The planning profession is motivated by the desire to create better communities, with clean environments, affordable housing, open space, accessible transportation, and good educational opportunities. Planners have helped to create these conditions in many communities, but in many others, certain groups have been systematically excluded. Health, income, mobility, and other inequities are institutionalized in policies and practices that disproportionately limit opportunity and assign burden to groups based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, religion, or disability. Inequity can be observed when communities are displaced due to gentrification, when communities report higher rates of disease due to the presence of a hazardous waste facility or the absence of healthy food, or when communities are excluded from participating in the planning process due to language or logistical barriers. Planning for social equity means recognizing planning practices that have had a disparate impact on certain communities and actively working with affected residents to create better communities for all.
From this page you can search for resources that provide background, policy guidance, and examples of local plan recommendations and zoning standards for social equity from across the country. And you can filter these search results by various geographic and demographic characteristics.
Defining Social Equity
PolicyLink defines equity as “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.” Unlike equality, which connotes sameness, equity is responsive to difference; equitable policies actively mitigate the disproportionate harm faced by certain communities. Three cross-cutting issues related to social equity in planning include gentrification, environmental justice, and community engagement and empowerment.
While measuring social equity can be difficult, several resources exist to help communities identify and monitor local inequities. These resources describe how to collect and analyze data on equity indicators from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau, CDC, and EPA. Quantitative data analysis can begin to expose some of a community’s equity issues but should be combined with qualitative surveys and interviews to gain a clearer understanding of how inequity is experienced by affected residents.
Social Equity and Ethics
The planning profession has played and continues to play a role in creating and reinforcing inequity. While openly discriminatory practices like redlining are illegal today, many communities are still struggling to recover from generations of targeted exclusion and disinvestment. As they try to recover, they face modern discriminatory practices like exclusionary zoning and the concentration of polluting industries.
The AICP Code of Ethics (2016) calls planners to do better: “We shall seek social justice by working to expand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs.” Planners have an unambiguous ethical responsibility to alleviate inequities and to prioritize the needs of communities that are negatively impacted by historic and contemporary discrimination.
Equity in All Policies
An equity in all policies approach involves using an equity lens in all planning practices, including work on climate change and resilience, economic development, education, energy and resource consumption, public health, heritage preservation, housing, mobility and transportation, and public spaces. Planning for equity does not stifle growth or impede development. Instead, it expands opportunities to all members of a community and builds local capacity to respond to equity concerns moving forward.
An important component of the equity in all policies approach is improving planning processes to facilitate engagement from diverse stakeholders, perhaps through the use of language interpreters or by providing child care services. This requires planners to be cognizant of the power differences among various stakeholders and to advocate for the voices that are often silenced in these conversations. Besides improving the process, the content of plans and policies must also directly address inequities. Public officials can also require developers to complete a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) to improve understanding of the consequences of a project on the surrounding community. Any local strategy to address social equity must be informed by local planning history, the equity landscape, and the input of diverse stakeholders.