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Over crowded roads hurting life quality { January 17 2006 }

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   http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/16/AR2006011601070.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/16/AR2006011601070.html

Housing, Traffic Lead Local Quality-of-Life Concerns

By Krissah Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 17, 2006; D01

A lack of affordable housing and traffic congestion are the top quality-of-life concerns among Washington area residents, according to a Gallup Organization survey sponsored and to be released today by the Greater Washington Initiative.

Discontent caused by those issues could affect the region's economic development, said Tim Priest, executive director of the initiative, a regional marketing group affiliated with the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

The poll found that only 9 percent of area residents think that the region offers enough affordable housing and that it is easy to get from place to place with little traffic. On average, residents of 21 other cities held better perceptions about commuting, housing and other basic needs.

"The economy and jobs are really dependent on traffic and housing being satisfactory. I see rising dissatisfaction with traffic and housing as something that could bleed over into the economy and jobs," Priest said.

The survey, which compares the attitudes of 650 residents of the District and its suburbs with those of 2,100 residents in 21 other cities, is part of Gallup's Soul of the City program and is intended to help business and political leaders measure Washingtonians' satisfaction with their city. The District's data are the first to be released in a set of surveys collected in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Omaha, San Francisco, Phoenix and other cities.

In most areas, including civic engagement, cultural offerings and economic conditions, the District ranks higher than other cities. The Greater Washington Initiative will share that information with local politicians and economic development organizations and also stress the importance of tackling the housing and traffic issues, Priest said.

Moderate- and low-income housing has become harder to find in the District. A report released by the Urban Institute recently found that between March 2003 and December 2004, the average rent in District apartment buildings with five or more units jumped 11.5 percent. In that period, the average monthly rent in the city was $1,241. The average sales price of a home was $450,000, making more than 80 percent of the properties for sale in the city too expensive for the average household, according to the report.

Residents of the District's suburbs also have some of the longest commute times in the nation. On average, people who live in Prince William County drive 36.4 minutes to work, and Prince George's County residents drive 35.5 minutes, according to an American Community Survey released by the Census Bureau last year. The average national commute time is 24.3 minutes.

Public transportation is mitigating the problem for District residents, the Gallup survey showed. More than 80 percent of the people who live in the city said it has a good public transportation system, compared with only 56 percent of respondents in other cities surveyed. The District also ranked above average for ability to get places within the city with little traffic.

The District ranked poorly on the quality of its public schools. Only 12 percent of those polled thought the city's schools were good, compared with 30 percent in other cities.

Washington scored higher than average in the areas of openness to racial diversity and sexual orientation and employment. Sixty-nine percent of District residents said the city is a good place to live for racial minorities, compared with 66 percent in other cities. Seventy-two percent of Washingtonians said the city is a good place to live for gays and lesbians, compared with 60 percent in other cities.

Priest said the city's high openness ranking is probably a driver of its economy. He subscribes to the theory put forth by author Richard Florida in his book "The Rise of the Creative Class." Florida argues that artistic culture and availability of nightlife attract the young creative workers needed to sustain a high-tech economy.

Apparently, young workers are happy. The survey showed that 78 percent of District respondents believe that the city is a good place to live for recent college graduates, compared with only 55 percent in other cities.

2006 The Washington Post Company


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