AI in Planning: Opportunities and Challenges and How to Prepare

Conclusions and Recommendations from APA's "AI in Planning" Foresight Community

By Clinton Andrews, AICP, Keith Cooke, Alexsandra Gomez, Petra Hurtado, PhD, Thomas Sanchez, AICP, Sagar Shah, PhD, AICP, Norman Wright, AICP



Artificial intelligence (AI) has been in development since the 1950s. However, due to the availability of big data and increased computing power, the AI market has grown substantially over the last decade and is expected to grow more than 20 percent annually over the next few years. AI is expected to be one of the biggest disruptors of the 21st century, with impacts affecting the economy, the built environment, society, and most professions, including the planning profession. Planners and allied professionals should have a strong understanding of the potential impacts and benefits posed by AI on the profession and the communities they serve. AI is already reshaping the local landscape, and it is important to understand how planners can use AI equitably and productively.

If deployed responsibly, AI has the potential to assist planners in their work, improve existing planning processes, create efficiencies, and allow planners to refocus their work on the human factors of planning (i.e., human interactions, connecting with community members, and related human skills). However, the use of AI also poses the risk of exacerbating existing inequalities in society if its user is unprepared and doesn't understand and question the systems and algorithms in place.

As part of APA's foresight practice, APA hosted an "AI in Planning" Foresight Community, a multidisciplinary group of experts in planning, computer science, data analytics, sociology, geography, and engineering, among other disciplines. The Foresight Community met 10 times over the course of one year, from June 2021 to June 2022, to discuss potential impacts from AI on the planning profession, the need for ethical AI, and how planners can prepare for AI. This white paper summarizes the findings and suggests initial ideas on how planners can prepare for AI and its potential impacts, how planners can ensure AI-based planning tools are used in equitable and inclusive ways, and what the role of the planner should be in developing and using AI-based planning tools.


Page Count
Date Published
Sept. 9, 2022
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Clinton Andrews, AICP
Clinton Andrews is a professor of urban planning and the associate dean for research at Rutgers University’s Bloustein School. He was educated at Brown and MIT in engineering and planning, and worked previously in the private sector and at Princeton University. He teaches environmental planning and quantitative methods courses, and performs research on how people use and transform the built environment. He publishes both scholarly and popular articles and his books include Humble Analysis: The Practice of Joint fact-Finding, Regulating Regional Power Systems, and Industrial Ecology and Global Change. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and a licensed Professional Engineer. Andrews is a Fellow of AAAS, immediate past president of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, and co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research.

Keith Cooke
<p>Keith Cooke is the Global Industry Manager for Planning & Community Development at Esri. He has worked for planning and community development agencies at the regional and municipal level, and was an account executive at Esri working with over 100 local governments. He is a frequent speaker at GIS, community planning, and economic development events and is an active member in the American Planning Association, where he has conducted nearly 100 hands-on GIS workshops for planners at the National Planning Conference and state chapter conferences.</p>

Alexsandra Gomez
Alexsandra Gomez is a policy analyst at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Her work is primarily in the Safe and Complete Streets program. She formerly worked as a research associate at the American Planning Association, where she supported sponsored and strategic research projects and write for APA publications. She has a background in cultural geography and anthropology and applies these disciplines to planning research and practice. Her research interests include urban political ecology, geographies of power, and equitable community-led development.

Petra Hurtado, PhD

Thomas Sanchez, AICP
Thomas W. Sanchez, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M University. He earned his PhD in City Planning from Georgia Tech and a Master of City and Regional Planning from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. His research and teaching focus on planning methods, technology, and scholarly impact. His most recent books include Networks in the Knowledge Economy (with Denise Bedford) and Planning Knowledge and Research. His forthcoming book, AI for Urban Planning will be published by Routledge in 2025. Sanchez serves as the American Planning Association (APA) Education Committee Chair and as a member of APA’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Foresight Community.

Sagar Shah, PhD, AICP
Sagar Shah serves as the Manager of Research and Strategic Initiatives at the American Planning Association (APA), leveraging over 15 years of rich experience in community planning. With a focus on the nexus of planning and health, his research delves into effectively integrating health and equity considerations into planning practices. Within APA, Sagar spearheads the 'upskill planners' initiative, dedicated to empowering planners with new skills to thrive in evolving environments. He also plays a pivotal role as a core member of APA’s Foresight Team, actively studying influential external factors - such as AI - that significantly impact planners' roles. Sagar earned his Ph.D. in Regional Development Planning from the University of Cincinnati and holds a Master’s degree in Planning from the University of Southern California. He is a certified planner accredited by the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Norman Wright, AICP
Norman Wright is the founder and principal at Parameter, a consulting firm dedicated to improving local government. From 2005 to 2022, he served as a local government executive over-seeing planning, development, and many public services in cities and counties in Oregon, Colo-rado, Tennessee, and South Carolina. He holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Clemson University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Sense-Making: AI and Planning

2.1 What is planning and what does a planner do?
2.2 What is AI and what can AI do?
2.3 Similarities and synergies between AI and planning
2.4 Potential uses and implications of AI in planning

3. Challenges and Opportunities

3.1 Tech sector and planning
3.2 Planning academia and practice

4. Equity and Inclusion and the Need for Ethical AI

4.1 Planning goals and the purpose of AI
4.2 Values and ethical decisions
4.3 Inclusion
4.4 Transparency
4.5 Weight of history
4.6 Diversity
4.7 Who is responsible?

5. The Roles of Planners and How to Prepare for AI

5.1 Planners as contributors to the development of AI-based tools
5.2 Planners as informed consumers
5.3 Upskilling and continuous learning

6. The Future of Planning with AI

7. References

7.1 Products by “AI in Planning” Foresight Community members
7.2 References cited in the text
7.3 Additional reads