As planners for regional and intergovernmental agencies and organizations, we are all aware that today’s planning issues don’t respect boundaries. Rising tides don’t stop at the county line. Transit systems roll from city to city. Jobs and housing are joined at the hip. Public health touches everything.

The recently released Planning Advisory Service (PAS) report on Emerging Trends in Regional Planning explores the many facets of modern regional planning in the United States from the perspective of the planners and researchers who work on the front lines.  The report represents a multi-year effort by members of the APA Regional and Intergovernmental Planning Division along with leaders of other APA divisions and chapters to put together a compendium of emerging trends and best practices in this rapidly evolving field.  The report is available free of charge to all APA members by following this link Read the new PAS Report.

Regional planning in the United States has undergone an evolution over the past several decades – and continues to evolve. The dominant pattern in much of the 20th century was the crafting of regional plans to address single issues, such as regional plans for transportation or regional economic development strategies.  Regional planning is becoming more multidimensional and comprehensive, and is now addressing a range of issues including land use, transportation, open space, water resource management, climate change, and public health.  The report identifies and discusses the following six emerging trends in regional planning:

  1. Regional planning for sustainability
  2. Integrated regional planning across related issues
  3. Inclusive engagement and expanded partnerships in regional planning
  4. New approaches for implementation
  5. Changing demographics and changing regions
  6. New tools and techniques for regional planning

This report offers a unique contribution to understanding regional planning in the United States because it is written primarily for planning professionals and practitioners, as well as for decision makers and interested citizens. Examples of notable regional planning efforts from regions across the country are highlighted throughout the report, and five more detailed profiles of regions and their noteworthy planning practices and accomplishments are featured in Chapter 6.

In addition, included in this report is a discussion of the ways in which state-of-the-art integrated regional plans are addressing critical issues of sustainability as informed by the integrated planning framework of APA in its Sustaining Places Initiative. While this planning framework has been designed primarily to provide guidance and evaluation criteria for local comprehensive plans, the sustainability planning principles and standards are just as relevant to integrated regional plans.

To learn more about this report, we invite you to attend the APA National Planning Conference session on Emerging Trends in Regional Planning, which is scheduled on Sunday, May 7, from 2:30 to 3:45 PM. Following an overview of the report, speakers representing four diverse regions with unique regional planning programs focused on environmental resource management (Cape Cod, Greater Milwaukee, San Diego and Puget Sound) will discuss their programs and how they reflect emerging trends.


Emerging Trends in Regional Planning finds common ground for planners without borders. In this panoramic PAS Report, the best thinking of APA’s Regional and Intergovernmental Planning Division comes together under editors Rocky Piro, PhD, FAICP; and Robert Leiter, FAICP. Real-world examples show regional planning at work from Seattle to San Francisco and Denver to Dallas. An eight-point agenda drawn from APA’s Sustaining Places initiative gives new regional plans a solid place to start. Emerging Trends in Regional Planning is a must-read for everyone who wants to think globally, plan regionally, and act locally.

About the Editors

Rocky Piro, PhD, FAICP, is executive director of the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism and associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver. He is past chair of the Regional and Intergovernmental Planning Division of the American Planning Association (APA) and is on the board of directors of the International Urban Planning and Environment Association. He served as manager of Denver’s Department of Planning and Community Development, program manager in the Growth Management Department of the Puget Sound Regional Council, and chair of the Shoreline Planning Commission in Washington.

Robert A. Leiter, FAICP, is a lecturer in the Urban Studies and Planning Program at the University of California San Diego. He previously served as planning director in four California cities from 1978 to 2003. From 2003 to 2009, he served as director of land use and transportation planning for the San Diego Association of Governments, the regional planning agency for San Diego County and its 18 cities. He has served on the board of APA’s Regional and Intergovernmental Planning Division for over ten years, including four years as board chair.