Neighborhoods help to shape the access that individuals and communities have to various kinds of educational, employment, health or other opportunities. I have been involved in creating and assessing opportunity and equity maps as a tool to help document and alleviate the barriers to opportunity. I have also been involved in assessing the effectiveness of community engagement efforts around opportunity mapping and data collection processes to show how such efforts can improve plans and policies to provide low-income communities’ greater access to opportunity.
Opportunity and equity Mapping
Across the U.S, communities have become increasingly interested in the spatial structure of opportunity. Under the Obama Administration, the practice of opportunity mapping became the focus of several federal government initiatives, including the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI), which awarded funds for regional planning, especially for plans with a focus on increasing access to high-opportunity neighborhoods for disadvantaged groups.
With several colleagues from UMD's National Center for Smart Growth, I have assessed the outcomes of SCI grant process in Baltimore. The co-authored report and the related article assess four aspects of regional equity planning: community engagement, regional collaboration, regional housing policy, and the use of opportunity and equity-related data. They show how the process enabled adoption of a unique outreach strategy, engaged regional stakeholders in equity-focused conversations, and enabled comprehensive analysis of equity data in a plan focused on improving regional equity. However, despite some progress on regional housing issues, they also shows how plan implementation was thwarted by a lack of commitment to and coordination around implementation.
In related work, I have conducted case studies of five metropolitan regions that have used equity or opportunity mapping to advance equity planning at the regional level. This research investigates how the mapping was conducted, how it engaged communities, and whether and how it advanced equity planning and policy efforts, especially around housing
Community Engagement around Opportunity
What is opportunity? What does it mean to live in a neighborhood that provides opportunity? One of my research interests has been to show the ways in which diverse communities experience and define opportunity to improve opportunity mapping in practice. One project analyzes data from community engagement events held throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area for its Sustainable Communities Initiative process. During these events, over 100 residents from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods were asked what it means to live in neighborhoods that provide opportunity. The results showed similarities as well as remarkable differences in residents’ definitions of opportunity across race, income, and geographic lines. The initial results of this study were published in the op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.
In a related work, I have worked Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing foundation and developer, to create a series of tools to engage communities around issues of opportunity for their Opportunity 360 site. The site provides a suite of tools and resources to help communities understand and address challenges and facilitate strategic, asset-building approaches to community development. It features two reports for which I am the lead author, Engaging Communities around Opportunity through Story Mapping and Story Mapping in Action: Engaging an Immigrant Community in Planning for a New Light Rail. It also includes a host of community engagement tools and case studies that were created in by Place Matters, in partnership with NCSG.
Prince George's county Housing Strategy
I am currently working in with colleagues at NCSG and in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, Green Door Advisors, Virginia Tech's Center on Housing Research, McMillion Communications, and Lisa Sturdevant & Associates on producing the “Prince George’s County Comprehensive Housing Strategy” for the Prince George’s County Maryland Department of Planning. The UMD team is conducting an analysis of existing and future housing needsand will apply opportunity-based neighborhood typologies to these data throughout the County.