"The Quality of Life Project" comprised a number of ambitious efforts to stimulate informed public dialogue about how to preserve Bergen County's best qualities in an era of increasing congestion, rising crime and a changing economy.
The first step was to find the consensus on what qualities should be preserved. The paper polled 600 area residents and more than 200 county leaders about the region's strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. It also asked readers to respond to the same questions through a coupon in the paper and received more than 1,200 responses. Then it brought in task forces of residents and public officials for roundtable, brainstorming sessions.
Among the most critical findings: traffic congestion was the number-one concern, outranking crime and taxes on the list of reasons not to live in Northern Jersey. Education was also a top concern. The poll also found a pervasive sense of powerlessness among residents - almost half said they didn't have much say about what happens in Bergen County.
Each of these findings was tackled over the course of the two-year project. In 1995, the paper examined local schools. Among the stories was a seven-part series on the achievement gap in Teaneck, NJ, which was informed by a poll and a town forum attended by 400 residents.
The paper also joined forces with TCI cable and WJUX to hold televised countywide call-in town meetings so that citizens could ask questions directly of elected officials. The 90-minute show, "Local Live," received more than 70 calls when it debuted in April, demonstrating residents' desire to connect with local government and feel they were being heard.
Throughout 1996, The Record produced "In a Big Jam," a series of special sections examining the causes and solutions to severe regional transportation problems. As part of the reporting, the paper convened a transportation task force of citizens and transportation and planning officials to develop strategies for uncovering solutions.
When the series began running, Feb. 18, 1996, the Record asked readers to offer solutions. The paper chose 25 of the responses and published them, along with an analysis by transit experts of each suggestion. The partners gave citizens a chance to talk to transit officials directly on an edition of "Local Live." After the series concluded in November, a local Chamber of Commerce asked the paper to co-sponsor two brainstorming conferences on the topic, which attracted 200 people.