Facing the Future: American Communities and The Next Decade

How Immigration, Faith, Neighborhoods and Quality of Life are Changing Across the Nation

As a new decade dawns, the American experience is often described as individualistic, isolated and increasingly digital, with traditional community ties fraying and fractured. But in fact, a strong sense of community remains core to the American experience and is simply showing itself in new forms.

So what is the future of communities? In looking for answers, Knight Foundation asked four leading scholars and community leaders to consider this question: “What is the most important trend that will transform how Americans think about community over the next decade?” 

The common themes emerging from these essays are that high-touch tools requiring human interaction are critical to building trust, especially when people fear their neighborhoods are changing too quickly and their job security is at risk. Local leaders, not just those with formal roles such as the pastor or police chief, but business owners and community activists, can bridge those divides when they are seen as trusted messengers. And faith communities can remain places for spiritual growth and connection, even if it’s less about the Sunday morning service.

Americans crave connection, and neighborhoods and cities that provide opportunities for citizens to fully live a life of connection will thrive.

Four thought leaders examined trends they thought are the future of American communities – immigration, religion, civic engagement and quality of life. They wrote the following essays:

Out of Many, One: Immigration, Identity and the American Dream

Out of Many, One: Immigration, Identity and the American Dream

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, explores the opportunities and challenges surrounding immigration, identity and the American dream. Insights from his “Living Room Conversations” research show how listening and careful unpacking of tangled concerns about economic and social changes can lead to greater empathy and respect for diversity.

Block Club 2.0: Digital community organization for hyper-local innovation

Block Club 2.0: Digital community organization for hyper-local innovation

Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City (M3), shares his perspective on the evolution of Chicago block clubs, digital community organization and hyper-local innovation. He shows how community institutions can be re-imagined, using new technologies and tools to adapt to changing pressures and conditions. 

Cities on a Human Scale: The impact of community design on quality of life and upward mobility

Cities on a Human Scale: The impact of community design on quality of life and upward mobility

Ryan Streeter, director of domestic policy research at the American Enterprise Institute, examines the connections between American ideals, the physical design of neighborhoods and the geography of economic opportunity. He argues for defining quality of life in communities not just by traditional measures — such as affordability, job access and amenities — but by the networks and upward mobility that they enable. 

Reckoning, Redemption, Resilience: Ancient and emerging spiritual practices for life together

Reckoning, Redemption, Resilience: Ancient and emerging spiritual practices for life together

Rev. Jennifer Bailey, founder and executive director of Faith Matters Network, reflects on the changing nature of faith communities and the emerging practices rising to fill the void that declining religious institutions leave behind. She discusses tools and strategies, developed through “The People’s Supper” dialogues, for building empathy and connection across differences of faith, race and class.


The authors’ views expressed in these essays are their own.