Forecasting 2021: 7 Trends for Planners

Planners helped lead communities through rapid changes brought about by COVID-19 — from a new retail reality to increasing demands for broadband to expanding outdoor spaces. What does 2021 hold for planners?

We've gathered seven trends (plus helpful resources) to keep your eye on as you prepare for the opportunities and challenges ahead in 2021 and beyond:


1. Digital Transformation

From smart cities to e-commerce to educating and working from home, every community across the country has undergone rapid digital transformations and will continue to do so. Technology has helped keep people connected and provide planners with access to real-time data to help make hyper-local decisions.

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Smart City Digital Twins

Flying Taxis are Coming: How Communities Can Prepare

Increased Remote Work Could Mean Big Changes for Cities


2. Fiscal Impacts and Economic Recovery

Municipal budgets will remain stretched, requiring planners do more with less. Enter creative thinking in how to address daily and future community needs through different thought processes such as "lean" and design thinking. Planners are also vital in helping ensure communities have an equitable recovery, correcting mistakes from the past to ensure everyone has a chance to be successful following the pandemic.

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Slowing Down to Speed Up: Improving Planning Process with Lean

Design Thinking


3. Online Public Engagement

The need for physical distancing has disrupted public engagement events and activities. Planners are continuing to think outside the box on how to keep community planning moving forward while ensuring all community members have an opportunity to participate, safely. From moving meetings online to helping to bridge the digital divide, planners will continue to navigate new and creative ways to keep the voice of all community members front and center in planning.

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Online Public Engagement Collection

How COVID-19 Has Underscored the Digital Divide podcast


4. Cannabis

The ballot box in 2020 saw an additional five states legalize cannabis for medicinal or recreational use, bringing the tally to 38 states. From shop location to cultivation and processing, planners are at the head of figuring out marijuana-related land uses without undermining public health, safety, or welfare.

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Marijuana-Related Uses Collection

Regulating Medical and Recreational Marijuana Land Use

Planning the Process from Seed to Sale


5. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Planners should advocate for policies that support equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of planning at local, state, and federal levels. While all planning work should be grounded in equity, planners can help correct past wrongs and reduce disparities that exist across communities.

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Planning for Equity Policy Guide

More and Better: Increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Planning

Eliminating Racial Segregation Is Good Economic Policy


6. Resilience and Climate Change

Climate change is a threat to the future safety and sustainability of our communities. With upcoming changes at the federal level and as communities continue to reinvent in the aftermath of COVID-19, planners are uniquely positioned to help communities prepare for and address the multitude of challenges brought about by climate change.

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Nature-Based Solutions for Hazard Mitigation and Community Resilience

Planning the Wildland-Urban Interface

Climate Migrants Are on the Move


7. Public Health

Public health jolted to the forefront of national conversations last year due to the pandemic and will continue to be a focus this year and in the years to come. From having equitable public space to opportunities for improving community health and well-being, planners are working in tandem with public health professionals to help create equitable, safe, and healthier communities.

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Toolkit to Integrate Health and Equity Into Comprehensive Plans

Healthy Communities Policy Guide

Metrics for Planning Healthy Communities


For a deeper look at the trends and disrupters facing the profession, turn to Planning magazine, which has just launched its year-long Disruptors series, looking at the trends, challenges, and opportunities driving change in our communities.


Top image: Getty Images photo.


January 6, 2021