Which Philly city service needs the most work? Survey says…

Over the last year, Philadelphia city government surveyed 7,000 residents to find out how well (or poorly) it is serving neighborhoods.

For the most part — surprise! — people are most concerned with police, potholes, and persistent litter problems. But on the whole, 83 percent rated city services as excellent, good, or fair, according to results published Thursday.

Respondents, which were 39 percent people of color and from every zip code in the city, answered questions online, in print surveys, and over the phone between September 2016 and March 2017. The results of the survey, which the city conducted along with Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research, were weighted to more closely reflect the city’s gender, age, race, ethnicity, and education levels.

Here are some of the most interesting findings:

Litter and potholes trump schools.

When asked to rank the top three services the city should focus on improving, streets (which comprises repairs and snow and litter removal) came out No. 1, followed by sanitation. Policing was third and schools were fourth.

The last time the city surveyed residents, in 2007, police ranked as the highest concern, followed by sanitation and then streets.

“We’ve got some work to do,” said Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams. “This also shows we’re one of the most impactful departments in the city that people are really passionate about, and we want to make sure we’re doing a good job.”

Respondents said the city was worst at keeping streets clean, with 56 percent rating it poor. Philadelphia does not have street sweeping.

Almost half of all respondents, most of them living in Fishtown, Kensington, Port Richmond, lower North, and Southwest Philadelphia, said they were not satisfied with street repairs.

Williams said that for the next five years, the department is pumping an additional $5 million annually into street paving and hiring more crews. The money was approved before the survey results came out.

The city is in the midst of a massive indexing project that will rate each residential block on a 1-to-4 scale based on how much litter is on the sidewalk. A Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet is also looking at how to address litter and waste citywide.

How do police or lighting rank? It depends who you are.

Fifty-four percent of respondents believe services provided by police are excellent or good, but people of color were much more likely to rate police as poor. Fifty percent of respondents who rated police as poor were black, and 20 percent were white. People of color also were more likely to report police presence and approachability as poor.

Commissioner Richard Ross said those results didn’t surprise him.

Camera icon Clem Murray/Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Police Officers Pedro Ramos (left) and Clarence Smith walk the 200 block of North Simpson Street. A survey released Thursday found 54 percent of residents rate police services excellent or good.

“Approachability is one of the things we do have to work on,” said Ross, who added that the results reflect national polls on satisfaction with police.

Ross said he has assigned more officers coming out of the Police Academy to bicycle patrol, so that they are more visible and better positioned to make connections with the community.

As for street lighting, there’s a gender divide. About half of all respondents said the city’s street, alley, and ornamental lighting is excellent or good, with 48 percent rating street lighting as fair or poor. Women were much more likely to rate street lighting as fair or poor.

Residents like libraries and firefighters.

The Fire Department got very high marks — 75 percent of residents rated services excellent or good. The Office of Emergency Management also did well, with 59 percent rating it excellent or good (though about 24 percent didn’t know what it does).

City libraries and library programming are excellent or good, said 57 percent of people. Recreational programs also rated highly, although 36 percent of people said they did not know about those programs.

What else? 

Residents are giving back. Almost half of all respondents (48 percent) said they have volunteered in community service in the last 12 months.

A little more than half of respondents were critical on how the city is handling development. Fifty-five percent ranked land use, planning, and zoning as fair or poor.