Cost of living top concern says Victoria Foundation’s Vital Signs report

This post originally appeared in the Black Press Philanthropy page.

“As we celebrate the Victoria Foundation’s 75th anniversary, initiatives like Vital Signs demonstrate the ways we continue to build traction for organizations that do good work in the community – in perpetuity.”
– Steve McKerrell, Chair of the Victoria Foundation board

victoria's vital signs 2011

Victoria residents are concerned about the cost of living but love the natural amenities of their community. They are still wed to their cars for commuting, report better mental health than they did last year, but say they are involved in less physical activity.

These are some of the results from the 2011 Vital Signs®, an annual community report card produced by the Victoria Foundation. The report is a combination of public opinion and statistics that provides a snapshot of livability and well-being in Greater Victoria.

This is the sixth year the foundation has produced Victoria’s Vital Signs, which is sponsored by Island Savings Credit Union. It is the fourth year survey respondents were asked to identify what they think are the most important issues  facing Greater Victoria today. For the first time since the question was asked, cost of living moved ahead of  homelessness to top the list. Addictions, housing and mental illness were the third, fourth and fifth areas of concern followed by transportation, employment, community planning/development, health care, and elder care.

This year respondents were asked for the first time to list the best things about Greater Victoria. Natural environment, climate, walkability, air quality, and festivals and events were the top five answers.

“This demonstrates the value of and need for green spaces in both urban and rural settings across the region,” said Sarah Webb, climate action control coordinator for the Capital Regional District. “The findings in Vital Signs demonstrate the critical need for focused urban growth near employment, goods and services so that sustainable transportation like transit and cycling can be used. Three of the top 10 identified issues are land use, transportation and employment, so addressing this triad presents significant opportunities to improve environmental health, encourage sustainable economic development and enhance quality of life for residents.”

Trends to watch

The statistics reported in Vital Signs demonstrate some indicators are improving while others are staying the same or falling behind. For example, there is less property crime, less garbage going into Hartland Landfill, and a larger number of people who report enjoying good mental health.

Trends that are worsening include: more children in government care and more living in poverty, higher housing costs as a percentage of income – especially for young people – and  fewer people reporting regular physical activity.

Bucking a national trend in obesity

Despite this last fact, residents of southern Vancouver Island are bucking a national trend that is seeing obesity rates rise.

“It’s encouraging to see a fall in the rates of obesity because a healthy body weight is critical to preventing the early onset of disease or managing chronic diseases,” said Dr. Joan Wharf Higgins, Canada Research Chair, Health & Society and associate professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Physical Education.

“The decline in self-reported physical activity rates is discouraging, though, because an active lifestyle offers many benefits, not just helping to maintain a healthy body weight. For example, engaging in physical activity can help individuals cope with stress – and Victorians report living with more stress in 2010 than previous years.”

Vital Signs a vital tool

Sandra Richardson, CEO of the Victoria Foundation, said Vital Signs has become a critical tool in helping the foundation identify causes that matter to Victorians.

“It has helped us understand our community like never before – highlighting needs and opportunities and assisting our foundation to make impactful grants.”

victoria village of 100

Victoria Foundation board chair Steve McKerrell said: “the Vital Signs initiative helps keep us in touch and on track.” McKerrell said the kind of information tracked in Vital Signs can help both individuals and organizations in making funding, donating and policy decisions.

Todd Litman, executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, hopes it will do just that and that  decisionmakers will challenge some of the assumptions on which the affordability index is based. For example, he says the index is skewed by the assumption that all households need to own a car and that all parents need childcare services – two of the largest expenditure categories.

“A large increase in household affordability can result from unbundling parking costs, improving alternative transportation modes, and increasing the supply of affordable housing in more accessible, multi-modal neighborhoods. These solutions provide other economic, social and environmental benefits, and so represent true sustainable  development” said Litman.

Victoria’s Vital Signs report, as well as source information and links, is available online.

This year, results of the Youth Vital Signs survey will be released in a separate report sponsored by the TELUS Victoria Community Board. The report will be released at the TEDx Youth Conference Nov. 20.