Municipal, Race, Transportation

Geographic and ethnic patterns of metropolitan planning boards

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Last updated: January 13, 2010

roadwork

Metropolitan planning organizations are federally mandated bodies (MPOs) responsible for urban transportation planning. Billions of dollars are channeled through MPOs, giving them considerable influence over growth patterns and, consequently, social and economic opportunity.

A 2006 paper by the Brookings Institution, “An Inherent Bias? Geographic and Racial-Ethnic Patterns of Metropolitan Planning Organization Boards,” examines MPOs and explores their potential for bias in 50 metropolitan areas.

Because MPOs are not required by law to have representational voting and their decisions are made by boards whose members are generally not elected, the potential exists for biases toward certain constituencies or locales.

The Brookings Institution paper found that:

  • Urban areas nationally are underrepresented on MPO boards.
  • MPO boards underrepresent racial minorities and overrepresent white constituents.
  • Some MPOs reported weighted voting structures to correct for the disparities. However, the methodology used was often either too crude to account for the differences in proportionality or rarely utilized in reality.

The author concludes by recommending increased public involvement in MTOs, including implementing stricter certification requirements, population-weighted voting and the development of programs to recruit minority representatives.

Tags: cars, mass transit, Hispanic, Latino, race, African-American


Writer: | January 13, 2010

Citation: Sanchez, Thomas, "An Inherent Bias? Geographic and Racial-Ethnic Patterns of Metropolitan Planning Organization Boards," Brookings Research Paper, June, 2006, PDF.

Analysis assignments

Read the Brookings Institution study titled "An Inherent Bias? Geographic and Racial-Ethnic Patterns of Metropolitan Planning Organization Boards."

  1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
  2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
  3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Cities Lose Out on Road Funds From Federal Stimulus."

  1. If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?

Newswriting assignments

  1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
  2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
  3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
  4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.

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