The results of a first-of-its-kind “State of Buckhead” community survey, released in March, contained few surprises — among the takeaways are that locals fear crime and love dogs. But the findings may have long-term impacts as a quartet of business-oriented organizations use them to develop a branding campaign and plans for such programs as public art and dog parks.

Intended as the first in a biannual data-gathering process, the survey was circulated late last year by Livable Buckhead, a nonprofit focused on environmental and community programs. While Livable Buckhead paid for the survey, it will also inform the closely aligned groups the Buckhead Business Association, the Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead Community Improvement District. 

The top issues of concern for people who responded to the “State of Buckhead” survey as shown in a presentation of selected results.

“There aren’t a lot of huge surprises from this survey,” said Denise Starling, Livable Buckhead’s executive director, while discussing the findings at a March 25 BBA meeting. But, she said, it has a lot of useful “data nuggets” on areas to improve, such as raising the profile of public transit and expanding sustainability efforts beyond recycling.

The survey also informs “Buckhead ATL,” a business-style neighborhood branding campaign in the works from the four organizations. Who that branding is aimed at remains fuzzy — “I don’t even know how to answer that,” Starling said in a later interview — but one purpose of the exercise is developing a common theme and talking point for the four organizations, which have very different purposes and constituencies. 

“That’s one of the challenges of creating the brand, because different people want to use it in different ways,” from arts programs to business attraction, said Starling. “So we’re trying to figure out sort of where the common ground is between all those ways you would need to brand the community” and make sure all four organizations have similar “core elements” in mind.

One likely outcome of the branding, said Starling and Tracy Paden of Cookerly, a public relations firm for the four groups, are “placemaking” art projects. Those might be similar to the wall painted with the word “Buckhead” on PATH400 along Lenox Road, or Midtown’s rainbow-painted crosswalks that celebrate the LGBTQ community.

Results

Conducted by the firm Alexander Babbage, the survey drew 2,362 completed responses. A focus of the survey was getting responses from the differing but overlapping constituencies of those who live in Buckhead and those who work there. The firm said that of those who responded, 79% were local residents and 47% were local workers. 

A “word cloud” from the survey results shows how often certain words appeared in responses to open-ended questions, with “crime” rising to the top, followed by “upscale.”

Starling told the BBA that the large number of responses gives the survey “statistical validity” better than many political polls. But there are several qualifications to that and some bias in the demographics. The survey was not random, largely circulating to Livable Buckhead contacts and select businesses, along with some apartment complexes. And the results were not weighted to balance out over- or under-represented groups, said Stephen Collins of Alexander Babbage. 

“It skews toward rich, White Buckhead a little bit more” compared to the neighborhood’s demographics, said Collins of the survey responses, and women were overrepresented as well. Around 90% of respondents were White, while U.S. Census estimates for Buckhead are around 72% White. Collins said a significant difference was in average household income, which he says is estimated at $164,000 for the neighborhood but was around $250,000 for survey respondents.

Crime fears are one area where such bias could show up in the survey results. Speaking earlier this year about Buckhead crime, Georgia State University criminologist Joshua Hinkle said that middle-class suburbanites and older women are the demographics most fearful of crime, even though young men in urban areas are the demographic most likely to be victims of violent crime. 

Crime as “both a real and perceived threat” was the top issue for survey respondents, chosen by 66%, with traffic a distant second at 12%. By far the most popular crime solution was more police officers, at 53%; the heavily touted idea of increasing the Atlanta Police Department’s surveillance camera system came in at 9%. Maintaining roads and improving sidewalks are other big issues.

A Buckhead dog population estimate was part of the survey.

On the positive side, Starling said, the “Buckhead brand” is viewed positively with such terms as “upscale” and “dynamic.” The neighborhood is seen as having great stores and restaurants and good access to employment by roads. 

The survey found that many workers want to continue teleworking at least part of the week after the pandemic. And 56% of households have dogs, which the survey estimates means a population of around 82,000 canines. That’s a big deal for planning fixtures like dog parks.

The survey did not directly ask about a current proposal for Buckhead to become its own city, but the results touched on the theme. Starling mistakenly told the BBA that Livable Buckhead is not taking a position on the issue — all four of the organizations formally oppose it — but that the results “show where a lot of that sentiment is coming from” with concerns about crime, street maintenance and “not getting as much support from our elected officials.” One place cityhood, along with “better leadership,” came up in the survey was as a solution to crime, where 14% of respondents selected it.

In information about the respondents not included in the public presentation but provided to the Reporter later, 4% of the households included people with disabilities. In a question about sexual orientation, 90% identified as straight and 4% as gay, with asexual and bisexual at 2% each and lesbian at 1%.

Selected results from the survey can be seen in a report on the Livable Buckhead website.