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, 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, director of the Rutgers Center for Green Building, and 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, including a new course in public informatics, and performs research on how people use 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 co-editor of the Journal of Planning Education and Research. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and a licensed Professional Engineer. Andrews is a Fellow of AAAS, president-elect of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, and an avid experimenter with new methods for collecting field data in urban settings.

Keith Cooke
<p>Keith Cooke is the Global Industry Manager for Planning &amp; 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
<p>Alexsandra Gomez is a research associate at the American Planning Association. She supports sponsored and strategic research projects, contributes to Research KnowledgeBase collections, and writes 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.</p>

Petra Hurtado, PhD
<p>Petra (Stieninger) Hurtado is the Research Director at the American Planning Association, heading APA’s research programs and foresight practice. In this role, she is responsible for expanding a future-focused research agenda, advancing planning practices that assist communities in navigating change, and developing APA's foresight practice to inform APA's strategic governance. Her areas of expertise and research include urban futures and foresight, urban sustainability, smart cities, emerging technologies, nature-based solutions, and environmental psychology. In addition, Petra teaches a course on "community visioning with foresight" at the University of Maryland.<br />Prior to joining APA, she worked as an advisor, planner, researcher, and educator in the global urban sustainability arena. She has a Ph.D. in urban planning from the Vienna University of Technology, where she teaches on urban sustainability and environmental psychology.<br />Additionally, she has been a guest lecturer at Harvard GSD, Loyola University Chicago and the Universidad Tecnologica de Bolivar. Petra has authored and co-authored multiple books, research papers, publicly funded reports, and articles and has presented as a subject matter expert at numerous conferences around the globe.</p>

Thomas Sanchez
Tom Sanchez earned his Ph.D. in City Planning from Georgia Tech and is a Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region (Washington, DC/Northern Virginia). He conducts research in the areas of transportation, social justice, technology, and scholarly impact. His most recent books, Networks in the Knowledge Economy (with Denise Bedford) was published in 2021, and Planning Knowledge and Research was published by Routledge in 2018. He has co-authored three other books including, Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity (2012), The Right to Transportation: Moving to Equity (2007), and The Social Impacts of Urban Containment (2007).

Sagar Shah, PhD, AICP
Dr. Sagar Shah, AICP, is the Planning and Community Health Manager at the American Planning Association in Washington DC. In this role, he creates tools, training, and educational materials to help local planning practitioners integrate health and equity into their planning practice. In his academic and professional career, he has worked on multiple applied research, community-based research, and basic research projects. Sagar’s research interest includes investigating the role planners play in creating healthy communities with an emphasis on health equity. Sagar holds a PhD in Regional Development Planning from the University of Cincinnati and a Master’s degree in Planning from the University of Southern California.

Norman Wright, AICP
Norman Wright is the Community Development Director at the City of Salem, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to the APA's Zoning Practice magazine and has also been featured with blogs, video series, and articles with, Practicing Planning, Better! Cities and Towns, and Public Management Magazine. He is also a member of the APA's Foresight Commmittee on Artificial Intelligence.

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