Environmental Justice in Indianapolis

Environmental Equity Added to the Land Use Plan!

The Final Draft of the Marion County Land Use Plan Map is Open for Public Comments Until October 21. Submit Your Comments Online at indy.civicomment.org or In-Person at the Exhibition on City Planning on October 5, 2018, from 6PM-9PM, at the Harrison Center, 1505 N. Delaware St.

The public comments submitted on the Indianapolis Land Use Plan had an effect.  The first half of the Plan, the Pattern Book, as adopted November 15th, includes environmental equity as one of the City’s values in making future land use decisions!  The Pattern Book now states:

“No group or neighborhood should be disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards, nor should any group or neighborhood lag behind in environmental assets, like parks.” 

The third phase of the Land Use Planning process is underway. This phase consist of reviewing changes to the actual land maps that were completed in the second phase which ended in May 2018 and making a recommendation on its adoption to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC).

State law mandates that each township in Marion County create a Land Use Stakeholder Committee to evaluate and then prepare a written report before a land use plan can be officially adopted. Four members are appointed by each Township Board in the County and one each by the City-County Council, Mayor and MDC while graduates of the People’s Planning Academy serve on the committee in advisory capacity.

The Stakeholder Committees meetings are convened under the Indiana Open Doors Act, which requires a public notice of the date, time, and place of the meeting, with at least a forty-eight (48) hour notice.

It’s not too late to learn more about land use planning. The People’s Planning Academy is still available on Youtube.  

Environmental Equity in Indianapolis

On December 8, 2016, HEC brought together community partners, local organizations, neighborhood leaders, academics, and community advocates for a community conversation on environmental equity in Indianapolis.  Out of this conservation a task force was formed and is developing land use policy recommendations that promote equity in environmentally overburdened communities.

Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.


Environmental Justice: A Community Planning Issue 

A degraded environment impacts health, reduces neighborhood morale, and discourages economic development.  Part of the solution to improving conditions in overburdened communities is establishing a land use policy framework that addresses prevention, mitigation, participation, and revitalization.

The burden of air, water, and land pollution varies from one Indianapolis neighborhood to another.  One may be burdened because of air pollution from heavy traffic while another may be burdened by contaminated brownfields.  Each one would need a different solution, but some land use policies can help improve environmental justice regardless of the type of environmental burden.

Addressing Equity With Land Use Controls

Many environmental issues are about land use.  Land use controls like zoning regulations and comprehensive land use plans can mitigate environmental hazards that degrade the quality of residential life. Land use plans set policies for future land use development and is used as a guide for decisions on zoning or zoning variances.  Zoning is the law that permits specific types of activities in designated geographic areas. 

The inclusion of enhanced measures in land use plans can greatly improve environmental equity. Ensuring effective participation of those who will be most affected by a land use decision has shown to be an effective measure. Bringing additional environmental assets like trees or green spaces into environmental justice areas is another.  Buffer zones that improve environmental conditions can be used to reduce potential health risks in communities.

Including Environmental Justice In The Indianapolis Land Use Plan

This year, as part of the city’s Bicentennial Agenda, Plan 2020, Indianapolis is revising its Comprehensive Land Use PlanGoals that have been expressed in Plan 2020 and recently implemented rezoning ordinance take great strides toward a healthier urban environment and environmental sustainability. They can be used as a guide to incorporating enhanced measures that improve conditions in environmental justice neighborhoods by including an overlay or map of where those enhanced measures are in effect.

Identifying Environmental Justice Communities

HEC has partnered with researchers at the Indiana University’s Fairbanks School of Public Health and The Polis Center to map data on the environmental burden in Indianapolis and where it overlaps with low income and minority neighborhoods. These maps bring together environmental indicators with data on race, income and gentrification in a way that HEC is using to inform discussions on improving equity in Indianapolis’ urban environment.  

Mapping Vulnerable Communities

Overburdened communities were mapped using an environmental justice mapping tool, Multi-Layer Data Community Action Tool (MDCAT).  Created by the Healthy Environment and Community Partnership (HECAP) team at the Fairbanks School of Public Health, MDCAT assesses environmental and social risk factors within Marion County. Click here to see additional MDCAT data maps on environmental risk factors.

Community Informatics researchers at The Polis Center mapped socio-economic indicators including household income, racial demographics and change in property values to help identify environmental justice neighborhoods.  Click here for a presentation on the intersection of environmental burden with the socio-economic factors within Marion County.

Overall Pollution Burden Within Marion County

The overall pollution burden within Marion County is mapped by census tracks. The index compares the census tracts to each other and shows them by percentile. The dark red tracts have the highest burden in the county (top 10%), while the purple tracts have the lowest (bottom 10%).

Overall Pollution Burden Within Marion County

Wang, Y. & Smirat, J. (2016). Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health

Potential High Priority Environmental Justice Areas

Census tracks with the highest environmental burden and either minority or low-income were identified as potential high priority environmental justice areas. These tracks are highlighted in blue.

The Polis Center at Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis (2016)

Environmental Assets – Tree Cover and Park Space

Environmental assets like trees and park space mitigate the effects of pollution. The map compares the tree cover among the census tracts and shows them by percentile. The dark green census tracts have the densest tree cover with more trees than 80% to 99% of the other census tracts.

Wang, Y. & Smirat, J. (2016). Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health

Change in Assessed Property Values in Potential High Priority Environmental Justice Areas

A strong correlation exists between housing prices and pollution levels.  Changes in housing values should be taken into account when identifying high priority environmental justice areas. Some heavily burdened neighborhoods are not necessarily potential high priority environmental justice areas, once the gentrification of historic “inner city” neighborhoods has been taken into consideration.

This explains why assessed values in some heavily burdened neighborhoods have increased 20% with others showing comparable declines in value.  Negative changes are in red with the areas seeing the highest increases in dark green.

The Polis Center at Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis (2016)

Additional Resources

The City of Indianapolis partnered with the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC) to educate residents and involve them in the land use planning process offering the People’s Planning Academy, a series of six workshops created by city planners to educate and engage residents in shaping the city’s land use plan.  Graduates will be invited to participate in the Land Use Plan Stakeholder Committee meetings during the mapping phase of the planning process. The People’s Planning Academy is being offered on YouTubeTo register for the workshops or for more information, click here

Blogpost:  Eley, C. (June 2016).  Environmental Justice Through Planning.  The American Planning Association

PAS Memo:  Eley, C.C. (March/April 2017).  Planning for Equitable Development: Social Equity by Design. The American Planning Association

Document: First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit (1991). Seventeen Principles of Environmental Justice

Website: US Environmental Protection Agency (no date). EPA EJ Action Plan 2020

Blogpost: Matthew Davis, (no date), National Bureau of Economic Research, Cleaner Air Results in Higher Home Prices

Book: Taylor, Dorceta E., (2009) Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s – 1900s : Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change, Duke University Press

Report: The Fairbanks School of Public Health in partnership with The Polis Center (July 2015), World’s Apart: Gaps in Life Expectancy in the Indianapolis Metro Area, SAVI Community Information System

Case Study: Schwier, Ryan and Elliott, Peter, (2014), The Geography of Pollution: Mapping Environmental Justice in Indiana, Historical Injustice in the Urban Environment: The Ecological Implications of Residential Segregation in Indianapolis



Made Possible by the Kind Support of Such Funders as The Indianapolis Foundation, a Central Indiana Community Foundation Affiliate (CICF), The Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD), the Herb Simon Family Foundation, and the Southside Quality of Life Plan.