Document Type



Problem, Research Strategy, and Findings:

Social equity goals are supposed to be prioritized in planning along with economic and environmental goals, yet in practice they are often de-emphasized. We develop a publicly available plan equity evaluation tool to investigate to what extent and in what ways local governments include goals and recommendations that would advance equitable outcomes in their comprehensive plans. Using plan content analysis, we find that most plans do not talk about equity, nor do they include many goals and recommendations that would advance equity. More recent plans, plans in communities with more planning capacity, plans in coastal communities, and plans with strong public participation processes have stronger equity orientations. Limitations of our study include that we had a small sample size of 48 plans in a single state, our coding was partly conducted by volunteers, and that our study is limited to plan content so did not investigate existing conditions or equitable outcomes.

Takeaway for Practice:

Plans should make equity a guiding principle. Planning processes need to be multi-faceted. Plans should identify vulnerable people and geographic areas and ensure equitable protection from hazards and equitable distribution of amenities. Future land use changes should be more transparent.


Geography | Place and Environment | Urban Studies and Planning


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in the Journal of the American Planning Association on 3 November 2020, available online:

The authors would like to thank Andrea Brown, Harmony Gmazel, and the members of the Michigan Association of Planning Social Equity Committee for their work in developing the plan equity evaluation tool, the planners who volunteered to evaluate their plans, and Anna Osland and Mildred Warner for their helpful comments on the paper. This research was funded in part by the Wayne State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.