Lehigh Valley’s questionable quality of life

A new survey conducted by Muhlenberg’s Institute of Public Opinion finds residents concerned with environmental issues.

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Muhlenberg’s Institute of Public Opinion (IPO) recently released a survey titled “Lehigh Valley Quality of Life Survey: Resident Perceptions of Environmental Quality.” The survey was conducted by Christopher Borick, Ph.D., professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College IPO, Cydney Wilson ‘23, Anthony Merchlinsky ‘24 and Cathy Barrish ‘24. These contributors aimed to show the increasing concerns of Lehigh Valley residents for the environmental quality of their surroundings. The survey explores three main topics: loss of open spaces (forests, farms, etc.), air quality and water quality.

“The environmental questions were part of a broader study on perceptions of quality of life that was a partnership between the IPO, LehighValleyNews.com, The Lehigh Valley Partnership and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation,” explained Borick. 

For the study, 631 adult residents of Lehigh and Northampton counties were interviewed via telephone in Sept. and Oct. of 2022. Each respondent was asked to assess their level of concern with the three topics in their community. The data was then analyzed and categorized by “gender, age, race and educational attainment to 2022 population parameters for Lehigh and Northampton counties,” according to the survey. 

A survey of this scale is bound to come with challenges: according to Borick, “reaching a representative sample of adults in the Lehigh Valley is challenging and requires a significant amount of effort and resources. The project took quite a few weeks for interviews to be completed, and significant time for additional work to design the instrument, weigh the data and to write the report.”

Despite the challenges, numerous key findings were discovered from the survey. The report found that “Lehigh Valley residents express significant levels of concern regarding the loss of open space in the region with three out of four Lehigh and Northampton county residents either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned with this matter.” In addition, “About a third of Lehigh Valley residents expressed concerns about the quality of air and drinking water quality in the region.”

Other findings focused on a wide range of identities in the Lehigh Valley. In regards to race, “White residents expressed more concern about the loss of open space than people of color, while people of color showed more concern about air quality and water quality than their white counterparts.” In regards to gender, the survey found that “Those who identified as female were more likely to have concerns about air quality, water quality and the loss of open space than those identifying as male,” according to the study.

“This survey was essential to conduct as it allows us to understand the community members from not only a governance perspective but also from a relatability standpoint,” shared Barrish. “The biggest thing about this survey is ensuring a continued discussion about sustainability.”

“We need to be aware of issues in order to solve them.”

Cathy Barrish ’24

Merchlinsky echoed this sentiment when working on the project, saying, “I think what inspired me most was not simply looking at environmental concerns but looking at the concerns about the quality of life as a whole within the Lehigh Valley. It is important to understand these different concerns and perceptions of local residents…”

Students gave their input on their experience of living in the Lehigh Valley, whether it be for four years or their entire lives. When considering the three main factors explored in the survey, one anonymous student who is not a Lehigh Valley resident explained, “I’m concerned about the drinking water quality since the water that comes out of the sink literally just smells like chlorine.”

“I do feel quite a bit concerned about losing open space,” explained Britney Bonhomme ‘24, another Lehigh Valley resident. “As a resident of 10 years, I’ve seen my hometown, Whitehall, build dozens of buildings that used to be beautiful trees. An example of this is happening right down the street from us on Cedar Crest Boulevard and Walbert Avenue. There is beautiful open land that’s being destroyed by hideous construction and a new building is being built but no one knows what it is yet. It would be beneficial for a daycare or garden to be built there but I doubt that is happening. As for air quality and water quality, I think that it could definitely be improved but at the moment it isn’t too dire of an issue.” 

Lehigh Valley resident and public health major Ethan Yazdanyar ‘25 shared, “I definitely feel concerned since I’m from the Lehigh Valley and we’re known for bad air and water quality. It’s concerning since I have a lot of family members who live here too, and younger siblings who are also affected by it, and with more industrialization happening it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better.”

While the survey served as an informative report for the public on these environmental factors, it was also used as a catalyst. “…we haven’t focused on this issue in Lehigh Valley studies,” shared Borick.

“In upcoming years we hope to be able to field studies of local residents on climate-related matters.”

Christopher Borick

Merchlinsky followed with “I hope this report serves as a baseline of understanding so people can come together and recognize each other’s viewpoints and different perceptions leading us to a greater understanding of one another and our various concerns.”

Working towards a sustainable future means change on a local level, starting right here in the Lehigh Valley.

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