Bringing a community together to work creatively towards agreed upon goals

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
March 2007

I really liked Kenric Ward’s February 1st editorial in the Press Journal where he asked an excellent question: “Is bigger really better?” Sometimes we need to think more broadly about how we can live up to our ideals to make our community better.

  • How can we fulfill our highest values and shape our county to allow all our residents’ creative and caring potentials to flourish?
  • Our county could be paradise! Are we getting there?
  • Are we making our county the ideal place to live?
  • Are our county’s assets sustainable?

First we have to decide, “What do we want?” Then we need to consider, “Are we doing what is needed to achieve that?” Science has determined that to find out how we are doing and whether we are making progress, we should measure the goals objectively. Consistently measuring year-to-year indicators of our quality of life can then become our basis for constructive community action.

Atlantic sunrise by Bob Montanaro.

Let’s have a community dialogue. What is important? How should we assess “quality of life” in Indian River County? Bhutan has won international attention for basing its assessments of quality of life on their people’s overall happiness. The World Health Organization has a Quality of Life Index. UNICEF examined 40 factors, such as poverty, deprivation, health, education, happiness, relationships, and risky or harmful behavior (e.g. drug and alcohol use, sexual activity) and reached the conclusion that the United States and British children are at the bottom of the list of 21 wealthy nations in which to be a child. How do our county children fair on these factors?

Wouldn’t it be great to provide quality of life statistics once a year, for all people, not just children living here? Our newspapers could first carry out a public survey to identify environmental and community components that our citizens consider important to their quality of life. Next the survey could measure each person’s rating of his or her own sense of well being and rate their ideas of our community’s quality of life in general. It would not be easy, but we should try, to obtain a statistically sound sample of the community’s demographics — not leaving any group out, including the homeless.

After obtaining an idea of what to measure, perhaps high school classes guided by college students and professors (along with community retirees) could take on the project. Opening up a community dialogue on what and how to measure the values comprising the county’s quality of life, could be an exciting, real-life learning experience for the whole community. The challenge would be to set up measurements in —

  • Economics (citrus, meat, seafood, and other food production; numbers of houses built and sold; shopping access; advertising spending; and small business startups)
  • Geography and Politics (disparities in income and opportunity, language diversity, urban poverty, sanitation, and corporate responsibility)
  • Physical & Environmental Sciences (air, water, soil, and environmental quality; kinds and amounts of pesticides in run-off, fish, water supplies, health of ecosystems, soundness of coral reefs, birds, plant diversity, mangroves, forests, groundwater adequacy, mercury pollution and connecting greenways)
  • Social Sciences (mental health, homeless, day care, after school activities)
  • Medical & Health Services (insurance coverage, HIV/AIDs, TB, heart and stroke and other diseases, prevention efforts, infant mortality, obesity; safety, accident rates, and disaster preparedness)
  • Sports and Recreation (parks, bicycle paths, hiking trails/sidewalks, exercise facilities), gardens (beautiful trees and plantings in business and residential areas), and entertainment (movies, theater, music, and folk productions),
  • Art (including photography, sculpture, architecture, and inspiring spaces),
  • Education (early education, lifespan opportunities, and quality of graduates).
  • Energy and Transportation (gasoline and biofuel consumption, vehicles and bicycles sold, buses available, air travel, solar and wind power, and climate trends),
  • Communication (Community TV and Radio availability, Internet and cell phone use)
  • Conflict (number of violent conflicts, including murders, rapes, thefts, and divorces)

Is our paradise lost, or being saved and growing? If we can first assess where we are, we could then go about planning on where we want to be and how to get there. We can then discuss alternative ways of bringing about a change in our county of which we all could be proud and wholeheartedly choose to live. If you are interested in helping with a project to measure our county’s quality of life, I would very much like to hear from you.

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