Equity Agenda for Planning
Montgomery Planning’s Equity Agenda for Planning is an ongoing commitment to systemically dismantle the institutional and structural racism that exists in and has long influenced planning and zoning processes and to prevent that influence in the future. We are committed to confronting the legacy of racism and its ongoing effects and to using this equity lens in all our plans, policies, practices, and other work—including to ensure that staff understand and practice social justice in their hiring practices and work to dismantle their own internalized biases.
As the American Planning Association states, “Planning for Equity means applying an equity lens—for just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential—to everything planners do. From the way planners work with community members creating a shared vision for their neighborhoods to advocating for policies that connect people to opportunities at the local, state, and federal levels, planning for equity is planning for all.”
Through these commitments—and with the community’s help—we will learn and begin to advance our efforts to create a Montgomery County where all people can thrive.
Implementing an Equity Agenda for Planning
Montgomery Planning recognizes and acknowledges the role that our plans and policies have played in creating and perpetuating racial inequity in Montgomery County. We are committed to transforming how we work even as we seek to address, mitigate, and eliminate past and persistent inequities and to develop planning solutions that create equitable communities in the future.
While it will take time to fully develop a new methodology for equity in planning, both in our county and more broadly, we cannot delay applying an equity lens to our work now.
Montgomery Planning’s Equity in Agenda for Planning institutionalizes the department’s application of equity in all its work. This initiative provides direction, tools, and strategies to support Planning Department staff in incorporating racial equity and social justice considerations in its planning processes and in operating as a department.
The Planning Department developed its Equity in Master Planning Framework in 2020, and the Planning Board approved it that year. Since then, the Planning Department has been implementing its action items.
Leading with equity in Thrive Montgomery 2050
Community equity—that is, creating a place where we can increase accessible housing, improve transit, and strengthen businesses together in equitable, sustainable ways—is one of the three pillars of the county’s General Plan update, Thrive Montgomery 2050, adopted in 2022. Thrive Montgomery 2050, which provides high-level policy guidance for future growth and development in the county, is the new foundation for all future master plans.
Applying an equity lens to all master plans
Equity is a central focus of all current and upcoming area and countywide master plans developed by the Planning Department. Montgomery Planning closely considers equity in examining the history and existing conditions of communities; in engaging with the county’s diverse residents during plan development; in conducting data analysis; and in developing plan recommendations.
The Planning Board also is required to consider equity during its review of draft master plans as part of Montgomery County’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Act. Earlier adopted master plans also included recommendations to advance equity, such as the Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan, the Ashton Village Sector Plan, Corridor Forward: I-270 Transit Plan, and the Veirs Mill Corridor Plan.
Engaging equitably with diverse communities
Beyond the master planning process, we have developed a department-wide Equitable Communications Approach and subsequent Equitable Communications Plan to guide all community outreach and engagement activities. This includes a focus on the following:
- Equitable engagement must be data informed. This includes data analysis of our Equity Focus Areas and Neighborhood Change Analysis.
- Equitable outreach must be authentic.
- Building trust is an important first step.
- Translation, interpretation, and accessibility must be built into the engagement strategy, not an add-on.
Consulting with an internal Equity Peer Review Group
A group of staff stays actively abreast of equity best practices to provide feedback on staff recommendations, planning policies, and community engagement strategies.
Operating with equity as an ongoing priority
Additionally, development management and functions like communications and human resources require approaches, tools, plans, and training to ensure that every element of Montgomery Planning’s operations incorporates equity considerations, notably including staff recruitment and hiring, and requirements for ongoing equity training for all staff.
Completed Tools and Initiatives
Mapping Equity Focus Areas
To support master plans that foster more equitable outcomes, this data-driven, interactive tool identifies potential racial and social inequities in Equity Focus Areas, which have high concentrations of lower-income people of color, who may also speak English less than very well. This tool is publicly available and has been applied in master plans by Montgomery Planning, Montgomery Parks, and other agencies.
Exploring trends in racial and ethnic diversity
This interactive visual representation of the racial and ethnic changes in Montgomery County from 1990 to 2020. The GIS “storymap” uses the historical and latest Decennial Census data to illustrate the trends and spatial concentration of each race and Hispanic ethnicity. It also shows which of the four major groups (non-Hispanic Asian, Black, and White, and Hispanic) is predominant, majority, or the most common group in each Census tract.
Analyzing neighborhood change in the Washington, DC, region
Using public U.S. Decennial Census and American Community Survey data, Montgomery Planning has investigated how shares of low-income versus middle-high income households in neighborhoods changed from 2000 to 2019 to support of more equitable and data-driven decision making. Contrary to popular perception, concentration of low-income households is a more prevalent issue in Montgomery County than displacement—and neighborhoods can grow inclusively, with enough housing.
Mapping historical segregation
This open exploration of Montgomery County’s history of spatial segregation and its impacts on our present and future has generated raw data, individual anecdotes, and interactive maps that present the county with an honest perspective on its past and path toward realizing a more inclusive and equitable future.
Building the Community Equity Index
The Community Equity Index expands on the Equity Focus Area work with more robust diagnostics and additional analysis of key neighborhood characteristics with countywide relevance for enabling more equitable outcomes.
Creating the Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Project
Part of the Historic Preservation Office’s efforts to mitigate past inequities, including the exclusion of people of color from our understanding of historic significance, this study will identify historical and cultural resources associated with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) that may be used for future historic property designations.
Through these current and future projects—and with our community’s contributions—Montgomery Planning will continue to learn and advance our efforts to create a Montgomery County where all people can thrive.
Context for Change
Montgomery County has a long history of land use decisions that created exclusionary neighborhoods and formed barriers to resources and opportunities for people of color and other disadvantaged persons. Today, we at Montgomery Planning recognize and acknowledge the role that our work has played in creating and perpetuating racial inequity, and we are thus committed to addressing, mitigating, and eliminating these inequities. As we change how we work, we are developing planning solutions to create equitable communities in the future.
Historically, equity has not been part of planning in America and change is long overdue, in Montgomery County and beyond. An encouraging positive shift in the national planning profession has begun, and Montgomery Planning embraces this necessary transformation as part of our responsibility to develop plans that benefit all community members and reduce or eliminate inequity. Our goal now is to address existing inequities and prevent the creation of new ones throughout all aspects of our plans, policies, practices, and other work.
To that end, Montgomery County is implementing the 2019 Racial Equity & Social Justice Act to advance “fair and just opportunities and outcomes for all people.” For the Planning Board, that means “consider[ing] the impact of the plan on racial equity and social justice in the county”. Beginning in September 2021, the law also requires that the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight produce racial equity and social justice impact statements for any new zoning text amendments (ZTAs).
The APA also published the 2023 Equity in Zoning Policy Guide, advocating for planning-led zoning reform that dismantles discriminatory barriers.
GARE (Government Alliance on Race & Equity), the national network of government agencies, is working to achieve racial equity and advancing opportunities for all.
Montgomery Planning staff also participate in other equity training opportunities, such as through the Racial Equity Institute.