The Walton Family Foundation released its 2018 Northwest Arkansas Quality of Life Survey results Sept. 12, revealing little change in residents’ feelings of acceptance and other attitudes toward the region, but a significant increase in the use of natural and cultural amenities since 2015.
Of surveyed Benton and Washington County residents, 67% rated their overall quality of life as “excellent” or “very good,” compared to 72% in the 2015 survey.
The percentage of respondents who reported being “very happy” or “fairly happy” (95%) did not change since the last survey.
Eighty-seven percent said they felt accepted in their local communities, the same as 2015. Of black respondents, 26% reported not feeling accepted, a significantly higher percentage than that of white or Hispanic residents, at 4% and 3%, respectively. This rate of non-acceptance also increased slightly from 21% in 2015.
Junior Giovanni Desgrottes, who has lived in NWA for five years, said that he has experienced cultural alienation as a black man in the region.
While living in Rogers and Lowell prior to starting college, Desgrottes said he felt like there were two major communities there: the Hispanic community and the white community. To Desgrottes, it did not often seem like there was a place for black people.
“I don’t remember anyone being black in my neighborhood, except for maybe one family that was down the street,” Desgrottes said. “I can count on my fingers how many people I’ve met that were actually from Northwest Arkansas and were black.”
It has been difficult for Desgrottes to find restaurants, barber shops and other businesses that specifically cater to the black community in NWA, he said.
“In Bentonville there’s only one barber shop that I know of that has black barbers, and in Fayetteville there’s not that many, and the prices are pretty high,” he said.
Desgrottes said that he feels less out of place since coming to Fayetteville and starting at the UofA, where he is a member of black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.
Although he feels a greater sense of belonging at the university, Desgrottes still experiences instances of racial bias, he said.
“Sometimes when I try to go to a party and don’t get in, I feel like maybe my race was the reason,” Desgrottes said.
He said he sometimes feels singled out for harassment when visiting bars and clubs on Dickson Street.
The survey also asked questions about local natural and cultural amenities. The results showed that 71% of respondents attended Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the past year (compared to 63% in 2015), 53% attended the Arkansas Music Pavilion (up from 42%), 44% attended the Jones Center (up from 27%), and 70% visited a public hiking or biking trail (up from 69%).
Freshman Billie Firmin, born and raised in Fayetteville, said she uses the bike trail system more than any other public amenity in NWA. She also frequents the AMP because of its prices and convenience.
“Every time someone I like comes, I pretty much always get tickets because it’s so cheap and it’s so close,” Firmin said.
Freshman Yannik Dwyer is also a longtime NWA resident, having moved to Rogers from Neosho, Missouri, when he was 9. Dwyer said he spends much of his time at public parks and trails and also frequents Crystal Bridges and TheatreSquared, which recently completed construction of a new performance space courtesy of donors such as the Walton Foundation.
Survey results showed that residents’ perceptions of the quality of public education in Northwest Arkansas increased between 2015 and 2018. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed in 2018 viewed the quality of local elementary schools to be “good” or “very” good; the rates were 68% for middle schools, 72% for high schools, and 76% for higher education. The rates in 2015 were 69%, 63%, 70%, and 74% respectively.
Firmin chose to stay in Fayetteville for college because of the U of A’s educational quality, affordability and her personal and professional connections to the region, but she said that she would like to broaden her horizons by living somewhere else after graduation.
“I could definitely see myself coming back here often, but my mom grew up in Southeast Arkansas and came up here for college and stayed here, and she always says, ‘I love Arkansas, I love Fayetteville, but I wish I had lived somewhere else in my life,’” she said.
Both Firmin and Dwyer said that living here for so many years has allowed them to see NWA grow and develop.
Firmin thinks the region has become a better place to live over the course of her life because of the expansion of public amenities and an increasingly progressive atmosphere, she said.
“It’s nice to see how much it’s changed, and that it’s changed, I think, mostly for the better,” Dwyer said. “I like having all of these cultural centers, but I think it’s also been really special to see that stuff rise up around me.”
Dwyer would like to see even more cultural development in NWA, specifically in collaborative spaces for artists and innovators, he said.
“I’d love to see more places like the extension of Crystal Bridges that’s currently being developed, which will be a place where they’ll have artists in residence and different events,” Dwyer said. “Stuff like that, where you can suck more people in and also create a space where people who are from here can develop and make more of an impact.”
The Quality of Life survey, which the Walton Family Foundation has commissioned in 2012, 2015 and 2018, gauges the satisfaction of residents with life in the NWA region (Benton and Washington counties). According to the survey, current NWA grantees of the foundation include the cities of Bentonville, Rogers, Fayetteville and Springdale. The foundation also funds local cultural organizations such as the Walton Arts Center and TheatreSquared. The survey uses a variety of measures to track residents’ opinions and their use of various resources in the region.
The foundation commissioned the Survey Research Lab at Mississippi State University to administer the 2018 109-question survey to 966 residents of Benton and Washington counties between the ages of 20 and 64.