The Equity Atlas: A data-driven conversation

The Regional Equity Atlas is a project that strives to ensure that everyone in the Portland metropolitan region benefits from the opportunities the region provides. Through the use of an online mapping tool, the Equity Atlas enables us to understand how well different neighborhoods and populations across the region are able to access the resources and opportunities necessary for meeting their basic needs and advancing their health and well-being. Combining the high quality maps and data with personal stories and white papers, the Atlas provides a comprehensive depiction of disparities and illuminates how the benefits and burdens of growth and change are distributed across the region.

By providing visual and written depictions of disparities, the Equity Atlas promotes changes in public policy, planning, and strategic investments that will eliminate disparities and create a more equitable region.

CLF initiated the original Regional Equity Atlas project in 2002 in response to its members’ assessment that equity and its relationship to sustainable development was not generally understood by the public and policymakers. It released its second iteration of the Atlas last year. NTEN’s Steph Routh caught up with Scotty Ellis to ask about how the region’s non-profits are using the Atlas.

Steph: Coalition for a Livable Future released its Equity Atlas 2.0 last year. What is different from the first version, and why did you change the format?

Scotty: The first edition was a custom-designed atlas in book form. It was a ground-breaking project, and it was one in which CLF was telling the story.

For the second edition, we wanted to create something that would allow community groups to tell their own stories. We wanted it to be free and available for use online in an interactive format.

In addition to the interactive layered maps, the Atlas has cutting-edge heatmap capabilities that allow users to access and view data at very close geographies (264 square feet). The heatmap capabilities also provide analytic calculations for density and proximity that allow users to compare geographies in terms of access and demographics. These functions are extremely unique and it makes our analytic mapping tool stand out against the others.

We are hoping that, when the community groups see data that don’t match up with their own first-hand experiences, the result is a thoughtful conversation. Because we should have those conversations. For example, we used the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) for business types. This is self-reported by business, so a business can identify as a grocery store even if neighbors perceive it as a liquor or convenience store.

How do you seeing nonprofits using data from the Equity Atlas? How could they use these data?

Let’s Build Cully Park

Verde is currently working on building Cully Park and collaborating with the state’s health authority to focus on health outcomes of access to parks. They are using data from the Equity Atlas to establish baseline metrics before the park is open to the public. Next year, after Cully Park is open, Verde and the Oregon Health Authority plan to compare those baseline metrics to post-park metrics to see how and whether those health outcomes have shifted.

We hope the Equity Atlas will be used more to determine goals for community-invested projects, and also to provide professional measures to spur further development and investments in neighborhoods.

The Jade International District

The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) and the Jade District have used the Equity Atlas by assisting with understanding services and programs to prioritize withinin the Jade District.

Equity Atlas data showed that the heart of the Jade District was the most diverse in Portland, Oregon. There is a high concentration of youth aged 0-17 and a lower concentration of older adults. With this broader understanding of the neighborhood’s demographics, APANO started to ask targeted questions about prioritized services, such as childcare, in its local canvassing efforts and to develop relevant programs to better serve the community.

Healthy Eating Active Living

The Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI) is using data from the Equity Atlas to advocate for the needs of their Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) campaign: they use maps to show where there is exceptional access to services, who benefits, and to describe the relationship between access to services and health outcomes. Through data, OPHI is able to demonstrate to policymakers the need to further invest in traditionally underserved communities.

Have you seen Equity Atlas data used in any unintended ways?

The maps and data are ideally supposed to start conversations, not to tell the whole story. It is important not to take data at face value. We have found that there are some interpretation issues.

One limitation is using the data and interpreting it in a way that is not actually represented in the findings. For example, much of the health data in the Equity Atlas are based on patient-level data. That means the Atlas doesn’t capture those who are uninsured and therefore describes more positive outcomes than what we can intuit as reality.

Is there any way you wish the data were used more?

We have proxy data for youth poverty, which is based on free and reduced lunch numbers. Wherever we turn that layer on coupled with health outcomes, there is a clear indication of correlation in Oregon and Washington. The power is that it shows a consistency among variables. We would like to see the Atlas used to tell those stories.

For a more in-depth look at the Equity Atlas, check out their article in the next Change Journal.

Scotty Ellis
Equity Program Manager
Coalition for a Livable Future
Scotty Ellis is Equity Program Manager at Coalition for a Livable Future. Through his background in both community planning and public health, Scotty has developed expertise in public participation and health advocacy. Over the past three years, Scotty has collaborated with several agencies and organizations on public engagement efforts that have focused on issues of equity, health, and planning. He has also worked with the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Public Health Institute in statewide and national efforts to expand the incorporation of health considerations into all levels of policy. Scotty is a graduate of Portland State University’s School of Community Health and School of Urban and Regional Studies as well as the University of San Francisco.