Rotorua people love their home's natural environment, climate and air quality but see drug and alcohol abuse as the district's biggest issue.
These were some of the findings from the Geyser Community Foundation's Vital Signs 2018 research project for the Rotorua district, which was released today.
A separate report for Taupo was also released.
Vital Signs is a research tool used to understand residents' perceptions of the place they call home. The report looks at the social, environmental, cultural and economic well-being of communities, identifying strengths, and areas for improvement according to local people.
Geyser chairman Pat Brown said the reports showed growing confidence in both districts across a range of sectors.
"This is the first time the research has been carried out in the Rotorua and Taupo communities. It provides us with an independent understanding of our communities' challenges and priorities, and will be refreshed every three years."
A total of 874 Rotorua district residents completed the survey.
Brown said these were exciting times for both districts but at the same time there were some significant challenges.
Geyser's Distribution Advisory Committee chairman Dr Kierin Irvine said the region was rich in natural beauty and resources.
"So it's no surprise that the things we love most about living here include the natural environment, climate and air quality. Maori heritage and culture are also seen as a distinctive and loved feature of our local community.
"Local residents believe we are performing best in the areas of sport and recreation, and arts and culture."
The top five things locals love about living in Rotorua are:
1. Natural environment, climate and air quality
2. Connectedness – friends, whanau, community, support
3. Recreation, parks and reserves
4. Maori heritage, culture, arts
5. Restaurants and shopping
"In contrast, the areas the community think are being performed least well are safety, reducing inequity and housing. Supporting young adults, health and wellness and the economy are also not seen as performed particularly well."
Dr Irvine said the research showed that although the Rotorua district's economy was improving, and this looked set to continue, residents were concerned about the resulting strain on infrastructure. Lingering social issues also remained a focus for the community.
"The main priority identified for improvement is to reduce drug and alcohol abuse. This is seen as an issue in terms of health and wellness, and community safety, ie resulting crime.
"In addition, high living costs, low levels of employment, and the associated issues of poverty and homelessness are key priorities for the district."
At a launch of the report today, Dr Irvine said the research would be used as a tool by the foundation when deciding where it allocated funding.
"We will be able to refer to this and the priorities. It's also going to be very useful for other organisations like the council."
The five biggest issues facing the Rotorua district are:
1. Drug and alcohol abuse
2. Cost of living
3. Availability of jobs
5. Homelessness and planning for the district's growth
Vital Signs 2018 for the Rotorua and Taupo districts is a collaborative project between the Geyser Community Foundation, BayTrust, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Rotorua Lakes Council.
The Bay-wide survey was done by Key Research. About 12,700 residents in the Rotorua district were invited to take part and 874 people completed it.
More than half of the respondents (53 per cent) had lived in the region for more than 20 years.
The biggest age group of respondents were those over 65 (28 per cent), 22 per cent were 56-65, 19 per cent 46-55, 14 per cent 36-45 and 16 per cent aged 18 -35.
Women made up 59 per cent of respondents, and men were 41 per cent.
When it came to ethnicity, 78 per cent of respondents were NZ European, 19 per cent Maori and 11 per cent "other".
Rotorua Lakes Council strategy group manager Jean-Paul Gaston said the findings of the Vital Signs 2018 report reinforced what the council had learned through a greater focus on community engagement during the past few years through work to progress towards the district's 2030 vision, including work to revitalise neighbourhoods.
Gaston said the council was taking a collaborative approach, working together with others to address social and environmental issues.
"The council is working with other government agencies as part of the Rotorua Working Together Group which provides cooperative responses to addressing community issues and needs," Gaston said in a statement.
"We are part of the Whiria Te Aroha group of agencies and community service providers collaborating on homelessness."
Gaston said the council was working with Housing NZ, had signed a housing accord with the Government and were exploring options for pensioner housing.
"We are changing the criteria for the council's community grants to a focus on addressing inequity in the community and we are supporting and collaborating on youth engagement, education and employment initiatives alongside youth services providers, schools, Rotorua Chamber of Commerce, Ministry of Education and Toi Te Ora," said Gaston.
He said Rotorua was now officially a medium growth area and planning for ongoing growth remained a focus.
The council contributed $10,000 towards the Vital Signs 2018 report.
Copies of the full Vital Signs 2018 reports for the Rotorua and Taupo Districts are available on Geyser's website www.geysercf.org.nz.