Originally published in 2016. Updated March 8, 2022.
Multiple facets of livability, such as transportation, education, and affordable housing, work together to create a great community. But according to The National Community Survey (The NCS), a national assessment that evaluates quality of life, some of these elements are more important than others. Polco senior vice president of innovation Michelle Kobayashi reveals what community needs matter most to residents.
Top Community Needs
Nearly all residents list safety as an essential feature of a good community. But perceptions of safety do not always correlate with crime statistics. For instance, recent media coverage of a felony may negatively sway feelings of security. But data might show a place is safer than national averages.
We often encourage law enforcement agencies with low safety ratings to investigate further. Is this a true safety issue, or is it a marketing issue? Is hiring a new police officer the best route? Consider other safety aspects, such as adding new lighting, removing graffiti, or launching a public education campaign.
2. Economic Health
The NCS reveals residents believe economic independence, availability of jobs, businesses, shops, and restaurants are other top needs of a community.
However, there is one outlier: cost of living. Many top-rated places struggle with affordable housing issues. These contradicting results reveal that expensive housing costs are one aspect of economic health that residents may be willing to put up with in exchange for other amenities and opportunities.
The U.S. has moved from the industrial age to the information age, which is why education is important for school-age kids and adults alike. According to The NCS results, older adults are increasingly interested in learning possibilities. People take on hobbies in their golden years and want to live in places that provide opportunities to try something new.
4. Natural Environment
Most top-rated cities also have high natural environment ratings. It's no surprise that municipalities with clean water, air, and more open space are desirable. Nature has become even more alluring with the increase in remote work. Digital workers have sought out cities and towns where they can be closer to the outdoors.
It may be less obvious that image and reputation are considered important "community needs." But The NCS shows people, in part, judge the quality of a community by how others see it. For this reason, many municipalities spend resources on branding, marketing, and advocacy.
6. Overall Appearance
Appearance is key to residents' willingness to recommend a community as well. The presence of code violations like weeds, graffiti, and other potential eyesores make places less attractive and result in lower community ratings.
7. Sense of Community
The U.S. may have a reputation for individualism, but people still want to be part of a group. Survey results suggest Millennials "long to belong" and want to connect to the places they live. Older adults also give higher ratings to communities with gathering places. For this reason, cities can benefit from land-use plans where people can connect in person.
8. Health and Wellness Opportunities
Although not essential to local government jurisdictions, health and wellness are becoming popular areas of interest. Across all age groups, residents want to live in places where they can live healthy lives. Respondents say they want to stay fit and have access healthy food and adequate medical services. Older adults say living in a community that facilitates physical fitness is increasingly important.
Communities with vibrant economies and high growth patterns are often dense. In cities like these, congestion becomes the main complaint officials hear about from residents. However, it's not enough to deter people from living in crowded places. Many people move to highly-rated cities that fall short in mobility. So while it's a pain to sit in traffic, it may not be as valued as other facets of quality of life.
10. Built Environment
Housing, land-use planning, and more create the built environment helps define the quality of the community. Although residents may not be experts on land-use and zoning, they can judge a community by its feel and design intuitively when they are standing in the space.
What Community Needs are Important to Your Residents?
Discover what matters to your residents with The National Community Survey (The NCS), developed by National Research Center at Polco. Join hundreds of other local governments and get a representative picture of community member perspectives. Use the results to improve your city.