Program Strengths


Students in the Community and Regional Planning Master's or Ph.D. Program can customize their curriculum through their choice of electives and by pursuing opportunities to work with faculty on their research. Faculty offer electives that reflect their own interests and often integrate elements of their own research projects. Below we group these interests under five broad headings. We do not use these headings to imply that these areas are independent of each other. As you will see through the descriptions of faculty interests and recent research, there is an increasing understanding of the interrelationship between these topics. 


Faculty Contacts: Elizabeth Mueller, Michael Oden, Bjørn Sletto, Miriam Solis, and Patricia Wilson

Elective courses and research under the broad heading of social and economic equity offer students a theoretical and practical understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing communities as a result of changing economic and environmental conditions and the role that planners, as well as non-governmental and community organizations, can play in responding to these challenges. While the challenges we face are longstanding, our understanding of how we as planners can shape solutions, and partner with others, is evolving. Practitioners will need to understand the interconnections between economic, social, and environmental aspects of cities and communities to devise integrated, creative solutions. Faculty offering electives and practicum courses under this heading do work in both the US context and in other countriesparticularly in Latin America.

By focusing on electives and practicum courses that emphasize social and economic equity, students can develop expertise in a number of related areas including:

  • Historical context and current debates regarding the challenges and opportunities facing local communities and local responses to economic, social, and environmental change;

  • Strategies for working with governments, communities (at different scales), and private sector actors on integrated strategies for goal setting, planning, and implementation;

  • Research methods and analytic techniques for documenting and evaluating the structure, performance, and potential of regional or local economies;

  • Techniques used in the design, implementation, and evaluation of development projects in the United States and in international contexts;

  • Organizational skills including facilitation, team building, conflict resolution, and participatory planning.


Faculty Contacts: Katherine Lieberknecht, Robert Paterson, Bjørn Sletto, and Miriam Solis

Elective courses and research under the broad heading of environmental planning provide students with a grounding in the theoretical and methodological foundations, legal/policy aspects, social justice dimensions, and planning and management techniques used to address some of the most pressing environmental issues facing communities and regions today. Environmental planners play central roles in a diversity of issues that range in scale, including remediation of individual brownfield sites; city-wide park planning; regional air and water pollution planning; habitat conservation planning; planning for climate change adaptation and mitigation for cities and regions; avoiding and mitigating health impacts from environmental contaminants; and planning for socially and ecologically just communities, cities and regions.

Through electives and practicum courses, students trained in this specialization develop a variety of theoretical, organizational, and technical skills for effectively addressing the complexity of environmental issues facing communities today. These skills include:

  • Identifying and coordinating expertise in scientific and technical areas;

  • Developing frameworks for environmental planning-related policies;

  • Working with communities within different social and cultural contexts; and

  • Integrating justice or ethical considerations into environmental planning strategies.


Faculty Contacts: Junfeng Jiao, Alex Karner, Katherine Lieberknecht, Robert Paterson, Gian-Claudia Sciara, Ming Zhang

The electives and practicum courses under the broad heading of land use, transportation, and infrastructure are designed to provide students with an understanding of theories, methods, and techniques for integrated land use, transportation, and infrastructure planning and policy-making. Students are encouraged to approach these issues from a critical perspective and to consider questions such as: What are the critical land use, transportation, and infrastructure issues facing our communities? What goals do conventional methods or analysis and analytic techniques promote? Where and how should these methods and techniques be improved? What are the implicationssocial, economic, environmentalof our choices about land use, transportation, and infrastructure policies and investments? Students focusing on these topics have found jobs with cities, counties, metropolitan planning organizations, transit agencies, non-profit organizations, and private consultants.


Faculty Contacts: Dean Almy, Junfeng Jiao, Michael Holleran, Jake Wegmann, and Ming Zhang

The land development and urban design focus area provides students with specialized training and prepares them to become capable of engaging effectively with design professionals (such as architects and landscape designers), developers, and institutions around issues of real estate development, urban form, and design. Students will develop an understanding of how land development policies and urban design interventions can alter the human-built environment. Students in this specialization learn to delineate the legal, regulatory, economic, and social context within which real estate development and physical design can occur. Students will also be exposed to concepts and approaches used by designers in the processes of place-making, and will learn to develop plans and policies that support good land development and urban design.

The study of land development and urban design is especially well suited for two types of students:

  • Those who are interested in public sector employment with regard to the policy and practice of the land development regulatory review process, urban design review, and design guideline development and implementation process.

  • Those who are interested in private sector development of land with regard to the practice of the real estate marketing and development process, and the urban design master planning process.

Most of the built environment results from the activities of the public and private sectors with regard to land development and urban design, and this specialization prepares the graduate to participate professionally in those activities.


Faculty Contacts: Junfeng Jiao, Alex Karner, Katherine Lieberknecht, Bjørn Sletto, Miriam Solis, and Ming Zhang

The elective courses under the broad heading of Spatial Analytics equip students with the analytical and computational skills needed to gain data-driven insights into complex community and regional challenges. Increasingly, planning practice and policy analysis involve intensive use of spatial and non-spatial data for a better understanding of the spatial interactions and processes between socially bound actors and geographies. Advances in information and communications technologies and their widespread applications have generated an enormous amount of geospatial data that planners can tap into for planning inquiries. Students will learn and apply various spatial analysis methods, techniques, and tools from taking the electives and practicum courses under this heading. Examples of analytics include spatial interaction models, network analysis, optimization algorithms, machine learning, and data visualization.

Effectively communicating the results of planning analyses requires planners to create arresting and informative visuals that clearly transmit key ideas, concepts, and tradeoffs. Geographic information systems (GIS) capable of integrating, analyzing, and visualizing spatial and non-spatial data are indispensable for planning-related analyses and must form an essential component of the planner’s software toolkit. The courses under this heading cover both generic and specialized GIS, for example, ArcGIS and TransCAD, respectively.

Spatial analysis does not only rely on GIS with available data but can also be based on ethnographic, participatory, and activist methods. The data can include people’s experiences (including students’ own), memories, and stories. Faculty under this heading also offer training in non-GIS-based spatial analysis conducted through tactile engagement not involving high technology, including community-based workshops, drawing, sketching, and dialogue in various forms. Such methods are critically important when working with communities marginalized from planning and vulnerable in various ways, including lacking access to education and technology. Such community-based spatial analysis methods thus serve to build bridges with marginalized communities and allow planners to serve as allies as they struggle for rights to the city.