Respondents say traffic, crime, loss of open space concern them.
By John L. Micek
Call Harrisburg Bureau
Lehigh Valley residents find the region a great place to live and raise a family, but housing costs, sprawl and crime are sapping their contentment, a new poll shows.
Locals remain upbeat about big-picture questions such as the economy, job security and education, the fourth annual Morning Call/Muhlenberg College ''Lehigh Valley Quality of Life'' survey shows. But brows are furrowing over traffic and other day-to-day annoyances.
''They've got a positive view, but it's undermined by a nagging sense that all the things they like most are in a tenuous position,'' Christopher Borick, the director of Muhlenberg's Institute of Public Opinion, which conducted the poll, said of the mixed feedback.
Slightly more than half — 52 percent — of respondents from Lehigh and Northampton counties now rate life in the Valley as getting worse, the poll found. That's up from 43 percent last year and 39 percent in 2003, the first year of the survey.
With prices for an existing home hovering at $200,000, new homes approaching $400,000 and signs of construction almost everywhere, Valley residents are starting to worry about the region's traditionally rural character and essential costs.
Eighty-six percent of those surveyed are concerned about the loss of open space. One-quarter give ''not so good'' or ''poor'' marks to the Valley's current housing situation.
There's good reason for that unease.
More than 3 square miles of land a year are converted from open space to developed uses, according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, bringing new residents from New Jersey and New York seeking an escape from the increasingly unaffordable housing markets in those states.
By 2030, roughly 700,000 people will be residents of Lehigh and Northampton counties, officials have said. That means further encroachment into the counties' most rural precincts. Within 25 years, more than half the Valley will be considered urban, up from 40 percent now.
Meanwhile, the average price of an existing home in Lehigh and Northampton counties has risen 63 percent over the last six years to $207,000. The average price of a new home was $391,000 at the end of 2005, up 71 percent from the end of 2000.
''The [accurate] perspective is that it's not as affordable to live here as it once was,'' Borick said.
And Valley dwellers, a number of whom spend their morning commutes snarled in traffic on Route 22, say all that development and growth is taking its toll on the local transportation system. In fact, 35 percent rank area roads as ''not so good'' or ''poor,'' up from 29 percent three years ago.
A good place to live
But on key pocketbook and family issues, Valley residents remain upbeat.
More than nine out 10 Valley residents give the area ''good'' or ''excellent'' marks as a place to live. Just 7 percent rate is ''not so good'' or ''poor.''
Valley residents answered the same way when they were asked whether they thought the region was a good place to raise a family, with 9 out of 10 saying it was, compared with just 7 percent who gave it poor marks.
Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said the regional economy was ''excellent'' or ''good,'' up from 43 percent in 2003 and 55 percent last year. Thirty-six percent of respondents gave the regional economy failing marks.
Local confidence in keeping jobs also improved. Buoyed by a lower unemployment rate, nearly two-thirds of respondents are unconcerned about losing their jobs, down from 58 percent last year.
Eight in 10 Valley residents are happy with the size of their paychecks, unchanged from last year. And seven of 10 are satisfied with their current jobs; just 6 percent are not.
Pollsters interviewed 618 Lehigh or Northampton County residents March 22 to April 8. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The Morning Call and Muhlenberg College annually conduct regional and statewide polls on topics such as political, economic and quality of life issues.
Article courtsey of The Morning Call
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