QLI report gives diverse views

qli-downtown-artEvery two years, Pikes Peak United Way releases an extensive report: Quality of Life Indicators for the Pikes Peak Region.

Area business owners, C-suite officers and nonprofit directors depend on this data for decision-making. With good reason — the report is comprehensive, covering 11 focus areas, using key markers to keep a finger on the pulse of the city and beyond.

Often the data show opposing views around similar issues: The region tends toward a negative balanced by a related positive. Some recurring themes in the report include job and income stagnation, balanced by ranking 57th out of 200 best-performing large cities last year; residents value diversity and community involvement, but property crime has increased; the number of cultural institutions has grown, while the city lags behind comparison cities in per-resident revenue for arts organizations.

This year’s tome is 144 pages, so the Business Journal has condensed that for its readers. What follows is an overview of six focus areas.

Community engagement

As might be expected, people in the region are friendly and helpful, as indicated by charitable giving and volunteerism. A majority of households in the Springs metropolitan statistical area volunteers annually, with 67.8 percent involved, including serving on boards, and 94 percent donating to charity.

Volunteerism has remained steady in the Springs since 2002, with education and religion attracting the highest numbers, at 28 and 25 percent, respectively, according to Volunteering in America. But during the past two summers after the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires and regional floods, thousands rolled up their sleeves and worked to help strangers shovel mud, sort through debris, shelter animals and more.

In 2011, national charitable donations increased 3.9 percent. During the same time period, giving increased 7.6 percent in the region.

With strong scores for volunteerism and philanthropy, how does the community score on acceptance of diversity? Not surprisingly, also strong. Last year, 77 percent of residents surveyed said it was “very important” to have “a community that is accepting of differences in race, ethnicity, religious preference and gender orientation.”

Arts

No self-respecting company would relocate to an area without a thriving arts community.

Not only does investment in the arts improve quality of life, it also aids urban revitalization and bolsters economic growth. Audiences in Colorado Springs spend an average of $25.89 per person, not including admission costs, for each arts/cultural event, according to the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region’s Economic Prosperity Survey, in the QLI report.

Highlights for 2012 and 2013 include:

  • The Colorado Springs Philharmonic’s free Summer Symphony series returned;
  • Art in Storefronts was launched, turning empty downtown real estate into mini art galleries;
  • Monthly art walks and gallery openings are thriving in downtown Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, Woodland Park and the Tri-Lakes area;
  • Art on the Streets celebrated its 15th year. Nearly 200 pieces have been displayed since inception, influencing the purchase of more than 50 pieces of public art;
  • COPPeR launched the Peak Arts Fund, a fundraising campaign for local nonprofits.

Although the area has seen much expansion in the past two decades, the number of arts, culture and humanities organizations in the metropolitan statistical area “remains 5 to 15 percent behind comparison cities,” according to the report. Job volume and wages for creative workers, however, is “roughly on par” with those in comparison cities.

Built environment

Residents in the region tend to be rather proud of the outdoors and the towering, 14,115-foot monolith of nature, Pikes Peak, but modern humans need structures for survival. Locally, land use has evolved in a typical Western fashion — “low density, with a propensity for single-family homes, plenty of open space, and automobile orientation. The city and county both have large areas devoted to open space and parks, reflecting residents’ focus on the outdoors.”

In 2012 and this year, the region saw a substantial increase in single-family building permits, but a decrease last year in multi-family permits.

Of course, stormwater infrastructure has emerged as a “significant issue” for the metropolitan statistical area. According to PikesPeakStormwater.org, the region requires $907 million in capital projects and nearly $9 million in annual maintenance.

With such a diverse ecosystem in the region, more than 150 special districts have been created, “organized to provide some combination of capital financing for public improvements and/or ongoing operations and maintenance.”

Although cities and counties can benefit from such districts, concerns include “less clarity as to who is responsible for what costs and services, differential taxation, and other … concerns,” resulting in residents who “may be less inclined to support community-wide tax or fee initiatives,” according to QLI.

Safety

Feeling safe in Colorado Springs generally can be supported by statistics. Although 48 percent of traffic fatalities in the county are drug/alcohol related, well above the national average of 33 percent, other indicators help balance that out.

Violent crime has increased 4 percent since 2008, but (at 4.2 crimes per 1,000 people) remains well below the national average of 7.7 crimes per 1,000, according to the Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Property crime rates, up 13 percent since 2008, still rank below the national average, although the gap has narrowed somewhat.

Since 2010, the number of bookings and rebookings in the county’s Criminal Justice Center has declined. The report attributes this to programs that better prepare inmates for reintegration, including the county’s detox facility, the Reintegration and Recovery Program and Gateways Through the Rockies, which teaches jobs skills to inmates through business partnerships and service contracts.

Arguably the best news in the safety sector would be CSPD’s crime clearance rate. “Police in Colorado Springs solve a significantly higher percent of crimes than the average across the country,” according to the QLI report. Nationally, the average has hovered between 38-41 percent of violent crimes solved since 2008. Locally, 47-54 percent of violent crimes were solved in the same time period.

Transportation

Each day many residents in the region bicycle, walk or drive to work, school and play. Known for biking trails, the region provides a variety of places to exercise, but scores low on public transportation.

Because of a large land area combined with low population density, “supporting a robust public transit system [is] very difficult,” according to the QLI report and a 2012 Urban Land Institute analysis.

More resources are needed to “span a greater distance to serve all those in the region.” If population continues to grow, transportation efficiency will continue to decrease, as people continue to “choose low-density residential areas.” QLI says the region needs more mixed-use developments, where people can live and walk to work, in addition to more mass transportation options.

When compared to Austin, Texas, Albuquerque, N.M., Omaha, Neb., Fort Collins and Denver, Colorado Springs is the only city without a fixed-guideway transit service, such as streetcars or light rail.

On the other hand, Colorado Springs has fewer highway miles in “poor” condition than Fort Collins or Denver. Among the Front Range comparison cities, the Springs has the highest percentage of bridges rated “nondeficient” with four out of five bridges structurally sound, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Economy

During the past 10 years, Colorado Springs has experienced “modest growth in gross domestic product, ranking 86th out of 366 metropolitan areas in 2011.” Nevertheless, the city lags behind the growth rates of many competitor cities.

Since 2007, MSA population grew by more than 66,000 people, during a period when 15,000 jobs were lost. One doesn’t need to be a mathematician to see the necessity of job creation. Additionally, the need to attract and retain workers in the 25-44 age bracket remains a “critical element,” according to the report.

On a brighter note, the El Paso County Business Conditions Index continues to trend upward since its low in 2009. “Seven of the 10 indicators that make up the BCI are higher than a year ago,” according to the Southern Colorado Economic Forum and the QLI report.

After inflation adjustment, GDP in the Springs grew 1.9 percent from 2010 to 2011. However, in March, wages in the county were 11.4 percent below the March 2008 peak — a reflection of jobs lost during the recession and the “loss of higher-paying technology jobs,” according to the forum.

Conclusion

Most people who live in the region know the shortcomings and strengths, starting with mass transit and ending with Garden of the Gods and a view of America’s Mountain.

No city can ever be perfect, but the QLI report can influence business and nonprofit strategies — perhaps even motivate people to vote wisely during elections and do their part every day as concerned and helpful residents to make this region even better.

To view the complete report, visit Pikes Peak United Way’s website.

One Response to QLI report gives diverse views

  1. “No city can ever be perfect…” Absolutely true. Yet, in my opinion, this region is magnificent. The weather…the views…the attitudes of the people who live here. I would find it most difficult to select a better place to live.

    Joe Michaels
    October 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm