Cities rely on development to support local economies, but efforts to promote new development often do not benefit poor neighborhoods. Sustainable development has become the mantra of the environmental movement, but it also can help cities spur development that meets the economic, health, and transportation needs of low-income communities.

Cities should harness sustainability to meet the needs of low-income neighborhoods while promoting new development. In partnership with community development organizations, local sustainability initiatives must undertake a focused effort to identify economic, health, and transportation problems in cities’ marginalized neighborhoods. Planning for sustainability should include aligning development impacts and targeting programs to alleviate these problems. Even cities with few fiscal resources can implement equitable sustainability efforts through development review processes and by leveraging external private and public investments. However, it is unlikely that city sustainability efforts will result in social equity improvements without a directed effort to do so.

Currently, there are very few tools that track cities’ progress in advancing the needs of low-income neighborhoods through sustainability planning. In line with the principle that “what gets measured gets done,” Amanda Martin's research proposes accounting metrics that will help cities report and learn from efforts to promote equity through sustainability planning. She concludes with recommendations for cities looking to improve transportation, health, and economic conditions of low-income communities through sustainability efforts.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Social Equity in Urban Sustainability Initiatives: Strategies and Metrics for Baltimore and Beyond,” written by Amanda Martin.