The Work of Many is Raising Our Quality of Life (OPINION)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 78 views 

Northwest Arkansas has experienced transformative growth over the last two decades. But it has been even more inspiring to watch the collective work of residents, communities, companies and other organizations continue to build on that momentum — raising quality of life in this region to an all-time high.

News outlets from coast to coast — and occasionally beyond — regularly tap into Northwest Arkansas’ emerging arts and our access to natural assets. They praise our region’s commitment to connectivity and acclaim the overall sense of place we celebrate. As part of this community, the Walton Family Foundation is proud to be involved in this movement. Together, we’re investing in a forward-thinking vision and producing world-class results, but our work is not done.

The Walton Family Foundation has been committed to improving livability in Northwest Arkansas for nearly three decades. Between January 2013 and January 2016, foundation investments across the region totaled nearly $97 million.

As we continue to implement our 2020 strategic plan, we’ve conducted surveys — first in 2012 and again in 2015 — to help us measure impact and identify areas of opportunity. In doing so, we’ve been able to allocate our resources in the most meaningful and impactful ways possible.

According to our latest survey, overall satisfaction among Northwest Arkansas residents is remarkably high, with 95 percent feeling “very happy” or “fairly happy.” When it comes to trails, 69 percent of residents reported using this amenity.

Meanwhile, the number of residents who report visiting Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the past 12 months has increased by 21 percent points over the past three years. The museum also continues to diversify its audience, connecting with the region’s growing Hispanic population.

When it comes to education, from elementary school to college, our schools consistently rate favorably.

The findings also suggest opportunities we need to consider.

There’s a clear desire to expand our transportation options. We need to have conversations about mass transit and cycling as an active transportation alternative. Downtown experiences and cultural amenities are affected by income barriers. As our population has grown, access to affordable, quality pre-K options has become even more of a priority.

We strive to make investments that have crossover potential among our strategies. For example, young professionals are not telling us they want a specific type of art, like dance or music. They want easy access to lively downtowns where they have multiple cultural options. They can eat at a great restaurant, go to a play, or spend the evening admiring the latest art exhibition.

It connects the dots between active transportation networks (trails), downtown revitalization, and access to a variety of art forms.

We know opportunity brings people to Northwest Arkansas, and we want to create a region where people move here not only for a career but also for the lifestyle and culture. The work of many organizations and individuals has brought the quality of life we enjoy today.

Let’s celebrate our achievements and embrace areas of improvement as we work together to make our community a wonderful place to live. 

Karen Minkel is the director of the Home Region program for the Walton Family Foundation, established by the late Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton and his wife, Helen. Minkel joined the foundation in 2012 and helped plan the foundation’s 2020 strategic plan to invest $302 million in Northwest Arkansas and the Delta region.