For her project, Vidheecharoen conducted a comprehensive review of SCAG’s planning and funding programs through an equity lens to take on the thorny question: how can SCAG allocate its various streams of funding to best address inequities? Her research included examples from other Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) across the country and case studies comparing SCAG to three other MPOs that drew upon MPO documentation and interviews with key staff.
Vidheecharoen found that numerous MPOs already incorporate equity-driven strategies to target investment, including using broader definitions to determine focus communities, using mapping tools to visualize them, and integrating multiple approaches to equity. She applied these findings to produce detailed recommendations and prototypes for two digital products for SCAG: an ArcGIS app prototype, a data-based spatial tool to visualize the most impacted areas and identify gaps in past funding investments, and a scorecard system with unified equity indicators to guide awarding in the Southern California region. She emphasized that moving forward, SCAG’s key focus should not be to gather more data on equity indicators, as significant data already exists, but rather to understand how existing indicators and indexes can work together to provide the information that SCAG needs.
“My hope is that SCAG can use the recommendations to prioritize resources more holistically, look at equity from multiple angles, and be mindful of the ways different factors intersect to impact the communities,” Vidheecharoen said. “I also hope it encourages them to be more transparent about their process and outcomes.”
Vidheecharoen’s exhaustive research, combined with practical deliverables and detailed recommendations for applying them, provides SCAG with much-needed products that they can rapidly implement. As Southern California’s MPO, SCAG has the opportunity to make significant investments towards equity – but these investments must be made carefully to achieve the greatest impact. Vidheecharoen provides SCAG with the tools to “operationalize equity,” to support communities across the Southern California region and influence MPOs across the country.