Governments that stay in touch with the public improve their chances of being effective.
We applaud the city of Sterling for conducting a recent community survey to hear what the public has to say about the city.
It takes courage to ask people what they think of you, whether you’re an individual or a 15,370-population city. After all, you might not like the answers.
But from the honest appraisal of the public can come an opportunity to build upon strengths, improve weaknesses, and set priorities.
The 328 survey respondents shared their views about the city’s promise and problems. The survey was voluntary, not scientific, but its results should not be discounted because of that. (See the city’s website, ci.sterling.il.us, for full results.)
Respondents believe Sterling doesn’t have enough jobs and industry, has too much crime and gangs, suffers from blight and run-down neighborhoods, and is known for its low-income families (created by an economic decline sparked by the steel mill’s closure in 2001).
Oh, and some people don’t like those one-way streets through the downtown that can befuddle first-time and infrequent visitors.
On the positive side, respondents said the city has good people, a fine hospital, and inexpensive cost of living. The city’s proximity to the Rock River is seen as an asset.
If the city cleans up neighborhoods, develops the riverfront, adds jobs, boosts education, and expands retail shopping, more residents and visitors could be attracted, respondents stated.
Conducted by the city, the survey focused on Sterling. Barely mentioned was that 9,266-population city across the river.
This survey question is illustrative: When you first think of Sterling, which three words come to mind?
Top three answers: Steel mill, Rock River, hospital.
When many people first think of Sterling, however, they naturally think of Rock Falls – the same as people do with LaSalle and Peru, Bloomington and Normal, and Champaign and Urbana.
If Sterling’s survey has a flaw, it is that Rock Falls was not included, thus making the results less meaningful. A joint survey project would have been a good opportunity for the cities to work together to obtain information beneficial to both.
Perhaps Rock Falls city officials could piggyback on Sterling’s community branding survey by conducting one of their own.
We note that the city of Rock Falls already plans to survey its residents for input to help determine the city’s course regarding further development of the Hennepin Canal.
If Sterling is willing to share its questions, methodology, and so forth, Rock Falls officials could do their own survey.
Then, officials from both cities could review the combined results to look for additional opportunities to work together more effectively.
Sterling and Rock Falls are two cities but one community. That oneness is a strength that should be harnessed whenever possible.