This post, by guest blogger Jason Reece, is the fifth in a month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.
A visioning exercise at the beginning of an opportunity mapping project in Merced County, California.
One powerful approach for promoting equitable planning policy and community capacity building is the Kirwan Institute’s “Opportunity Communities” model. Our model considers the multiplicity of factors such as housing, education, jobs, transportation, health, and engagement at the center of one’s life and community. This approach is based on the premise that everyone should have fair access to the critical opportunity structures and the necessary social infrastructure to succeed in life; and that affirmatively connecting people to opportunity creates positive, transformative change in communities.
The Communities of Opportunity model advocates for a fair investment in all of a region’s people and neighborhoods–to improve the life outcomes of all citizens, and to improve the health of entire regions. The Institute utilizes mapping and our Opportunity Communities model to address racial/social equity challenges, to promote community development for marginalized communities, and to affirmatively connect those communities to critical opportunity structures, such as successful schools, safe neighborhoods and sustainable employment.
Our organization’s signature approach based on this model is our Opportunity and Asset Mapping strategy. Opportunity and asset mapping creates composite maps based on numerous neighborhood indicators of community opportunity and vitality. Opportunity maps have been utilized in policy advocacy, litigation, applied research, community organizing, coalition building and to inform service delivery.
Opportunity mapping can delineate the needs, capacity and opportunities of marginalized communities, giving local partners and advocates a collaborative space for strategic planning and a communications tool. Mapping can provide an invaluable lens for identifying strategic points of investment, which is critical given the great needs (and limited resources) of marginalized communities. Mapping assets and need can also spur new thinking. This approach requires extensive engagement, involvement and participation of the various local community partners to be realized.
Our opportunity mapping projects have evolved over the past decade, originally centered on providing data-driven tools for policymakers. Our experiences doing this work in more than twenty states has illustrated the utility of utilizing opportunity mapping to also build capacity within communities. The impact of opportunity and asset mapping has been documented by many of our previous project partners. As described by our partners in Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon:
“From an institutional perspective, involvement with this project has required us as an organization to reach out to potential partners we have not interacted with before. We have developed relationships with organizations working on issues such as smart growth, health disparities and education which have helped to inform and direct our fair housing work.”
-Erin Boggs, Deputy Director, Connecticut Fair Housing Center
“We have program outcome data on every program we fund, but we have never had a way to show impact upon a population or neighborhood. Opportunity mapping is a powerful tool that demonstrates the value of our work in a graphic and easy to understand way … our city budget continues to shrink but as we go forward we’ll be working on ways to refocus some of our investments.”
-Linda Lanier, Executive Director/CEO, Jacksonville Children’s Commission
“Within legal services, the mapping data is the foundation for a new place-based advocacy that seeks to bring intensive and comprehensive legal resources and social services to change outcomes in several low-opportunity zip codes or neighborhoods.”
-Fran Fajana, Director of the Race Equity Project, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
“The story of how our maps were created resembles the children’s story Stone Soup, in which a hungry community started out with nothing but a pot of water with stones and ended up with a rich soup that fed everyone because each person contributed something. Creating these maps was a community building experience that promises to have benefits that go beyond the maps themselves.”
–Andree Tremoulet, Ph.D. Housing Services Specialist, Washington County, OR, Department of Community Development
(The quotes are from The Kirwan Institute Annual Report 2010/2011 and Poverty’s Place Revisited: Mapping for Justice & Democratizing Data to Combat Poverty, published in the July/August 2010 issue of the Clearinghouse Review Journal of Poverty Law and Policy.)
Through collaboration with local partners, the Institute has utilized opportunity mapping initiatives to produce policy change and new investments to assist marginalized communities and promote community development. Some of these recent policy impacts include:
- Establishment of a minority business accelerator in the greater Cleveland region.
- Development of the Thompson v. HUD fair housing remedial proposal.
- Utilization of opportunity maps to target affordable housing investments in the City of Austin, TX.
- Establishment of a $5 million gap financing program to produce construction of affordable rental housing in high opportunity areas in Massachusetts.
- Targeting of $20 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program investments into high- need, low- opportunity communities in Massachusetts.
- Adoption of a Community of Opportunity policy framework as guiding principles for the Connecticut Department of Housing and Community development.
- Adoption of a Community of Opportunity model for the Department of Community Development in Washington County, OR.
- Expansion and targeting of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in Columbus, OH.
- Targeting of more than $10 million in revitalization program funding directed by the philanthropic community in Columbus, OH to marginalized neighborhoods.
- Adoption of opportunity- based school desegregation plans in Montclair, NJ and Louisville, KY.
- Revision of Ohio’s Equal Education Opportunity Policy to reflect contemporary legal parameters, including recommendations for diversifying K-12 schools and reducing racial isolation, all unanimously approved by the State’s Board of Education.
- Utilization of the opportunity and asset mapping framework to HUD funded regional sustainable communities’ plans in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the Puget Sound Region and Connecticut.
- Adoption of the opportunity mapping methodology by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist with fair housing goals.
Opportunity mapping provides a framework and “space” for engaging a broad number of community stakeholders, while simultaneously focusing on the equity concerns of marginalized communities. To paraphrase Van Jones, sustainability means assuring we do not have a disposable society, meaning not only preservation of our natural resources, but also supporting our most important resource, people (and our human capacity). By understanding pathways to opportunity and seeking to open pathways to opportunity for all people, we assure that we support all people and a sustainable society.
This post was contributed by Jason Reece, Director of Research at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity.