Portland's Regional Equity Atlas: Institutionalizing Equity Since 2007

13 Nov 2014 | J Mijin Cha
Portland's Regional Equity Atlas: Institutionalizing Equity Since 2007
Above: CLF Equity Atlas Storytelling Project: East Portland Action Plan

The nation’s first regional equity atlas originated out of Portland, Oregon. Launched by the planning and policy advocacy group Coalition for a Livable Future in 2007, the original Regional Equity Atlas provided a visual representation of equity and inequity across the region and catalyzed a metrowide discussion about equity and inclusion. Today, equity is seen as an outcome to strive for by advocates and government officials alike, and the equity atlas played a major role in that shift, according to Mara Gross, the coalition’s Executive Director.

The first Equity Atlas was a book that included maps and text about the distribution of people and assets in the region, and the relationship between demographics and opportunity. In 2013, CLF launched version 2.0, an online tool that maps a wide range of measures of health and well-being.

Equity Atlas 2.0 includes data on the issues that stakeholders from across the region view as priorities, including:  

  • Demographics:  Race/ ethnicity, income, age, and household composition
  • Access Measures:  How well the residents of a particular geographic area can access key opportunities including a healthy environment, food, housing, transportation, parks and nature, education, economic opportunity, services, and other community resources
  • Health Outcome Measures:  Key diseases that are affected by the conditions in which we live, such as the rates of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as well as other health outcomes such as obesity and birth outcomes

With the health outcome measures added, advocates and decision-makers can map different variables to see correlations with health outcomes. Seeing how race, income, geographic distribution, or access to transportation corresponds with health helps pinpoint where interventions and supports should be targeted.

As Beth Kaye, Healthy Eating Active Living Cities Campaign Manager at the Oregon Public Health Institute, says:

“Maps are the language of cities. They help tell the story of inequity because pictures don't lie.  It’s really powerful to show that obesity rates are higher in places with few sidewalks and poor access to transit, parks, and greengrocers. That correlation is usually invisible, but a good map makes it evident. Community voices add nuance by describing their experiences living in a place.  Maps push local governments to think about physical fixes, like installing sidewalks and safe crossings between an affordable housing development and a playground."

The impacts of the Equity Atlas are wide-ranging. Organizations and government agencies working on health equity, transportation and land use, affordable housing development, anti-poverty initiatives, and food access have all used the Atlas to inform their efforts.

Institutionalizing an equity focus within government agencies is a key outcome. “The greatest impacts from the Equity Atlas are that it has helped prompt local governments to start institutionalizing an equity lens,” says Gross. Atlas data has “shaped investment priorities, guided system design, and supported advocacy campaigns.”

Here are several examples of how government initiatives have used the Atlas:

  • The Oregon Prosperity Initiative used Equity Atlas maps to inform which communities should be targeted for a pilot program that aims to address and prevent poverty through systemic reforms in several areas, including education, economic and workforce development and healthcare. Atlas maps helped pinpoint which areas were most in need.
  • The Washington County Women Infants and Children (WIC) department located its new WIC office based on information provided through the Equity Atlas’s transit and demographic maps showing where transit was available in relation to where low-income populations live.
  • The Portland Bureau of Transportation used Equity Atlas data to determine where to prioritize investments in street lighting upgrades. They used Equity Atlas maps to see which neighborhoods had the highest level of need based on demographics, access to active transit, and transportation safety.


Still going strong and evolving to meet community data needs, Portland's Regional Equity Atlas illustrates how equity data and maps can be crucial tools for embedding equity throughout institutions and building inclusive communities across regions.