Greater Victorians love the festival culture of the city, but are concerned about the affordability of rental housing and home ownership.
Those are just two of the many findings contained in the 11th annual Vital Signs community checkup, unveiled Tuesday by the Victoria Foundation. The report, which pairs volunteer survey answers from the public with available statistics about the Capital Region, determined an overall quality of life grade of B+, the same as last year.
Victoria Foundation director of communication, Rob Janus, pointed out that while the overall satisfaction remains fairly high, people’s feelings about certain aspects of life in Greater Victoria are changing.
“The big one that we caught onto right away was in the ‘most important issues’ [category]. That’s where we saw the shift,” he said. “Cost of living has been ingrained at that number 1 spot for so long, seeing housing and homelessness at the top was a definite change.”
The latter was the most common response on the list of most pressing issues facing Greater Victoria, with 52.4 per cent of respondents selecting it. Cost of living was a close second at 48.6 per cent, followed by mental illness at 25, transportation at 20.4.
The issue of sewage treatment made the biggest jump among the “most important” issues list. It was named by 20.1 per cent of respondents and moved from ninth to fifth. Janus noted that particular list tends to be closely linked with what is making news in the media.
West Shore residents’ thoughts sure to be included among respondents
While the survey respondents’ area of residence was listed as part of the results, Janus said the survey questions reflect areas of interest and concern for residents from across the region, from the West Shore to the Saanich Peninsula.
“While what you’ll see in here will resonate with readers in those communities, it’s regional data that looks at our region as a whole, including the West Shore. I think they’ll find themselves in that data.”
The Victoria Foundation is a community organization and charity that connect donors with charities and manages donations to create income-earning funds, which are then distributed to charities. Vital Signs helps target areas of focus for the foundation’s efforts, Janus said.
“At the start it was going to be a tool just for us, to be able to better inform ourselves and our donors,” he said of the report’s beginnings. “Now it really is so much more than that, it’s built right into everything we do now. We use it on the granting side, helping donors understand where their dollars are going, and use it as a third pillar to foster collaboration and connectedness between groups.”
For the last number of years, the Vital Signs report has been published in a easy-to-read guidebook format, as well as online, to not only allow readers to learn more about their community, but to find potential areas of interest for volunteering or other purposes.
Large sample size for volunteer survey
As part of the data gathering stage of the project, more than 1,300 residents of the region answered questions on topics including housing, quality of life, happiness and connection to the community. Respondents offered more than 10,000 comments along the way, which helped assign an old-fashioned grade score in each category.
Its best marks came in the area of arts and culture, where residents acknowledged the vibrant community and the diversity of artistic offerings it provides. They noted the strong festival scene and the variety of high-quality organizations fostering the arts in Victoria. There was a feeling expressed, however, that more funding support is needed for the arts.
In the area of environment and sustainability, the region’s rating dropped to a B- with the need to address sewage treatment topping the list of suggestions for improvement.
Another area of review, belonging and engagement, also received a B- and saw respondents express the need for increased opportunities to become involved in the community, as well as the need to increase the involvement of marginalized groups.
Transportation earned a low mark for the second year in a row, receiving a C+. While the range of cycling opportunities were acknowledged, as was a good transit system, the responses showed an overwhelming feeling that investment in light rail/rapid transit was needed. As well, residents called for a higher level of regional co-ordination of new transportation and infrastructure projects and questioned the affordability of existing transit service.
“There’s some good news stories in there, it’s not all doom and gloom,” Janus said. “There’s some some cool stuff about the library and how well read we are, outshining the rest of Canada; transit ridership rates of 38 per cent more per capita than similar sized transit systems, and our solid waste disposal rates – the CRD is already below B.C.’s target for 2020.”
The report goes beyond the simple assignment of grades to discuss a variety of issues, such as a sense of belonging for community residents. It cites the 2014 Victoria Capital Region Community Wellbeing Survey, which indicated 3.1 per cent of the population feels a very weak sense of belonging. At the other end of that spectrum, 13.5 per cent show a very strong sense that they belong, with the strongest sense of belonging reported by people over 65 years of age. The least sense of belonging came from those under 35.
The report also details issues around belonging, citing challenges faced by new immigrants, First Nations people, youth and seniors, as well as providing profiles of each group while raising specific concerns they expressed.
A copy of the 2016 Vital Signs, as well as past years’ reports, can be found at victoriafoundation.bc.ca/vital-signs/Victoria.
– with files from Tim Collins
HOW WE SCORED, BY CATEGORY:
Arts and Culture — B+
Belonging and Engagement — B-
Economy — C+
Environment and Sustainability — B-
Getting Started — B-
Health and Wellness — B-
Housing — C-
Learning — B-
Safety — B
Sports and Recreation — B+
Standard of Living — B-
Transportation — C+
Overall Quality of Life — B+