Title

Comprehensive social equity study for the Baltimore Urban League.

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

2003

Abstract

This report was commissioned by the Greater Baltimore Urban League (GBUL) to the Graduate Program in City and Regional Planning and the National Transportation Center at Morgan State University. The purpose of the report is to answer two broad research questions: (a) how does the public participation process in transportation reach, empower, and take into account low-income and minority communities and their needs, problems, and aspirations? And (b) how are equity and environmental justice data and concerns incorporated into the decision- making process? The research employed multiple methods. These included a literature review; qualitative interviews with transportation planners, practitioners and policymakers, and other stakeholders in transportation planning and policy; a focus group; and a survey. Our primary analytical framework was drawn from critical ethnography and studies of practice and discourse in public policy. Three different views of environmental justice emerged from this study. Most private consulting firms are engaged in environmental justice and citizen participation because it’s a source of job and contracts. Most public officials are engaged in environmental justice and public participation because it’s a federal regulation and requirement. However, most citizen and advocacy groups consider environmental justice and citizen participation as part of the agency’s mission. The lack of uniform standards regarding environmental justice issues, coupled with scarcity of information, as well as the complexity of the issues, are all obstacles in implementing and enforcing environmental justice principles. Access to information is an important issue for community organizations, advocacy groups, low income and minority groups. Public agencies often hold meetings at places that are not easily accessible, or at times difficult for transit dependent, low-income, and minority populations to attend. We recommend that transportation agencies take a proactive stance in involving low-income and minority communities in the transportation policy and planning process. This should involve establishing outreach programs through nonprofit organizations, minority institutions, and advocacy groups that already play significant roles in these communities. The transportation agencies should work with these organizations to set up public meetings and hearings that are accessible. They should consider holding meetings in the communities themselves, and at times and on days which will allow the maximum possible participation. One idea that may be effective is holding informal, small-group meetings in neighborhoods, initiated by community leaders. Another way to boost participation would be to provide child-care during the meeting. Utilizing people who understand the culture of the targeted communities to initiate contact is also crucial to ensure greater participation among minority groups. In addition to the process of soliciting community involvement, making information on transportation issues readily available is critical. Such methods as radio, schools, libraries and churches could prove to be effective means of communications. There is also the need to translate documents into languages other than English to reach out to the non-English speaking minorities. The findings also suggest the need for transportation agencies, particularly the MTA, to re-evaluate bus schedules and routes to meet the demand of low-income and minority populations that depend on the system. The frequency and quality of the services should be improved, especially in the poorer segments of the city, in order to make the transit system just and equitable.

Keywords

Environmental Justice, Economic Advancement

Disciplines

Urban Studies and Planning

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