People in an outdoor gathering space

Seven Need-to-Know Trends for Planners in 2024

By APA Foresight team, January 24, 2024


This content was developed through a partnership between the Lincoln Institute and the American Planning Association as part of the APA Foresight practice. It was originally published by APA in Planning. 

Blink twice and something new in the world is unfolding. It’s dizzying to think about, let alone remain informed about. Technological and social innovations continue to emerge and evolve. New economic trends and signals in the political arena are surfacing. And while new challenges and ever more crises keep us up at night, innovative developments promise potential solutions.

To stay a step ahead of the issues impacting the future of planning and our communities, the American Planning Association (APA) will publish its 2024 Trend Report for Planners in January, in partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. The APA Foresight team, together with APA’s Trend Scouting Foresight Community, identifies existing, emerging, and potential future trends that may impact the planning profession in the future. Planners need to understand these drivers of change, learn how they can prepare for them, and identify when it’s time to act.

The report includes more than 100 trends and shows how some trends are interconnected in various future scenarios — like the future of housing in a world of hybrid work, advanced AI capabilities and its potential impacts on planning decisions, and the future of climate mitigation amid current uncertainties about global collaboration and tech innovations. Many of the trends identified in previous reports remain relevant (and can be explored in the APA Trend Universe) but there are new ones, as well.

There also is the recognition that we are moving into a “polycrisis.” The climate emergency and its close connection to current global challenges — such as food insecurity, the migrant crisis, economic warfare, resource scarcity, and social disputes — highlights the high risk of failing to mitigate and adapt to climate change on a global scale. Holistic approaches are needed to resolve this developing polycrisis.

Illustration of people in open office spaces
Illustration by Chris Lyons.

You’ll Work in a Bespoke Office — at Home or Downtown

As the pandemic recedes, the world of work continues to evolve. In the post-pandemic U.S., a dominant trend is the adoption of a hybrid workstyle combining remote and in-office work. A 2023 Pew Research Center survey found that 41 percent of remote-capable workers now follow hybrid schedules, up from 35 percent in January 2022. During that time, the number of people working from home full time decreased from 43 to 35 percent, but this is still significantly higher than the 7 percent who worked from home pre-pandemic. Worldwide, over one-third of office desks remain unoccupied throughout the week, though Asian and European employees have returned to workplaces faster than their U.S. counterparts.

The remaining question is what the future of the office might look like. While the number of fully remote workers seems to be going down in the U.S., space for the home office or a co-working space nearby will still be needed for hybrid workers. Meanwhile, for the companies that offer hybrid workstyles, we currently see two trends regarding the use of office space. Companies that are operating with shared offices or concierge office services tend to downsize their overall office space. Other companies emphasize collaboration and team building during their in-office time and therefore require more office space than before the pandemic to accommodate conference rooms, collaboration spaces, and space for creative activities.

Meanwhile, office-to-residential conversions are gaining interest. To further accelerate this trend, the Biden administration launched a commercial-to-residential conversion initiative in October 2023. Given these diverse directions and emerging trends, it looks like the office of the future will be fully bespoke and tailored to the customer’s needs, which will vary depending on emerging workstyles. —Petra Hurtado, PhD, and Sagar Shah, PhD, AICP

A flooded neighbhorhood.
Despite flood risk, development continues in many low-lying areas. Photo by Ryan Johnson/Flickr.

Climate Displacement on the Rise

In 2022, nearly 33 million people across the globe were displaced due to natural disasters, such as floods, drought, and wildfire, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva. This far exceeds averages hovering near 20 million people in previous years.

In the U.S., climate displacement is a growing challenge. More than 3 million Americans lost their homes to natural disasters in 2022. As climate change continues to worsen, these numbers are expected to grow and even accelerate. By 2050, more than 1 billion people may be displaced due to climate-related impacts, according to the international think tank Institute for Economics and Peace. Adaptation at the local level will be critical. It will be imperative to prepare for the movement of people due to climate-related impacts and to more proactively retreat from especially high-risk areas.

Renewed discussion in the face of forced climate displacement has sought to better characterize managed retreat as a package of potential actions, rather than the wholesale abandonment of at-risk areas and the buyout of homes and properties. A June 2023 report from the University of Massachusetts Boston, together with representatives from coastal communities across the state, identified a variety of complementary tools for managed retreat, including enhanced setbacks, deed restrictions, green infrastructure, and an array of zoning and planning actions.

Yet, even as communities begin to understand the potential for these actions in concert with strategic retreat and buyout programs, continued development in hazardous areas remains the norm. In North Carolina, for example, for every buyout, 10 new homes were built in floodplains, according to a 2023 article in the Journal of the American Planning Association. Often, this is a result of market and insurance-based incentives that aren’t pricing long-term risk into development costs and home prices. —Scarlet Andrzejczak and Joe DeAngelis, AICP

Adults and children ride bikes outside
A more equitable approach to transportation planning, like the one in Jersey City, New Jersey, not only can increase options but also can decrease pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. Photo courtesy of City of Jersey City.

Car-centric Planning Drives Inequities

Local governments and planners are overwhelmed with many emerging transportation systems popping up. While there are lots of exciting innovations in the transportation sector, the real story is that the ways cities are currently responding to these new systems are increasing inequities and harming communities. Today’s more diverse transportation system needs a different approach to transportation planning — one that doesn’t focus on cars.

Most new alternatives to the car are more sustainable, safer, healthier, and potentially easier to deploy in equitable ways. Usage is going up, with e-bikes on the rise in the U.S. for a few years (with 2022 sales topping $1.3 billion) and the popularity of bike-share programs and the market for cargo bikes also continuing to grow. However, cities often are unprepared for these new transportation options resulting — in some cases — to bans instead of plans to integrate them into existing systems.

Meanwhile, inequitable, car-centric planning practices continue to dominate. The rising number of traffic deaths and decreasing traffic safety, coupled with the lack of appropriate infrastructure for emerging systems, show the inequity in current transportation planning. While e-mobility is a part of the solution when it comes to decarbonizing transportation (as was noted in the 2023 Trend Report), electric vehicles (EVs) also come with many negative effects, including the concentration of public EV chargers mostly in wealthy areas.

Assigning space by means of transportation instead of purpose isn’t working anymore. A holistic, comprehensive approach toward equitable transportation planning and funding is needed. —Zhenia Dulko and Petra Hurtado

‘Made in America’ Comes Roaring Back

Geopolitical goals are becoming an increasingly deciding factor in economic policy and international trade. Self-sufficiency and independence from rival powers are resulting in an increase in friend-shoring and onshoring, financed through subsidies, a variety of policies, visa bans, and even exclusion of companies from specific markets. This includes, for example, U.S. policies toward certain high-tech products coming from China. Additionally, U.S. companies are actively seeking alternative manufacturing destinations to replace China, moving to countries such as India, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, manufacturing is coming back to the U.S., supported by new federal incentives to promote domestic manufacturing of crucial components, such as computer chips and EV parts. This trend has had tangible effects, with the sector adding nearly 800,000 jobs since early 2021 — reaching employment levels not seen since 2008. Additionally, U.S. manufacturing employment has exceeded the peak of the previous business cycle for the first time since the late 1970s, according to jobs data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But workforce challenges persist. As of March 2023, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said there were still 693,000 open positions in the manufacturing sector — and, according to some estimates, there may be around 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030.

Additionally, the introduction of the Tech Hubs program — a $500 million economic development initiative — is fostering technology hubs across the U.S., addressing regional disparities and promoting technology-driven economic growth in traditionally industrial regions. The Biden administration’s initiative aims to transform 31 regions into globally competitive innovation centers. These Tech Hubs span urban and rural areas, focusing on industries such as quantum computing, biotechnology, and clean energy. —Petra Hurtado and Sagar Shah

Extinct Species Get a Mammoth Rebirth

The concept of bringing back extinct species, discussed as part of a deep dive into rewilding in the 2023 Trend Report, has already seen some significant recent updates. Resurrection biology is centered on the revival or recreation of extinct species of plants and animals. The current destruction of the natural world, the impacts of climate change, and the steady march of ecosystem loss are leading to the rapid extinction of species across the world. Notably, resurrection biology might be critical both for bringing back long-lost species and reversing the ongoing extinction of current species.

De-extinction science relies on three different methods: cloning (using DNA of extinct species to clone new animals), back-breeding (for example, selectively breeding elephants to recreate mammoths), and gene editing (adding or removing traits from existing species’ DNA to recreate extinct species). Media interest largely centers on the resurrection of mammoths, dodos, and other high-profile extinctions.

However, this concept could be applied in more mundane but vitally important circumstances, such as insect extinctions — which are a major threat to the resilience of the global food supply and the health of ecosystems. This technology might one day help to reverse major impacts by reviving key extinct species. Planners should consider not only the long-term implications of this technology but also the ecosystem loss and the rapid species extinction occurring today that drive its continued relevancy. —Joe DeAngelis and Petra Hurtado

Co-creation Mirrors DIY Trends

Urban dwellers are increasingly embracing do-it-yourself (DIY) methods and self-organization. A trend toward co-creation is emerging as a collaborative approach in which planners and end users jointly develop solutions. This process emphasizes deep user engagement facilitated by new technologies. Consequently, there’s growing skepticism toward traditional experts and a surge in the creator economy.

Communities are becoming more proactive, self-regulated, and interconnected. Start-ups like Urbanist AI — leveraging advanced AI capabilities — are empowering users to step into the role of “citizen planners,” allowing them to actively co-design their surroundings. While this makes the planning process more intricate and less predictable, it also ensures a more inclusive approach. Such technology-driven self-organization and co-creation could significantly reshape the future of the planning profession and its approaches. —Zhenia Dulko and Petra Hurtado

It’s Time to Welcome the Robots

Robots of all shapes and sizes are entering our cities. Seoul, South Korea, has recently developed plans for a robot-friendly city, proactively envisioning the wide-ranging integration of robots into everyday life. While “personal delivery devices” that deliver packages and meals in the air and on the ground are already coming, trends point to the potential for robots to fulfill a variety of other functions within society, including taking care of the very young and the elderly.

In nations grappling with the challenge of low birth rates, especially in Europe and Asia, the burden of care and the fulfilling of critical functions within cities may increasingly fall upon robots and other autonomous technologies. This includes mundane but vital services, such as street cleaning, public safety, and transit services.

With potential widespread adoption of these recent innovations looming, cities will need to be prepared to effectively integrate and consider them in their plans and ensure they won’t disrupt accessibility of public spaces. Some ideas for how to do that are coming from the Urban Robotics Foundation by bringing urban stakeholders together to create solutions to integrate new technology into cities and communities. —Senna Catenacci and Joe DeAngelis



Lead image: Urbanist AI allows community members to co-create with planners — and participate more fully in the design of places. Credit: Urbanist AI.