It’s hard to beat this “feels like summer” spring to bring out the best of Juneau. The whales are returning, the kings are running, the hiking trails are open and the flowers are blooming. But there is more to Juneau’s quality of life than the great outdoors.
Quality of life is equally a result of community endeavors, only we don’t hear as much about this connection. Instead we read, discuss and hear a lot about Juneau’s high cost of living. I am not writing to dispute the fact that Juneau, save for the price of electricity, has some of the highest costs of living in Alaska. Rather, I’m write to point out that we also have a high quality of life.
Yes, our health care costs are high, but according to Matt Felix, author of “Juneau’s Healthy Indicator Report”, Juneau is the healthiest community in the state. As we watch the Juneau Board of Education wrestle with budget cuts, we know that maintaining sustainable funding for our schools is a struggle. Yet Juneau boasts one of the highest graduation rates in the state at 79 percent (up from 70 percent).
For residents with young children at home, I’ve learned that the cost of daycare can be crippling, requiring both parents to work to make ends meet. But let’s not forget how youth-centered our community remains, with a wide array of activities available for kids of all ages and skill levels. From after-school activities to sports and dance, from Juneau Youth Services to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, there is a solid network of support for our youth.
We all agree that finding affordable housing is still a challenge for many residents, but let’s keep in mind that we have thriving, safe neighborhoods from Back Loop road to Douglas. We know our neighbors, local post man and the teacher down the street. In Juneau, we all watch out for each other. This cannot be said for many communities with a lower cost of living.
In addition to living in a safe, friendly and youth-oriented community, we live in a community whose arts, music and culture is off the charts for a city of 33,000 residents. Just as spring brings out the best of our natural environment, it also does the same with cultural events like the Folk Festival and Juneau Jazz and Classics. I recently had the extraordinary experience of spending a morning watching a brown bear dig for clams and then going to an evening concert of New Orleans’s Jazz musicians (only to arrive home still dancing and looking up to see the Northern Lights). Where else in the world is this series of events even possible? We all have these type of “You won’t believe what happened to me” stories.
When I hear people complain about the ever-increasing cost of living and how it constrains economic growth, I don’t challenge their numbers and concern — I balance it by looking around and seeing more restaurants opening up, a new national store coming to town and a major heritage center being built downtown. Now we even have a second airline coming during the summer months. These are signs that there is some comfort in the reports by the Juneau Economic Development Council, which show the private sector growing by 3 percent and wages rising by 5 percent in 2012.
Recognizing our high quality of life does not mean we should stop trying to lower the cost of living, particularly for young families wanting to get established or retirees on fixed incomes. Instead it is merely to offer perspective to remember to stop and smell the flowers; to appreciate all the good that abounds in Juneau.
This is the springs of all springs to do so.