Integrating Social Equity into Sustainable Communities

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of new methods to identify, measure, and map issues of social and regional equity, yet the best methods to inform advocacy and policy change aren’t always clear. The UC Davis Center for Regional Change (CRC) has taken up this challenge, aligning regional needs with innovative mapping tools, collaborative research, and technical assistance to support policy change on a range of issues, from youth well-being to environmental justice and regional equity. One recent CRC focus has been on the implementation of California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, Senate Bill 375. The bill’s primary aim is to reduce driving; it contains no explicit requirement to analyze existing equity conditions or to ensure equitable conditions in the future. However, it does create a wider mandate for regional-scale planning aimed at reducing urban sprawl and redirecting growth and investment to dense locations well served by public transit. Sprawling patterns of development and over investment in highway infrastructure have led directly to current patterns of regional inequity.

Project Overview

The UC Davis Center for Regional Change (CRC) helps community and regional planners and advocates realize the potential of SB 375 to improve the well-being of the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

Beginning in 2011, the CRC has continuously engaged with diverse coalitions of social equity, environmental, and agricultural preservation advocates in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento region, and San Joaquin Valley (SJV). In each region, the CRC’s goal has been to provide social equity planning tools and technical assistance to enhance the SCS’s ability to help meet the needs of the most disadvantaged communities. Specifically, the CRC has: a) provided technical assistance to inform the proposals of the “Six Big Wins for Social Equity” campaign in the San Francisco Bay Area; b) designed social equity analyses for the Sacramento region’s SCS that informed investments aimed at reducing regional disparities; c) conducted Health Impact Assessments, reviews of environmental justice analyses, and capacity-building with advocates and planners to increase the social equity outcomes of SCSs in SJV counties. The CRC and its community and agency partners have achieved notable success in shaping regional planning documents that reflect social equity values and that direct investments towards disadvantaged communities as well as building capacity to continue to address social equity through future planning processes. The experience confirms that good data and analysis alone, while necessary, are not sufficient. Applied research and technical assistance must also be designed to account for the power of relationships, capacity, and context.

  • The Regional Opportunity Index: An interactive web-based mapping tool that combines indicators of education, economy, housing, transportation, health & the environment, and civic life. This supports customizable, user-created maps and analyses to help users direct investments to the places and populations in greatest need. http://mappingregionalchange.ucdavis.edu/roi/.
  • Putting Youth on the Map: A powerful information resource for youth and adults working to ensure youth well-being in California. This provides a holistic, georeferenced index of youth well- being that can be disaggregated by sex and race/ethnicity. This also offers a variety of other analytical data maps that assess youth outcomes and opportunities. This is available through an interactive web platform that allows users to create custom maps. http://mappingregionalchange.ucdavis.edu/youth.
  • Health Impact Assessments: Quantifies changes in health outcomes that are expected to result from planning decisions. The CRC’s recent HIAs evaluated health impacts that are expected to result from changes in rates of active transportation (walking and bicycling) as well as changes in transit access and access to essential services under the proposed SCSs. HIAs can provide valuable insights into the long-term effects of regional planning processes on the health and wellbeing of disadvantaged communities.
  • Environmental Justice Analyses: Developed by the CRC highlight disparities in the distribution of environmental hazards affecting low-income communities and communities of color. The CRC has developed a Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability Assessment and regional versions of the new CalEnviroScreen community screening tool developed by the California EPA.

This research is conducted by Jonathan London, PhD, Chris Benner, PhD, Alex Karner, PhD, and Catherine Garoupa-White of UC Davis. To learn more about the California Center for Sustainable Community research partners, please click here.

Fact Sheet

The UC Davis Center for Regional Change (CRC) helps community and regional planners and advocates realize the potential of SB 375 to improve the well-being of the state’s most disadvantaged communities. Click here to learn about the CRC’s projects through this Fact Sheet.

Environmental Justice Analyses: Developed by the CRC highlight disparities in the distribution of environmental hazards affecting low-income communities and communities of color. The CRC has developed a Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability Assessment and regional versions of the new CalEnviroScreen community screening tool developed by the California EPA.

This research is conducted by Jonathan London, PhD, Chris Benner, PhD, Alex Karner, PhD, and Catherine Garoupa-White of UC Davis. To learn more about the California Center for Sustainable Community research partners, please click here.