A research project launched by the Upper Arlington Community Foundation in January has, thus far, pointed to residents coveting a community center and an upgraded sidewalk system.
Concerned by an unprecedented bid to recall four City Council members last August, the UACF board of directors has embarked on an open-ended research project to solicit resident input on the community's perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
They hope the "SWOT" analysis will provide insights into the attitudes of people in Upper Arlington, produce a better understanding of the bases for those views and spark ideas and conversations about the city's future.
What's resulted have been responses from more than 300 people, according to UACF Executive Director Tracy Harbold, who said the organization has reached residents through an online survey that remains open at surveymonkey.com/r/7VMZ8YN and focus group sessions with the Upper Arlington Rotary Club, retired businesspeople, Upper Arlington High School students and the Upper Arlington Senior Center.
"We had been looking at what's going on in our community and how divided it had gotten," Harbold said. "We wanted to gain insights into our community's needs and unmet desires."
The UACF continues to collect responses, but on June 9, Harbold said common themes have emerged.
A full list of updated findings in each category is expected to be posted at uacommunityfoundation.com by the end of this month. So far, according to data provided by the organization, the top five strengths identified by the project are:
* Schools (named by 100+ respondents)
* Tight sense of community/community pride/family oriented (100+)
* Parks (75+)
* Location -- close to Columbus, Ohio State University, Battelle, etc. (40+)
The top five weaknesses identified in the survey are:
* No community center (90+)
* Poor sidewalks (50+)
* Lack of diversity - UA "bubble" (45+)
* Resistance to change (25+)
* Community divided on critical issues (25+)
The top five threats to the community are:
* Failure to meet demands of younger generations -- new schools, more affordable housing (90+)
* No community center (50+)
* Aging infrastructure - parks, housing (45+)
* Opioids, alcohol abuse and drug addiction (40+)
* Increasing property taxes (25+)
The top five opportunities are:
* Improve facilities for community engagement, citizens' discussions and forums, Community Center, new senior center (100+)
* Attract more/better restaurants (40+)
* Improve sidewalk system (25+)
* Increase commercial zoning/tax base (25+)
* Enhance technology - citywide Wi-Fi, solar power, clean energy (20+)
"One thing we heard just about everywhere we went was the lack of a community center," said Bill DiMascio, one of five UACF survey team members, and former vice president at Paul Werth Public Relations and Cleveland Press executive editor. "This was over and over again."
The last time a community center was proposed in Upper Arlington was during the initial summer 2015 planning stages for a major redevelopment of Northam Park, when the UACF announced it would seek $7 million in private donations to build a facility connected to Tremont Elementary School.
Plans for the community center and other park reconfigurations were scuttled after a public backlash, led by a citizens group initially named Save Northam Park.
Despite the UACF's past support of a community center, foundation members said the research is not a vehicle for a renewed push.
"This is a not a project to advocate for a new community center," DiMascio said. "We're not advocating anything other than an open dialogue."
DiMascio noted the project has led to discussions about the city's stock of recreation and gathering facilities, community values, civility and the potential impact of population growth in Upper Arlington and central Ohio, among other topics.
"This really is kind of throwing down the gauntlet to people who live here," he said. "It's for any concerned citizens to be challenged to think about how your life is likely to change."
The UACF planned to present its findings to city officials this week.
But Harbold said the UACF is not making any recommendations in offering the information.
Rather, she said, the foundation hopes to "keep the conversation going and get people engaged.
She also pointed to a UACF statement regarding the project: "The foundation's intention is, first, to complement other means of intelligence-gathering that will be useful for city leaders in charting the future development of UA; and to more fully engage the community in our ongoing efforts to identify current and emerging issues, stimulate resources to address those needs and help Upper Arlington prepare for the future."