Survey: Houstonians upbeat about quality of life here


The findings were released today during a luncheon hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership and Rice's Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Despite economic anxiety and concern for the future of the country, most Houstonians perceive an improving quality of life locally and 90 percent believe that Houston is a better place to live than most other metropolitan areas, according to the survey conducted by Rice University.

The survey showed that Harris County residents have become a little more upbeat in their personal economic outlooks but remain pessimistic about the long-term national prospects. While 26 percent (up from 20 percent in 2010) report improving personal financial conditions, only 31 percent (down from 43 percent in 2007) believe that young people will eventually have a higher standard of living than adult Americans today.

"Houstonians clearly feel that the bleeding has stopped, but a robust recovery is not yet on the horizon," said survey author Stephen Klineberg, co-director of the Kinder Institute. "They are worried about the American future, but they're feeling better about Houston -- about local crime, air pollution and traffic -- and they are even more enthusiastic than in past years about the Houston area as a place to live."

Although 86 percent agreed that "if you work hard in this city, eventually you will succeed," 67 percent also believe that "people who work hard and live by the rules are not getting a fair break these days."

The percent of people who spontaneously mentioned education when asked to name the biggest problem facing people in Houston jumped to 7.6 percent this year from just 1.7 percent in 2009 and 2 percent in 2010.

Area residents support measures to enhance the city's green spaces and bayous, revitalize and preserve urban centers and improve air and water quality.

A large proportion of Harris County residents would choose a more urban lifestyle: 52 percent said they'd prefer to live in a single-family residential area, but 45 percent would opt instead for an area with a mix of developments including homes, shops and restaurants. In 2010, 41 percent said they'd prefer a smaller home in a more urbanized area within walking distance of shops and workplaces, rather than a single-family home with a big yard "where you would need to drive almost everywhere you want to go."

Asked how they would feel if a close relative of theirs wanted to marry a non-Anglo, just 8 percent of the Anglo respondents this year said they would disapprove, down from 13 percent in 2002 and 23 percent in 1995. Among the Anglo respondents under the age of 30, 93 percent said they would approve of such intermarriage, compared with 69 percent of those 60 or older. Seventy percent of Anglos under 30, but only 35 percent in the older group, said that the increasing immigration into this country today mostly strengthens American culture. Seventy-three percent of the younger respondents, compared with 52 percent of those 60 or older, said they are in favor of granting illegal immigrants a path to legal citizenship if they speak English and have no criminal record.

"Houston is where America's four major ethnic communities -- Anglos, Asians, blacks and Latinos -- meet in more equal numbers than almost anywhere else in the country," Klineberg said. "The challenges and opportunities of creating a more unified and inclusive multiethnic society will be seen here first."

The 2011 Kinder Houston Area Survey was conducted by phone between Feb. 17 and March 9 and reached a scientifically representative sample of 750 Harris County residents including 240 respondents contacted by cell phone. The Survey Research Institute of the Hobby Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston administered the survey.

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