Big Ideas Initiative

The Ten Big Ideas Initiative, an outgrowth of the Game Changing Initiative in coordination with the Oregon APA Chapter, is designed to bring about far-reaching and fundamental change on a variety of issues. Topics include addressing climate change, rebuilding our infrastructure, restoring and protecting our ecosystems, supporting economic development and supporting sustainable agriculture.

Each month, The Washington Planner will focus on one of the Ten Big Ideas, providing Washington APA members with more information on the work being done and how they can get involved. Our fourth installment focuses on fostering social equity.

Foster Social Equity
By Rachel Miller and Laura Benjamin

As planners, we aim to spur economic development, improve ecological conditions, and create healthy places to live, work, learn, and play. But this goal is easier said than done.  Many actions can have unintended consequences on minorities and lower income groups, and traditional metrics and planning processes often do not reflect community priorities, interests, and needs.  The Social Equity Working Group is developing a handful of tools to explore these issues: a social equity university research package, an inclusionary zoning toolkit, and strategies to better incorporate meaningful public engagement in awards criteria.  This article focuses on the social equity university research package.

Part of fostering social equity is ensuring that academic research, practices, and methodologies are pushing the boundaries of how urban planning can best support underprivileged and underrepresented communities. With the support of universities, planning departments, and nonprofit organizations, students can help to find solutions to our most pressing social equity concerns here in Washington.

The Social Equity Research Package is a draft compilation of resources to inspire students to conduct projects on social equity issues. The research package includes research questions, partner organizations, and literature references.

Research Questions
The research package includes 10 research questions that can be used as launching points for original research regarding the relationship between urban planning and social equity, with a special focus on displacement. Questions include:

  • Policy tools may affect how redevelopment projects affect social equity issues. How can financing tools, land-use regulations, ownership transformation, historic preservation, and other policies help make redevelopment projects more socially just?       
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have been increasingly popular in urban planning. How can GIS and geospatial analysis be utilized to monitor, evaluate, and predict social equity conditions related to displacement?

Partner Organizations
Organizations across Washington state can partner with students to guide research and share data and resources. The research package includes a list of organizations that are working at the intersection of urban planning and social equity. The organizations’ focus areas include affordable housing, community and economic development, environmental justice, social capital and financing, transit advocacy, and labor rights. If you are interested in acting as a client for a student research project, please contact Sophie Glass at

Literature References
The research package includes a list of journal articles, books, reports, and other resources to inform students’ understanding of social equity and planning.

To view the draft package, click here (PDF).

For more information on how you can lend your skills to foster social equity throughout the state, please contact: 

Rachel Miller

Sophie Glass