Survey results in hand, Downtown Detroit Partnership seeks to foster a more inclusive downtown

The Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) recently released the results of their 2018 Downtown Perceptions Survey, which is an effort to better understand what metro Detroiters think of and how they engage with downtown Detroit. With this information, the DDP can better craft programming and spaces that cater to a broader, more inclusive swath of residents. 

While the perceptions survey is conducted annually, this year's version differed in important ways. Whereas previous surveys had been entirely electronic, through a partnership with Michigan State University's Office for Survey Research, DDP sought to get a statistically-significant sample of Detroiters through targeted mailings. In total, nearly 3,500 people filled out the survey.

To take a deeper look at the findings, we spoke with Gina Cavaliere, chief community impact officer and director of the business improvement zone for DDP. 
Gina Cavaliere
Q: What's the purpose of the perception survey? 

A: The thought is to not only make sure that our efforts are intentional, but that we can measure the impact of that intention and report back. We do a lot of very good work downtown, but we have to make sure it's impactful, that it's not just us keeping busy.

The perception survey is annual check for us to see if the community that we serve is using downtown and its public spaces, if they're enjoying them, and if we're focusing our efforts in the right direction. There's so much work to be done, and resources are limited, so we want to be smart with the prioritization of those resources. 

Also, we take these opinions very seriously. We want to operate in an informed fashion, and, as stewards of downtown, one of the high-level goals of the DDP is to be promoters of equity and inclusion within this space. We're constantly checking in to make sure we're on the right track with our constituents and all downtown patrons.

Q: Could you talk about how this year's survey differs from years past?

A: The survey changes annually. But the difference from last year to this year was significant. We employed a new vendor, MSU's Office of Survey Research. Every year, we've achieved a statistically significant response of metro Detroiters and used a "convenience sample" method in the past, where we email the survey to our networks, put it out on social media, put an ad in the Michigan Chronicle, and ask partners to push it out to their networks. These respondents were part of the "tally" group.

This year, we added an address-based sample of Detroit residents to make sure we're not missing any voices. Survey participation before this year was entirely electronic. This year we made sure we had a statistically-representative sample of Detroit residents. And that those invited to participate, had the option of responding to the survey online or by telephone. This was part of our efforts to make sure we're inclusive to all Detroiters. 

Q: What were some of the most important takeaways from the survey? And how will they inform DDP's programming and strategy?

A: Wearing my business improvement zone (BIZ) director hat, we asked survey responses if they were aware of BIZ services like cleaning and hospitality — our downtown ambassadors serve somewhat as concierges. Many in both survey groups indicated that they were not aware of or did not utilize these services. We then asked, if you were aware of the services, how important would they be and would you utilize them. In both groups, about nine out of 10 thought they were important services to provide. That will definitely influence our efforts to increase awareness of service and track utilization to see if we notice any increase. When this survey is done in the future, we'll be able to compare those points.

Another item I found interesting is whether people feel downtown is accessible or inaccessible for those with handicaps. We can speculate that maybe some of the response was influenced by all the construction downtown — enclosures make it challenging for everyone to get around, but particularly people with mobility issues. We can take care of what we control. We'll walk through every event and make sure the aisles are wide enough and be cognizant of covering up chords. Taking that info and making sure the events we produce are as accessible as possible.

The senior citizen population was of the opinion that there is less programming offered for them. That's an area we're looking to add additional specific programming targeted to seniors. 

A major reason of the survey is to inform our work. At our next staff meeting, we'll take a deeper dive into the survey's finer points and work as a team to determine where we should either shift priorities or tweak operational practices.

Q: The results show that fewer Detroiters used downtown than people who filled out the survey. How will you work to make downtown more welcoming to Detroiters?  

A: Part of that is based on the fact that in the "tally" sample more people work downtown, are already here, and are much more likely to use it. I don't know whether it's accurate to say that fewer city residents outside downtown are using it than others. As far as the events being attended and spaces being used, it's pretty consistent amongst both groups.

But we're constantly looking at this issue. Are there transportation barriers that prevent people from coming downtown? And are there economic barriers that prevent people from attending events? The DDP makes great efforts to produce events that are free so cost is not a barrier. 

One thing that correlates to usage: The Detroiter profile seems to have a more negative opinion of the price of downtown parking. Again, it could be because many people in the tally sample are already provided parking by an employer that they can use on the weekend. But those are areas where our next step is to take deeper a dive into the cross-tabs and get a better understanding of what the numbers mean and how to influence them positively over the next year. 

Q: What were some of the most encouraging results from the survey?

A: Number one, people across the board are using downtown as you'd expect of an urban core that's thriving. That hasn't always been true of Detroit. People are enjoying the restaurants, shows, sporting events, venues, parks — most people overwhelmingly felt welcome to come downtown.

Another point we found encouraging — and the responses were almost identical in the two groups — is that there's a high likelihood people would bring out of town guests downtown. That's a good indicator that people think it's a special place that should be visited and shown off as representative of the region. People are proud of it so they bring family and friends.

View the full results of the Downtown Detroit Partnership's Perception Survey here.

This summer, the DDP will launch a public engagement process for park programming. Stay tuned for more information, but if you're interested in participating, you can email [email protected]

Read more articles by Aaron Mondry.

Aaron Mondry is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @AaronMondry.
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