Knowledgebase Collection

Social Equity

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.

APA Resources

Planning for Equity Policy Guide

This Policy Guide introduces the Equity in All Policies approach and shares policy guidance on the cross-cutting equity issues of gentrification, environmental justice, and community engagement and empowerment.

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Planning with Diverse Communities

This PAS Report details how to engage communities of color in the planning process and outlines specific tools and strategies planners can use to improve economic opportunity, transportation, housing, health and safety, and placemaking in diverse communities.

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Fair and Healthy Land Use: Environmental Justice and Planning

This PAS Report looks at how environmental justice can be incorporated into land-use planning processes to help alleviate the disproportionate exposure to pollution that low-income families and racial minorities face.

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Integrating Gender Mainstreaming into U.S. Planning Practice

This edition of PAS Memo introduces the practice of gender mainstreaming and explores how it can be better integrated into U.S. planning contexts.

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More and Better: Increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Planning

This edition of PAS Memo discusses the opportunities and challenges of making diversity, equity, and inclusion a regular and critical component of the urban planning profession. 

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Planning for Equitable Development: Social Equity by Design

This edition of PAS Memo defines equitable development and explores how it can expand choice and opportunity for all.

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Inclusive Growth

This edition of PAS QuickNotes introduces the concept of inclusive growth and describes how public officials, planners, and community stakeholders can support an equitable distribution of community benefits through land use and development.

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Planning and Fair Housing

This edition of PAS QuickNotes reviews federal fair housing laws and highlights three specific strategies for expanding fair housing access through local land-use policy.

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A Framework for Promoting Equity Through Zoning

This edition of Zoning Practice discusses the challenges of current zoning approaches and shares reforms that could help support equitable development outcomes.

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Zoning to Improve Health and Promote Equity

This edition of Zoning Practice considers how zoning can support the creation of healthy environments that include affordable housing and improved access to care.

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Do Strict Land Use Regulations Make Metropolitan Areas More Segregated by Income?

This JAPA article finds that density restrictions are related to the segregation of the rich into enclaves and suggests that inclusionary housing requirements by regional and state agencies may help curb income segregation.

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Lessons for LEED® for Neighborhood Development, Social Equity, and Affordable Housing

This JAPA article tracks why LEED®ND certification often fails on its social equity criteria.

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Active Living and Social Justice: Planning for Physical Activity in Low-income, Black, and Latino

This JAPA article tracks the equity dimension of active living among low-income Black and Latino communities.

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Paul Davidoff and Advocacy Planning in Retrospect

This JAPA article shares how Paul Davidoff attempted to translate APA's ethical mandate into institutional and individual accountability.

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Refusing to Appropriate: The Emerging Discourse on Planning and Race

This JAPA article unapologetically claims that race cannot continue to be a taboo subject in planning and urges planners to create a more equitable planning process.

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Some Observations on Race in Planning

This JAPA article includes anecdotes about working with Mayor Harold Washington of Chicago, demonstrating the importance of equity as a clearly stated political priority.

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A Retrospective View of Equity Planning Cleveland 1969–1979

This JAPA article features Norman Krumholz speaking on his experience with equity planning in Cleveland in the 1970s.

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Planning in the Face of Power

This JAPA article explores how information and misinformation are used to influence the planning process and proposes a new form of “progressive” planning practice.

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The Ghetto as a Resource for Black America

This JAPA article exposes that current approaches to revitalization do not deal with the issue of power and proposes a new approach that focuses on solutions and community, dealing directly with power and control.

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A Ladder of Citizen Participation

This JAPA article is a classic text that proposes a typology of citizen participation visualized on the rungs of a ladder, leading from manipulation to citizen control.

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Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning

This JAPA article urges planners to engage in political processes, like advocates, and to facilitate the creation and presentation of plural plans.

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Potty Talk With a Planner

This Planning article considers the importance of public bathrooms as an equity issue.

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We Cannot Plan from Our Desks

This Planning article offers practicing planners and planning students a new approach to doing planning on the ground, in the communities they serve, called Embedded Planning.

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We Must Champion Equity and Diversity

This Planning article advocates for planners to highlight equity and diversity in their work and describes how APA can help support these efforts.

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A Need for Speed

This Planning article discusses how high-speed broadband can bridge the digital divide.

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Car Sharing Can Drive Mobility Equity

This Planning article explores the equity dimensions of car share technology as a strategy to achieve mobility for all.

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Connecting the Dots

This Planning article outlines some of the equity concerns around bike share and transit and includes case studies from four cities.

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Immigrant City

This Planning article looks at immigration as a way to increase diversity in a community and as an economic development opportunity.

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Infrastructure of Opportunity

This Planning article tracks Chattanooga’s evolution from “Rust Belt of the South” to healthy and booming tech hub and considers how the city is switching investment priorities to improve its human capital through education.

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The People's Way

This Planning article shares how to plan with Native American communities to ensure that plans are just, equitable, and responsive to cultural differences.

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Parks Are an Equity Issue

This Planning article argues that it is a pressing planning issue to ensure equal access to parks and recreation.

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Planning's Role in Social Justice

This Planning article highlights planners’ ethical call to advocate for social justice.

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Saving Social Capital

This Planning article urges planners to get involved in building a community’s social framework, not just physical infrastructure.

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The Compton's Transgender Cultural District

This podcast features the story of the first transgender cultural district in the world, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.

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Expanding Equity: "Stonewall Did That For Me"

This blog post includes a link to an NPR StoryCorps story where a planner shares his experience at Stonewall in 1969.

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Planning for Equity in Parks with Green Infrastructure

This briefing paper discusses how ecosystem services from green infrastructure can support equity at the local and regional scale.

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Prioritizing Urban and Community Parks Can Boost Health and Social Equity

This blog post connects park access to inequity and urges planners to advocate for more effective federal funding programs to support park access.

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Great Places With an Eye for Equity

This blog post shares fives equitable development case studies from Albany, New York, Boston, Massachusetts, Flint, Michigan, Denver, Colorado, and Glencoe, Illinois.

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Beyond Mobility: Transportation's Role in Achieving Equity

This blog post includes audio from a conversation between Mariia Zimmerman and Stephanie Gidigbi on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s focus on equity.

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AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

This web page contains the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

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Plan4Health

This web page shares various resources produced by the Planning and Community Health Center’s Plan4Health project.

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Diversity and Inclusion Training Series

This APA Learn course introduces diversity and inclusion and shares strategies for addressing social justice issues in planning.

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Plan4Health: Partnering for Equity

This APA Learn course stresses the importance of collaboration between planners and public health officials to achieve health equity.

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Planning and Governing for Racial Equity

This APA Learn course provides guidance on how to address racial equity in the planning process, including how to normalize conversations about equity and how to value racial healing.

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 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.

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