Equitable Cities Initiative Case Studies

In this century citizens and policy makers across the world have paid growing attention to the problem of equity. The causes of inequitable development are numerous and manifest across multiple scales. Solutions must therefore be similarly pursued at multiple scales. At the local level, the equity issues that municipal and regional governments must address include access to housing, provision of transportation, access to food and health care, and payment of living wages. These issues are inexorably tied to the use of land and the spatial pattern of development. Equitable land policies, therefore, can and must play an important role in increasing equity in the global economy. Toward that end, we offer case studies of innovative land policies across 11 urban regions of the world that show how governments are addressing equity issues. These cases come from South America, Africa, Europe, and North America. The cases show how progress toward an equitable city can be made via policy at multiple levels and in multiple international contexts.

Even though these case studies vary greatly in their metropolitan context and international geography, some consistent policy themes emerge. Several jurisdictions are trying innovative housing programs to increase equity, as in Copenhagen, Addis Ababa, and Montgomery County. Other cities, like Medellín, Dar es Salaam, Santiago, Budapest, and Minneapolis are exploring changes to planning process and governance, to further equitable development via various methods. Lisbon’s transportation investments, Johannesburg’s equitable TOD program, and São Paulo’s land value capture policy show the impacts that land use and fiscal policies can have on the landscape of social equity in the metropolitan region.

Read the Framing Document


Budapest, Hungary

Desegregation Plans and Social Rehabilitation Programs as Tools to Counteract Socio-spatial Segregation in Budapest

Éva Gerőházi, Eszter Somogyi, and Iván Tosics

This case study presents a complex planning tool (desegregation plan) and a complex intervention (social rehabilitation) that contribute to alleviating sociospatial segregation in Budapest, the capital of Hungary.

Poverty and Inequality

Copenhagen, Denmark

City of Copenhagen, Denmark

Reestablishing Affordable Housing Post-Economic Recovery

This study examines the development of Copenhagen’s housing market in the late twentieth century and the subsequent boom and crisis after 2007. It covers the period from 1990 to the present, illustrating the urban, demographic, and economic development that has been closely related to changes in the housing market, including a decline in affordable housing.

Hans Thor Andersen and Jesper Ole Jensen


Lisbon, Portugal

Social Equity Policies and Spatial Development

The Case of Lisbon’s Subway Expansion Projects (1998–2018)

Since the early 1980s, Lisbon has grown modestly by about 300,000 inhabitants at the metropolitan level—and while the city proper lost more than 250,000 inhabitants in that time, most of those residents moved to other municipalities within the metropolitan area. Although the city maintains high economic and job centralization (with almost 400,000 inbound commuters in the city center), other polarities have emerged since the 1990s.

João Rafael Santos, David Vale, and Fernando Nunes da Silva


North America

Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Opportunity Clusters

The Twin Cities Case Study

Andrew Guthrie, Yingling Fan, and Greg Lindsey

Minnesota’s Twin Cities Metropolitan Area (TCMA), which includes Minneapolis and St. Paul, presents a confounding example of overall regional prosperity marred by racial disparities in income, educational attainment, and other key indicators. This case study describes the Opportunity Clusters Framework (OCF), an equity planning initiative by the TCMA’s regional metropolitan planning organization (MPO), the Metropolitan Council, to address these disparities.

Poverty and Inequality

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA

Moderately Priced Dwelling Units

Montgomery County, Maryland—a Model of Inclusionary Housing

Brittany Wong, Gerrit Knaap, and Willow Lung-Amam

This case study assesses both the historical and current landscape of social equity in the county and gauges how much the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program has helped to promote social, economic, and spatial equity across its diverse populations and neighborhoods.


South America

Medellín, Colombia

Medellín’s Integrated Urban Projects

A Planning Tool to Reduce Sociospatial Inequality

Luisa Sotomayor

This case study examines experiments in Medellín, Colombia, to improve social equity and human security via comprehensive planning instruments. It examines the Integrated Urban Project (Proyecto Urbano Integrado, or PUI), a land-management tool implemented between 2004 and 2011 by the local government, intended to redistribute public investments to underserved neighborhoods.

Poverty and Inequality

Santiago, Chile

Santiago de Chile

Breaking Through Urban and Social Inequality with Inclusionary Housing

Isabel Brain and Francisco Sabatini

Chile’s housing policy has efficiently addressed the housing needs of the country’s most vulnerable populations; today, its housing deficit is the lowest in Latin America. The downside of this policy, however, is extremely high sociospatial segregation: massive, socially homogeneous residential projects located on the periphery of cities.

Housing, Poverty, and Inequality

São Paulo, Brazil

Value Capture and the Role of Land in the Equality of Opportunities

The Case of São Paulo, Brazil

Ciro Biderman

São Paulo has developed a unique instrument for capturing land value: charging for the right to build. This instrument has been evolving since the mid-1970s and is now firmly established in the city. To make it work, São Paulo’s zoning uses two floor area ratios (FAR): a maximum ratio (as in any city that has zoning) and a basic ratio.

Value Capture


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Providing Affordable Home Ownership Opportunities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Larissa Larsen and Kumelachew Yeshitela

This case demonstrates how building residential neighborhoods requires more than housing—urban planners and decision-makers must recognize the importance of social services, amenities, and employment opportunities, particularly in low-resource settings. Despite accommodating over one million residents in new public housing developments, Addis Ababa continues to have a significant housing shortage.

Housing, Poverty, and Inequality

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Co-Design and Implementation of Climate Change Adaptation Mainstreaming Strategies and Projects in Coastal Dar es Salaam

Liana Ricci and Brendan Williams

This case study analyzes the links between social equity and vulnerability to environmental changes in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It describes the background and the implementation of an EU-cofunded multiactor, multisector project on mainstreaming climate change adaptation.

Climate Change

Johannesburg, South Africa

Addressing Inequality through Bold Spatial Interventions

The Case of the Corridors of Freedom in Johannesburg, South Africa

Philip Harrison, PhD, and Margot Rubin, PhD

This case study analyzes the possibilities and limitations of implementing ambitious, progressive, long-term spatial strategies within contexts of change and uncertainty. It indicates that spatial transformation programs are highly complex and require numerous moving parts to align. However, if sensitively managed and carefully embedded within their institutional and societal contexts, such programs may have a significant cumulative effect over the long term.

Poverty and Inequality

Editorial Team

  • Gerrit Knaap, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Zorica Nedovic-Budic, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University College Dublin
  • Brendan Williams, University College Dublin
  • Nicholas Finio, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Willow Lung Amam, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Elijah Knaap, San Diego State University