Using an Equity Lens to Track Capital Investments in Baltimore

Author: Kassie Scott
Date Posted: August 15, 2020

Baltimore, known for being the birthplace of racially restrictive zoning, continues to be one of the most segregated cities in the United States. The impact of segregation has meant some communities—especially in predominantly Black neighborhoods—lack access to resources, amenities, and services because of historic disinvestment. To address this, Baltimore’s Department of Planning, which oversees the Capital Improvement Program budget of more than $600 million (PDF), wanted to do an equity analysis to better direct resources to these areas. They turned to Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA) for help. 

BNIA established a methodology that the Department of Planning could replicate annually to track the distribution of capital investments made in Baltimore’s neighborhoods through the Capital Improvement Program. These investments are long-term investments in the city’s physical infrastructure, such as roads, monuments, public buildings, parks, and art. BNIA developed a method to allocate the influence of various types of capital improvement investments on each community. To track whether investments were equitable, BNIA measured equity across four dimensions: distributional, structural, procedural, and transgenerational. Allocations were calculated for all of Baltimore’s 55 Community Statistical Areas and presented on an open access mapping tool.

The analysis (PDF) shows that between fiscal years 2014 and 2020, Baltimore’s Capital Improvement Program investments moved toward a more equal distribution along some, but not all, measures. For example, in predominantly Black and African American communities, investments were becoming more equal to those in predominantly white communities, though it is unclear if these investments will be enough to begin to overcome existing inequities. On the other hand, there were far fewer investments in neighborhoods with the lowest median incomes compared with middle-income neighborhoods. And communities with the lowest life expectancy, a measure of structural equity, had less than half of the per capita Capital Improvement Program allocation compared with communities with just slightly below average life expectancy. 

BNIA recommends that future analyses should look at whether Capital Improvement Program investments improve quality of life for residents. The projects are wide-ranging—from recreation centers to water pumping stations—so analyzing by project type will be important. BNIA also recommended that the city consider increasing capital investment in neighborhoods with the lowest incomes in addition to reviewing the relationship between race and income. Finally, BNIA suggested analyzing new indicators to inform future investments, such as life expectancy and number of young children in neighborhoods. 

As an annual update to BNIA’s 2019 report, the Department of Planning released the FY21 Capital Improvement Program Equity Analysis using BNIA’s methodology. The report showed that allocations to neighborhoods with the highest shares of Black residents were only half of that allocated to areas with the lowest shares of Black residents. On income, the highest allocations were in areas just below the citywide median ($34,000–$39,999) but not within the lowest category (less than $33,999). 

Moving forward, the Department of Planning is committed to partnering with the new Office of Equity and Civil Rights to expand and refine this analysis. Some recommendations for future exploration include conducting the equity analysis earlier in the Capital Improvement Program’s review project, engaging with community stakeholders to understand the impacts of projects, and learning about best practices from other cities. 

This story was written by Kassie Scott at the Urban Institute. Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance is the Baltimore partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities, coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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