Skip to main content
Regional Planning in America: Practice and Prospect
  • Ethan Seltzer, Portland State University
  • Armando Carbonell

We live in regions—territories defined primarily by function and only rarely by jurisdiction. The places where we work, live, shop, recreate, and socialize constitute a territory that seldom corresponds to a single town or city. Regional planning is concerned less with the exercise of jurisdiction and more with the search for new forms of habitation based on a clear commitment to advancing sustainability. Editors Ethan Seltzer and Armando Carbonell invited the other chapter contributors to assist a new generation of planning practitioners in understanding the roots and applications of regional planning in America today, and the prospects for its practice in the future.

Three central themes can be distilled from the work presented in Regional Planning in America. First is the critical task of defining the region—the initial necessity for all regional planning practice to establish an often complex set of overlapping attributes and concerns. Next comes organizing the region, because regional planners must go beyond being generalists with a specialty and become more like community organizers with a specialty. The third theme, sustaining the region, is accomplished by responding directly to the institutional challenges of sponsoring and acting on regional plans at multiple levels of government and through effective governance.

Regional planning, seen as both art and science, is probably best viewed as craft that is honed and understood through practice and reflection. The chapters suggest that future generations of regional planners will need to be able to understand local issues in a regional and global context; adept at defining planning regions based on functional planning problems; capable of reaching across boundaries to assess, identify, and act on common cause; and able to navigate the currents of power and create the lasting relationships and institutions that are needed to perform and implement plans.

The editors call for a “region ethic” that will advance the sustainability of the regions on which our existence will depend. As with Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, the region ethic is a call to recognize the central interdependencies that make our inhabitation of cities and landscapes possible. We are optimistic about the future role for regional planning in the United States and expect to see more, not less, regional activity in the coming decades. Helping U.S. regional planning to evolve will reward the best efforts of planning practitioners, educators, and researchers. Making the region ethic a tool for practice is, perhaps, the first step.

The state of our world and the realities of contemporary daily life make the case for robust regional planning. With regional planning practice in the United States settling into a new century, and the challenges that face communities and institutions requiring boundary-crossing collaboration like never before, it is time to assess what we know about regional planning practice in anticipation of an approaching new era of conscious regionalism. This book will be of value to planners, decision makers, and citizens confronting the need to plan regionally, but looking for guidance and inspiration for making that happen.

  • Regional planning -- United States,
  • Sustainable development -- United States,
  • Regional planning,
  • Sustainable development
Publication Date
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
Citation Information
Ethan Seltzer and Armando Carbonell. Regional Planning in America: Practice and Prospect. (2011)
Available at: