Carbonell spent more than two decades at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, serving for most of that period as head of the organization's urban planning program. After attending Clark University and the Johns Hopkins University, Carbonell spent the early part of his career as an academic geographer. He went on to initiate a new planning system for Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as the founding Executive Director of the Cape Cod Commission. In 1992 he was awarded a Loeb fellowship in the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. Carbonell later taught urban planning at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania and served as an editor of the British journal Town Planning Review. He has consulted on master plans in Houston, Texas, and Fujian Province, China, and is the author or editor of numerous works on city and regional planning and planning for climate change, including Nature and Cities: The Ecological Imperative in Urban Design and Planning. Carbonell is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK), and Lifetime Honorary Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (UK).