Research areas

Research Focus

The School of Planning uses an interdisciplinary approach to address a range of environmental and planning issues. Our graduate programs focus on planning as a process, which includes policy-making, research, and decision-making. This approach gives equal emphasis to the “how” and “why” of planning, and integrates several disciplines in the social, pure, and applied sciences.

The most generalized expression of the work conducted in the School is planning to create healthy communities.  We define healthy in this context as:

  • economically, socially and culturally vibrant;
  • holistically (economically, socially, environmentally) efficient in the use of public resources;
  • socially equitable and universally empowering;
  • ecologically sustainable.

Further, we define communities as:

  • the built environment, physical places, spaces, and structures where human activity occurs and is facilitated;
  • social and culture structures by which human activity can be identified and defined;
  • the natural environment, where ecological processes occur in harmony with human activity.

Within these areas, we categorize faculty research in four areas:

  • Community Planning: Evolution, Processes, and Impacts
  • Community Sustainability (climate change, ecology,  energy systems, food, health, planning process)
  • Housing, Transportation, Urban Economies, and Social Structures
  • Modeling, Visualization, and Design in Planning

Most of our faculty members conduct research that spans across several of these areas, covering a wide range of topics in planning, and drawing on related fields of study such as architecture, demography, ecology, economics, engineering, geography, history, sociology, political science, and psychology, among several others.

The School’s interest in public policy, professional practice and process lends itself to an integration of several research fields to provide an interdisciplinary framework for teaching and research. 

Research Areas and Keywords for Application Process

A key strength of our graduate program is to match each successful applicant to a faculty supervisor with demonstrated expertise in the student’s area of interest.

To aid you with the graduate application process, we have listed faculty members by area (and keywords that you can indicate in your application to our programs).

In your application, choose keywords that are closest to your area of interest, and then describe your specific topic in more detail in the supplementary information form.  

Faculty members will be able to supervise a range of research topics not all of which are captured by the keywords. For specific information, please consult individual faculty members’ profile pages. 


Community Planning: Evolution, Processes, and Impacts

Pierre Filion (Demography, Heritage, Housing, Immigration, Inequality, Transportation)

Luna Khirfan (Climate Change, Heritage, International, Public Participation, Sustainability, Visualization)

Mark Seasons (Local Economic Development, Planning Administration, Planning Process)

Zhu (Joe) Qian (Heritage, Housing, International)


Community Sustainability (climate change, ecology, energy systems, food, health, planning process)

Jennifer Dean (Gender, Health, Immigration, Inequality, Multiculturalism, Public Participation, Race, Sustainability)

Michael Drescher (Climate Change, Conservation, Ecology, Economy, Modeling, Natural Resources, Regional Planning, Restoration, Rural Planning, Sustainability)

Jane Law (Demography, GIS, Health)

Leia Minaker (Food, Health, Planning Process, Public Participation/Engagement)

Carrie Mitchell (Climate change, Gender, Inequality, International, Sanitation, Waste Management, Water)

Roger Suffling (Climate Change, Conservation, Ecology, Heritage, International, Local Economic Development, Public Participation, Restoration)


Housing, Transportation, Urban Economies, and Social Structures

Jeff Casello (GIS, Modeling, Public Finance, Sustainability, Transportation)

Laura Johnson (Gender, Housing, Inequality, Public Participation)

Markus Moos (Demography, Economy, Generational Change, Inequality, Housing, Public Finance, Race, Sustainability)

Clarence Woudsma (Transportation, Logistics, Freight, Economy, Local Economic Development)


Modeling, Visualization, and Design in Planning

Robert Feick (GIS, Public Participation, Visualization)

John Lewis (Age-friendly communities, Sustainability, Visualization)

Dawn Parker (Economy, Environment, Modeling)


Note: Cross-appointed faculty members are also able to supervise Planning students. Please see each faculty member's profile page for further information about their areas of research.

Research in Planning

35 new PhD positions available.

Portal