American Planning Association Encourages Incorporation of Equity Goals into Comprehensive Plans

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An important conversation about equity is happening at all levels. However, one place county governments may not have yet incorporated equity goals is in their comprehensive plans.

In Maryland, comprehensive plan must serve as a guide to public and private actions and decisions to ensure the development of public and private property in appropriate relationships and must be updated at least every ten years.

According to the Maryland Department of Planning website, each plan must lay out the goals and objectives that serve as a guide for the development and economic and social wellbeing of the local jurisdictions. Comprehensive plans also lay out the growth and development future of a county related to the following elements: land use, housing, transportation, community facilities, mineral resources, development regulations, areas of critical State concern, sensitive areas, and fisheries. The plans also include a development capacity analysis, a municipal growth element, and a water resources element.

Given their wide scope and the depth of analysis for the future that comprehensive plans contain, it is important that social and environmental justice be part of a plan’s development process. In the most recent volume of the Journal of the American Planning Association, authors Garolyn G. Loh and Rose Kim examine how and to what extent “local governments include goals and recommendations that would advance equitable outcomes in their comprehensive plans” in Michigan.

According to the APA release about the study, it was conducted in partnership with the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP) Social Equity Committee and created a publicly available comprehensive plan equity evaluation tool. Based on a dual-coded content analysis they evaluated 48 local comprehensive plans from the state of Michigan. The authors chose to focus on comprehensive plans because they are publicly available documents that anyone could evaluate without any specialized knowledge and because these plans aim to set goals and objectives that drive subsequent policy.

The study found that fewer than half the plans mentioned equity at all and many plans did not include race and income in their demographic analyses. In fact, only 46 percent of the plans contained one or more of the words ‘equity’, ‘equality’, ‘fairness’ or ‘justice.’ Once the standard language of the Complete Streets policy was removed, this number dropped down to about one third.

At the upcoming Summer MACo conference, an expert panel will discuss the future of planning and how counties should respond to challenges like climate change, affordable housing, resiliency, and other factors that impact the development of communities in a way that better addresses social equity.

The “Taking Next Steps – Planning for Growth and Change” session, will be held Friday, August 20, 2021 from 9:00 am – 10:00 am.

The MACo Summer Conference will be held August 18-21 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme is “Resilient. Responsive…Ready.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: