A national opinion poll has found that a majority of Americans believe their cities are improving and, even though most people still prefer living in the suburbs, they support tax subsidies for historic preservation, mass transit, highway construction and low-income housing for urban centers.

The poll consists of a survey of 1,008 persons by the Gallup Organization for the Urban Land Institute, a developers' research group.

The poll found that, while most Americans would not be willing to move to the downtown area of their city, a majority feel a good job is being done to improve cities and they would support subsidies for future improvements.

"Americans are no longer turning their back on cities," said George Gallup Jr., president of the Gallup Organization, in a presentation of the survey results to ULI's 50th anniversary convention in Orlando, Fla., last week. "Many are taking a renewed interest in their city. We found that nine out of 10 city dwellers are willing to give time and money to solve the problems in their cities."

The survey, designed to poll a cross-section of the U.S. population on its attitude towards cities and communities, found that a majority of Americans believe their neighborhoods and communities will improve or remain the same, rather than decline, during the next 10 years. People who said they feel their local taxes are either low or "about right" were more inclined to predict their cities would improve in the future than those who said they believe their taxes are too high.

Most respondents gave high ratings to their communities for shopping convenience, fire and police protection, sanitation, schools and housing construction. Street and road maintenance, housing maintenance and the quality of playgrounds for children were generally rated fair or poor.

Crime, traffic and parking were often cited as inner-city problems. A small majority said they believe they can find better shopping in suburban malls than in downtown retail centers.

Overall, midwesterners and westerners rated their neighborhood services more highly than did easterners or southerners. At the same time, suburban dwellers rated their neighborhoods higher than did people residing in urban or rural areas on all the factors tested.

The poll found that America is still a nation of homeowners. Seven in 10 American adults own their own homes and 81 percent of all Americans said their housing is excellent or good. Only 19 percent rated their housing as fair or poor.

A majority of the respondents cited quality of construction as the highest priority in the building of a new home; architecture quality was the second priority. At the same time, 62 percent said they prefer housing built since 1960.

The poll found that nearly half the respondents said there is not enough housing in their area for lower- and middle-income families, while half said they believe such housing is adequate. Of those that said there should be more housing for low-income families, 35 percent said they support construction of new housing, while 47 percent said they favor rehabilitating existing housing.

The poll found that Americans strongly favor historic preservation and believe local community groups should have a central role in decisions about preservation.

"We are seeing a growing interest in permanence and aesthetics," Gallup said. "A growing interest in preserving the past comes through again and again in this poll."

More than seven in 10 said they believe a good job is being done to restore historic buildings and districts, and 69 percent said they support tax deductions for restoring historic homes. Only 55 percent said they support tax deductions for restoring historic commercial buildings.

The poll found that 97 percent of Americans believe they should have a strong voice in preservation questions. Large majorities also felt that local government and local history experts should also have a voice.

While the poll found that 51 percent of Americans believe local zoning and planning boards are in touch with the public's interests, as many as 39 percent said such boards are not in touch with their interests. Those least inclined to rate their zoning boards positively are easterners and people living in densely populated areas.

While 80 percent of the respondents said they believe developers have helped improve their communities, 74 percent said they believe developers do not pay enough attention to how their work affects the environment.

When asked if environmental regulations should be relaxed to stimulate economic growth and development, respondents split evenly, with 46 percent approving relaxing regulations and 45 percent opposing.

In response to questions about their local taxes, two-thirds of the respondents said their taxes are too high, but large majorities said they would approve tax deductions for preserving farm land and open space, rehabilitating housing in city slums, energy improvements for more efficient heating and subsidies for improving downtown areas.

Although 75 percent said they believe in tax deductions on mortgage interest for principal residences, only 30 percent said a similar deduction should be allowed for vacation homes.

Nearly six in 10 said there is not enough land set aside for wilderness areas in the United States, and 82 percent said they would support subsidies for preservation of more wilderness land.

Gallup also told the developers gathered in Orlando, Fla., that a majority of the respondents said they expect changes in their housing in the near future, either moving to another house or city, or making improvements on their existing homes.

"That is good for the development industry," Gallup said. "This poll shows there should be a lot of activity in the housing market over the next 10 years."