Needs Assessment survey defines "community"
When the Grand Foundation, the Grand County Board of Commissioners and the Grand County Needs Assessment Committee contracted with National Research Center (NRC) to conduct a county-wide needs assessment, their intention was “to explore and obtain a better understanding of the perspectives, experience and needs of Grand County residents.”
Now complete, the assessment provides a wealth of information about the strengths and needs of our county and thus the opportunity to enhance the quality of life in our community.
After participating in a five-page mail survey, a series of focus groups, and exploratory telephone interviews, we the people (close to four in five residents) said that the second most important issue for us, after the natural environment, is a sense of community.
The small town character of our community is important to our quality of life, we said.
Though Grand County spans more than 1870 square miles, compared to other rural resort counties, Grand has a lower population density, giving us unique transportation and tax base issues, and the complexity of tourism fueling one portion of the county and ranching providing the economic base for another.
Geographic boundaries may define cities and towns, but a community is about knowing your neighbors, having a sense of connectedness and belonging, enjoying the surroundings and feeling safe as we go about our lives. A sense of community requires inclusivity, the study surmised. A strong majority of Grand County residents believe that acceptance of people with diverse backgrounds is very important – and diverse we are. There are cross currents of locals, tourists, and part-time residents. There is a growing number of residents whose first language is not English.
Planning for improvement of any of the components of a quality of living environment, concludes the study, should take care not to damage the intimate feel of the rural small-town that residents of Grand County have come to expect and enjoy. We like the fact that we know most of the people at the post office or the grocery store, we like the way we support each other in struggle or crisis, we like the “village” in which we raise our children.
However, the sense of community is increasingly challenged by population growth. Full-time residents surveyed worried that second homeowners are altering the way of life in the community. Second homeowners did not feel fully integrated into the county. There is a sense of isolation among the Spanish-speaking population with the language barrier impeding community integration. Since 2000 Grand County’s population has grown steadily and is expected to double by the year 2035. The fastest growth in the decade after 2010 is projected to be among residents older than 60 looking for a place to retire or a vacation home.
Yet, a sense of community requires inclusivity. We don’t judge our neighbors by the clothes they wear or the cars they drive, we don’t ask “what did you do?” but “what did you do today?”
The quality of our community is based on the small-town atmosphere, the rural, slow-paced feel, and the natural beauty we all admire and appreciate.
Part of maintaining a strong community includes feeling safe: Trusting police, fire services and EMS. Public safety is among the most important features of Grand County voiced by residents. While most of us rated these services higher than other local government services, they were all below benchmark comparisons.
The Needs Assessment identified several key opportunities for our county to respond to the maintenance and improvement of our sense of community, including the creation of opportunities to involve locals, second homeowners, perhaps even tourists, in local governing and decision making; offering training to local planners on how to capitalize on the attractiveness of being rural; and encouraging residents to find custom solutions to Grand County challenges, not importing big city solutions.
Other opportunities include actively promoting volunteerism that fosters neighbor-to-neighbor assistance; considering “New Urbanism” community design and land use policy to build a community; encouraging residents to find unique solutions to Grand County challenges; offering training to local planners in how other rural communities capitalize on the attraction of being rural while permitting growth that supports rural values; and, finally, encouraging community participation for non-English speakers through awareness of programs and services.
Growth, concluded the study, can be a benefit to help solve community challenges such as job opportunities, increased tax base for schools and social services, and increased density to attract health care and transportation.
Next in order on our wish list is the economy and employment. Forty-four percent of us thought the jobs that offer reasonable health insurance are essential. Stay tuned.
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