The Challenge of Implementation to Land Use and Transportation Equity
Implementation is a term that appears commonly in writing about public policy and community development strategies. It often describes envisioned solutions or the cause-and-effect relationship of proposed solutions. When it comes to the space between a policy decision and the needed actions that follow, varying levels of intentionality and capacity shape the eventual outcomes. Implementation is a noted challenge in the land use and transportation sectors, where policies and plans are sometimes viewed as aspirations rather than specific directives, and transformational projects rely on funding and design work that must be sustained.
Successful implementation happens when the intended actions of program decisions or an adopted policy take place. This is an important lens for equity movements whose work to advance active transportation and built environment strategies is marked by tangible outcomes at the neighborhood level. Cultivating and maintaining strong policy intent, with commensurate action planning and routine accountability, is an emerging focus of both community partners and government staff who want these valuable efforts to go unwasted. This resource describes implementation as a conscious practice throughout different policy stages, not a separate stage between adoption and evaluation (refer to Implementing Equity in all Policy Stages). It also highlights innovative practices developed by movements in eight cities to strengthen implementation (refer to Factors that Drive Implementation).
How Implementation Intersects with Health Equity and Racial Justice
The practices highlighted in this resource are specifically drawn from efforts to advance land use and transportation equity at the local level. Health equity and racial justice are key frames for these planning and policymaking efforts because the built environment disparities observed today are rooted in discriminatory practices that undermine streetscape conditions (Taylor et. al, 2023) constrain access to greenspace (Rigolon, 2016), and destabilize economies and cultures in communities of color (Aboelata et. al, 2017).
Our previous equity analysis and discussions with issue experts highlight the importance of policy implementation, noting that things often “fall apart” after policy adoption. They recommend examining promising implementation strategies and practices, and identifying case examples to demonstrate how a policy was implemented over time.
Follow-through on equity-focused policies is essential for undoing systemic inequities produced over generations. Stronger implementation practices cover vital equity objectives: from how actions are coordinated and monitored, to whether resources are allocated in alignment with policy aims, and how responsible agencies can prepare to work more equitably.