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Newsroom conversations: An update on WHQR's Community Agenda

A word cloud generated from responses to the Community Agenda survey show an unsurprising result: Housing, and affordable housing, are a major concern.
A word cloud generated from responses to the Community Agenda survey show an unsurprising result: Housing, and affordable housing, are a major concern.

WHQR is out in the community asking residents for their opinions on the upcoming election. So what has the community said so far?

Ben Schachtman: So Kelly, you’ve been out and about in the community with one question for residents: What do you want city council candidates to talk about as they compete for your votes?

Kelly Kenoyer: Sometimes I rephrase it a little to say- “what are the biggest issues impacting you in the community that you want city council to work on?”

BS: Either way, that’s a big question.

KK: It really is. What we’re doing here is trying to let the constituents decide what the election is about. Council candidates often have a strong hand in setting the narrative for an election, since they can give speeches, send out mailers, and run advertisements. But we wanted to get ahead of that and ask residents what they want.

BS: So how has it gone?

KK: As of yesterday morning, we have more than 170 responses. I’d really like to get 1000 ahead of our candidate forum, so we can ask the candidates really good questions based on our survey responses.

BS: That’s a big lift, but we seem to be well on our way. Where have you been asking?

KK: We went to the grand opening for Eden Village and the downtown day shelter. We also went to a social hour put on by the Wilmington Business Journal, a couple concerts at the local bar, Eagle’s Dare, and a few of WHQR’s events, like our fourth Friday art walk. I’m sure I’m missing one or two- we’ve had volunteers helping us out with tabling!

BS: That’s a good start. But we could really use some more diversity there- maybe more spots outside of downtown.

KK: I agree. That’s part of the reason I wanted to come on the air with this story- to ask you listeners to send in ideas. Do you have a church event, block party, baseball game, or fundraiser that will be well attended? Please email us if you’re interested in our little democratic initiative here. That’s at staffnews@whqr.org

BS: Ok ok, we do want those ideas. But first- what have you heard so far from residents!

KK: Housing and homelessness are top priorities. I made a word cloud out of the responses, and housing is the largest by far. People talk about it in terms of rentals and house prices being too high, and ask for more affordable housing to be built.

BS: I’m not terribly surprised by that.

KK: At the same time, people are concerned about development. Opinions are split on that- some think there are too many apartments, others are more concerned about sprawl, which would be those big, low-density neighborhoods. I saw several references to “smart development” and “smart growth.” And a lot of folks tie those concerns to traffic and infrastructure.

BS: Anecdotally, I’ve certainly heard plenty of frustration with developers – including projects that don’t feel like a good fit to neighbors. How much did that come up?

KK: I definitely heard about that- and concerns that city council and the county favor developers, since so many in power work in real estate.

What I’ve gathered is that people feel like Wilmington isn’t developing well - which is pretty concerning, since the vast, VAST majority of the land in the city has already been built on. While some residents are opposed to any development, a lot of people voiced apprehension with uncontrolled or badly planned development. Some say they want affordable apartments, others say to stop any new apartments until there are more schools.

Out of 171 responses, infrastructure came up 22 times and traffic 24 times. That’s compared to 41 times for the word housing, and 29 references to the homeless. Traffic light timing came up there as well- people feel like the road system just isn’t working very well.

BS: I don't have anything good to say about Wilmington traffic.

KK: I’ve got to say, going back to my hometown over the summer made that stand out to me. Salem, Oregon is growing almost as fast as Wilmington — it gained 70,000 residents in 30 years to Wilmington’s 80,000. But Salem’s traffic is not nearly as bad, and I’m wondering why that is.

BS: I mean… in North Carolina, counties can’t build roads or do transportation planning.

KK: Hmmm. That might have something to do with it. Roads here in North Carolina are mostly NCDOT’s jurisdiction, with roads within the city a mishmash of the city and the state. In Oregon, cities and counties do have a larger role.

BS: But we do have the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization here… which decides on projects and directs funding. Well, what else stood out?

KK: A lot of people are concerned about education. But I’d like to say here, city council doesn’t directly oversee or fund the school system here. Any education they work on is tangential to public schools and a work-around. We’ve heard about small businesses, water quality, bike lanes, green space, climate change… and we’d like to hear more!

BS: To share your thoughts, go towhqr.org/communityagenda. Thanks for working on this, Kelly!

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.