By Melissa Eure, President/Director of Planning, G.C. Garcia, Inc.


Equitable and Equal, two very similar words with very different implications. Equal means to be even or balanced.  Equitable means fair or impartial.  At a glance, they seem to be almost the same but let’s use an everyday example to see just how different they are.  Let’s say I have two cookies of the exact same size and volume.  These two cookies are equal, but are they equitable?  At face value most likely you would say they are, but what if you knew that one cookie was a sugar cookie and the other cookie was a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. They are still the same size and volume, still equal but do you still consider them equitable?  I’m partial to peanut butter and chocolate, so to me I’d have to say no, because if given a preference I would certainly choose the peanut butter chocolate chip and not give a second thought to the other cookie. What do cookies have to do with planning?  Nothing, but it helps to illustrate the idea of equitable planning in a delicious way.

As urban planners, we have a greater responsibility to design communities with a diverse and inclusive perspective. Equitable planning increases livability for residents and breaks down barriers to equality particularly among populations that are historically underserved by evaluating factors such as transportation, housing, land use and economic development initiatives.  The idea is that planners can shape development and revitalize communities to grow in an equitable fashion. The purpose of this is to create greater social economic equality through projects, policies and programs in underserved communities while maintaining neighborhood identity. Utilizing redevelopment and policy, equitable planning can bring about greater equality in housing, employment opportunity and infrastructure.  Each helps to shape the opportunities that in turn provide greater equality to individuals in those neighborhoods.

The goal: communities that are designed to benefit everyone. Where everyone is given an equal and equitable opportunity to lead productive, healthy, and fulfilling lives which includes access to affordable housing, quality transportation, job opportunities, healthcare, quality education and access to grocery stores, parks and recreation, and places of worship.

While discriminatory practices like redlining are no longer legal, the generational impact sees many communities still struggling to recover and exclusionary practices in zoning (for example, placing pollution-heavy areas in lower income neighborhoods) that continue today in some communities across the country. With that said, there has been a significant push to solve inequities in planning in municipalities across the country. Locally, an example of equitable planning is an affordable housing project the Clark County Commission approved late last summer. Dubbed a “for-sale affordable housing development,” families who earn less than 80 percent of the area median income, about $64,000 a year, can now qualify to buy a home. Affordable housing developments here in the valley are typically reserved for renters, making this project the first of its kind for southern Nevada. What makes the project equitable is that it will grant these homeowners equal access to schools, roadways and public transportation, parks, and commercial services. This will lead to equal access and the potential for upward mobility.

So, from a planning perspective, how can we achieve equity when designing a neighborhood, town, or city? According to the American Planning Association, an “Equity in All Policies” approach will guide urban planners in helping to reverse inequities that have been in place for decades by “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.” By that measure, planners should:

  • Ensure that plans and policies directly address inequities; input from diverse stakeholders and members of the community should be included;
  • Planners have a seat at the table. We must consider the power structure among various stakeholders involved in the process and remember that our role is to be the voice for those who do not have a seat – but are intimately affected by the decisions that are made across the table;
  • Lobby for elected officials to require a Social Impact Assessment (SIA), to help understand the impacts of a project on the surrounding community.
  • Consider the local planning history and existing inequities.

As members of the planning profession, we lead the way in creating inclusive and diverse communities that benefit everyone.

“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.” –  American Planning Association, AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, 2016