While the annual free night for having the Marriott card is nice, they need to increase the category accordingly. If you look at any Courtyard in a major city like Chicago, SFor NY, they are a category 7 or above. How can you use this certificate for pleasure if you're required to stay 20 miles away from a downtown area. If you're going to continually increase the categories of these hotels, why not "reward" your loyal members by increasing the award criteria similarly ?
It's been debated seemingly every month on here, and I personally doubt it will be raised anytime soon unless perhaps with the Starwood merger they add a Cat 10 then maybe we'll see the cert bumped to Cat 1-6, but mostly the same properties will be available due to the redemption curve.
As for making the most of what you do get, it does depend very much on personal preferences. Personally, I'd much prefer to stay away from major downtown areas unless there is a specific event/attraction that makes it convenient. The vast majority of the country is well outside major downtown areas and there is a lot to see and enjoy out there, and many Cat 1-5 options to use the cert in those places. If you really want to use it, try exploring the list of what's available, you might be surprised where you can go in the lower Cat levels: https://www.marriott.com/hotel-search/Category1.hotels.Category2.Category3.Category4.Category5/
Don't expect any changes on the category of the annual certificate. While it's true major cities don't have any locations where the cert is useful, there are a great many properties available. Here's a list from earlier this year which just covers full service properties in the U.S.
If you add in all the CYs, FFIs, SHS, and RIs, there are even more. There is no question that the big cities are out. Sadly, that's just the way it is. Raising the category of the certificates up to 6 will just move all those big city properties to 7 and beyond (if they aren't already there).