In Spring 2003, the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center conducted a formal survey to assess the needs and concerns of the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, community, as well as to gauge the community’s use and awareness of the Mediation Center. The Operation Data survey provided a forum for community members to voice their concerns about issues of quality of life, safety, services, conflict, and diversity in their neighborhood.
The Spring 2003 Crown Heights Operation Data survey was conducted by approximately ten members of the New York City Public Safety Corps, a number of whom had been working primarily in the Crown Heights area and were, therefore, somewhat familiar with the neighborhood. The Corps members administered a total of 198 surveys with members of the Crown Heights community, both door-to-door with local residences and businesses as well as with individuals in public spaces (e.g., parks, bus stops, etc.). The 128 questions in the survey covered such issues as quality of life, public safety, services, conflict, and diversity, as well as demographic characteristics of respondents. The Corps members conducted the survey for two weeks in April 2003.
Just over one quarter of respondents (25.4%) had heard of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center prior to this survey. Of these, 67% heard about the Mediation Center from a friend or family member, 11% heard about the Mediation Center from a newspaper or poster, and 8% heard about the Mediation Center from another local organization. Of those who had heard of it, 63% said that they were satisfied with the Mediation Center. Only one respondent reported being dissatisfied with the Mediation Center. Fourteen respondents had actually utilized services provided by the Mediation Center.
When asked generally whether they saw the existence of a community-based mediation center in the neighborhood as a positive or negative thing, 63% of all respondents saw such a facility as a positive thing. Only 2% saw a community-based mediation center as a negative thing and, of these, only one had specifically heard of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center.
When asked to rate the quality of life in Crown Heights, the majority of respondents reported that things were neither extremely good nor extremely bad. Nearly 3/5 (58%) of respondents classified the quality of life as “okay,” while 22% found the quality of life to be poor or very poor and 20% found the quality of life in Crown Heights good or very good. Although 21% of respondents believed that the quality of life had improved in the past year, the majority of respondents (69%) felt it had stayed the same. Likewise, the majority of respondents (70%) felt that inter-racial, inter-religious, and inter-cultural relations had stayed the same over the past year.
When asked whether they felt that inter-racial, inter-religious, and inter-cultural relationships in the neighborhood had improved or declined since 1991, the year of the Crown Heights riots, 74% of respondents reported that relations had remained the same.
Due to methodological and data quality issues, the group of questions asking about specific quality-of-life issues were collapsed into a single quality of life index, measuring the average score given by respondents. The series included the following items: garbage on the streets, garbage collection, graffiti, run down parks and green areas, illegal dumping, streets in need of repairs, street lighting, turnstile jumping, disorderly conduct, public urination, littering, public drinking, drug selling in public, prostitution, panhandling, vandalism, traffic accidents, and abandoned or dilapidated buildings or houses. When rating the overall seriousness of these quality of life issues, more than half of all respondents (60%) rated them on average either a big or very big problem. Only 6% believed that the issues included in the index were not a problem at all for the neighborhood. Interestingly, although the majority (78%) of respondents reported the quality of life in Crown Heights to be good or “okay,” when asked about specific quality-of-life issues, the majority of respondents responded that quality-of-life issues were big or very big problems.
Not surprisingly, respondents were most likely to report feeling safe in their homes, with 91% of respondents feeling safe or very safe in their own homes. Respondents also felt relatively safe in their lobbies and in stores, with 72% and 73% feeling either safe or very safe in these locations respectively. Respondents were least likely to feel safe on the streets (59% report feeling safe or very safe), in parks (60%), on the way to and from the subway (61%), and at the local subway station (61%).
Similar to the quality-of-life index discussed above, responses to a number of safety questions were consolidated into a single safety index. Items included in the index were as follows: fighting in public, drug use in public, mugging, domestic violence, child neglect and abuse, residential burglary, shoplifting, youth violence, gangs, unsafe buildings, car theft, displaying guns, and using guns. 68% responded that these issues were either a big problem or a very big problem in the neighborhood.
Respondents were asked to rank a number of youth-related issues. The responses were collapsed into a single index, which measures respondents’ average rating of youth problems in Crown Heights. The issues included in the index are: teen pregnancy, lack of resources for young people, lack of after school programs, gangs in schools, quality of schools, truancy, youth running away from home, youth congregating in the streets, and fighting in schools. A substantial majority—86%—of respondents felt that these issues posed “big” or “very big” problems to the youth in the community.
In addition to questions about youth-related problems, respondents were asked to rate the importance of a number of youth services and programs as very important, somewhat important, or not important. Respondents were also asked if they thought that additional youth services were needed in Crown Heights. Only 11% of those interviewed felt that additional youth services were not needed in the community. More than 75% of respondents felt that each of the fourteen youth services and programs listed were very important (the services listed were family mediation services, counseling, mentoring, tutoring, jobs and job training, conflict resolution training, after-school programs, mediation in schools, and computer training, youth courts, dating abuse education, arts programs, sports, and religious organizations).
In general, residents of Crown Heights feel that issues of quality of life, safety, and youth are problematic in their community. In all three indices, at least 3/5 of respondents rated the issues as big or very big problems. Youth problems stand out in particular, with 86% of respondents rating them problematic. These findings point to a wide range of potential issues for the Mediation Center and partner organizations to seek to address.
One of the primary roles of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center is to train mediators and provide mediation services to community members in conflict. In light of this, respondents were asked to indicate the frequency of various types of conflict within Crown Heights. Slightly more than half of respondents felt that landlord/tenant disputes and disputes between neighbors were common, while just under half of respondents felt that disputes between merchants and residents and disputes within families were common.
While half of respondents believed such disputes were common, 17% or less of the respondents had had any of the four types of disputes themselves in the past year. However, when both respondents’ disputes and the disputes of their acquaintances are considered, at least 30% of respondents have had some personal experience with each of the four types of dispute. There appears to be a disconnect between estimates of disputes in Crown Heights and respondents’ actual experience of conflict. For example, while 55% of respondents indicated that landlord/tenant disputes were common or very common in Crown Heights, only 35% of participants had had such a dispute (16%) or knew someone who had had such a dispute (19%).
Also, more than half (51%) of respondents reported having daily professional contact (defined as non-personal interactions, such as those one might have with merchants or co-workers) with people of a different race and with people of a different nationality than their own. Nearly half (49%) also reported having daily professional contact with people of a different religion than their own. More than 1/5 of respondents reported that they had professional contact with those of a different race (22%), religion (25%), or nationality (24%) rarely or never. Respondents reported more diversity in their personal lives; 60% of respondents reported having daily personal contact with people of a different religion or nationality and 57% reported having daily personal contact with people of a different race than their own.
In general, respondents reported feeling safe with people from different religious, racial, and national backgrounds than themselves. More than 85% of respondents reported feeling safe or very safe with people from different races, religions, and nationalities.
The findings that respondents in Crown Heights report extensive diversity in their personal and professional interactions and feel safe with members of diverse racial, religious, and national groups may indicate that public perceptions of Crown Heights as a community riddled with racial and ethnic strife do not accurately reflect the experiences of those who live and work in the community. This finding is particularly interesting, given the earlier finding that the majority of respondents did not feel that inter-racial and inter-ethnic relations had improved in Crown Heights since the 1991 riots.