have different top priorities.  SN’s bias is towards the needs of long-term residents who are most likely to invest in our community, and who will be benefitting (or suffering) from planning decisions long after many short-term residents (and policymakers) have moved on.  But short-term residents, especially many renters, as a group have always lived in the Burnet Rd area and their different priorities need to be acknowledged.  They tend to benefit more from city-wide priorities like more affordable small apartments (there aren’t enough of those to meet demand, citywide), and efficient public transportation.  We need to acknowledge those perspectives, and look for ways to address them, but in ways that don’t sacrifice the strong community fabric, and greenery, that are key strengths for so many Burnet Rd residents. 

More to come on that.

Steven Zettner,
Jan 9, 2016, 2:44 PM