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How to act on community needs according to residents

green park and at sunset

Local government leaders have a seemingly endless number of needs and priorities to address. While it may seem logical that their top priorities would be those of their community members, that is not always the case because of the difficulty in clarifying those needs through hearing from the community. Polco, an organization that collects and analyzes data to improve local government, recently conducted a survey to find out the Top 10 Community Needs according to residents. Their research and analysis can be of significant benefit to local leaders in understanding how to align the cities priorities to community needs, outlined below.

Community Needs 

10. Aging in Place - More Americans are staying put as they get older. They also want to stay independent as they age. Health care access, suitable housing, and transportation are all factors in determining if elderly residents will remain in your neighborhood. 

9. Health and Wellness - While most people positively rate their communities for fitness and recreation opportunities, healthy food options and mental health care are among the services highlighted as needing to be improved. While this can be difficult for local officials to address, creative ideas can help improve these resources. 

8. Natural Environment - Green space and nature access is important to many residents, yet only 60% of them approve of the open space and cleanliness of their community. Improving your community's natural environment can improve its attractiveness to potential residents. The 15-minute city movement is one such example to learn from. 

7. Education - Satisfaction in education services plummeted in 2020 during the pandemic and has continued. Re-imagining education and how our children are taught will be critical in improving this satisfaction. Critical thinking, communication and technical literacy are all areas that will prepare our kids for the future. 

6. Land Use - Land use impacts housing, economic development and transportation, among other critical areas of the community, not to mention the skyline. It is also the area that local government can have the most significant impact. Yet residential approval of how growth is managed is at 50%. This is an area of opportunity for local officials. 

5. Public Trust - While public trust during the pandemic increased, it has since fallen to below what it was prior to the pandemic. Misinformation and polarization has certainly been a factor, yet local officials can combat this with more effective engagement in decision making. 

4. Infrastructure - The top three areas of infrastructure that residents want relief funds to be put to use are: clean drinking water (94%), roads and bridges (83%), and road safety (79%). Conversely, local government has these priorities at 83%, 60%, and 59% respectively. The disconnect between the two is an area where local officials can reassess whether their priorities are aligning with those of their residents. 

3. Safety - A consistent top need, safety includes drug abuse, DUIs, traffic problems, burglaries and domestic violence. Drug abuse has been consistently at the top since 2018, while domestic violence and child abuse climbed during the pandemic. Trust in police is also a concern that has become more prevalent post-2020.

2. Community - Isolation has deepened since the pandemic as people became more isolated from friends and family. Building a community is vital for the health of a city and local officials can support this by throwing events and engaging residents in decision-making. 

 1. Economic Health - While this can be more challenging to directly address for local officials, public-private partnerships and building a stronger relationship with the Chamber of Commerce are two ways to help. Economic security is always on the top of mind for people and so being intentional in this pursuit will always bring dividends.