American demographics, neighborhood dynamics, resident needs, and constituent expectations are undergoing rapid transformation. Technological advancements, cultural shifts, and global challenges drive this profound change. The way we live and work is redefined. So, city leadership, too, must adapt.
Recent events have highlighted new concerns, from mental health support and access to affordable housing to environmental sustainability and digital inclusion. The call for community engagement and the amplification of diverse voices in decision-making are growing louder.
We met council members nationwide facing similar challenges at the National League of Cities (NLC) 2023 City Summit conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I spoke to several of them to find out what they think city leaders should focus on most in 2024.
1. Local Economy
“For the City of Detroit, we should focus on wealth generation as a city with a significant population of low-income families. We have to bring the wealth back to our families. And that will, in turn, improve the services that we can offer to our residents.”
– Scott Benson, Councilman, Detroit, MI
2. Affordable, Attainable, Sustainable Housing
“Cites should focus on partnering with developers to create a variety of housing that’s affordable and sustainable. Housing should be attainable so that people at all income levels can afford to live within their price range. We must recognize climate change to support a sustainable lifestyle and make cities more walkable. Developers need to be subsidized because the price of building materials has gone up, and the interest rates are soaring. So we need public-private partnerships to have housing that’s affordable, sustainable, and attainable.”
– Chuck Lesnick, Former City Council President, Yonkers, NY
3. Environmental Sustainability
“It’s all about climate change and the impact on infrastructure and human conditions. There is nothing more important right now. And I think it affects us all, especially in Minnesota. We just moved into a new bracket of climate trends. It’s 10 to 15 degrees warmer in the winter than it was even when I moved there 15 years ago. So, with all those changes, we need to figure out how to ensure people can still live healthy and productive lives. We can get ahead of the storms - literally - on that front.”
“I think in 2024, city leaders should focus more on collaborating efforts [both internally and with neighboring cities] - working together instead of working in silos. Regardless of how big a city is or how many resources they have, most of the time, our problems are the same. And so it makes sense for us to work together on shared issues.”
– Chanell Elston, Councilwoman at Large, South Euclid, OH
5. Community Youth Wellness and Workforce Preparedness
“The most important focus should be our future: our children. We should be checking out their health and mental health status, what they are eating in school, their physical activity, and checking out everything. We need to give them opportunities in this digital divide so that they are not left behind and can be better prepared for the workforce later.”
– Kevin Conwell, CEO of WakeHustleGrind.org, Cleveland, OH
6. Mental Health Crisis Response
“City leaders should prioritize crisis response related to mental health, which leads to issues on the streets like substance abuse. Solutions require partnering with law enforcement and local service providers.”
– Matt Keating, City Councilor, Eugene, OR
7. Community-Centered Decision-Making
“City leadership should listen to residents and be more community-engaged and centered. We should be looking at data (including resident surveys and getting input) to make data-informed decisions going forward. The data will direct our path and guide us to the areas that are important. Sometimes, we make decisions for residents without having them at the table. And so I think that going forward, we need opportunities and platforms where citizens can truly be heard and be part of the processes that impact policy. So our elected leadership guides our strategic priorities, and merging that with actual voices from the community is really important in 2024.”
– Patrice Toney, Assistant City Manager, Winston-Salem, NC
*Interviews have been lightly edited for grammar and readability.
The Top Ten Community Needs, According to US Residents
As cities evolve unprecedentedly, local governments are called upon to address the pressing issues that impact their communities proactively. Many city leaders are stepping forward and even embracing the change.
Dozens of factors determine quality of life, including infrastructure, public safety, housing, and more. So Polco, a community engagement and civic analytics platform, has reported the top ten priorities of US residents today. Knowing these national trends can help local leaders create thriving, resilient communities.