Students on the annual bus tour of Atlanta.

Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning

Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning

Doctoral study in city and regional planning combines research and theory in an applied professional field. We link theory to practice, allowing students to explore the most important issues facing rapidly changing urban areas today.

We build socially, economically, and environmentally resilient communities through interdisciplinary study and research. Our doctoral students consistently graduate to top academic and other professional careers. We welcome your interest and inquiries.

Extending the Horizon of Planning

Each year, the Ph.D. program seeks applicants with research interests that correspond closely to those of our faculty. Our faculty engage in research and teaching across the diverse spectrum of planning, including economic and community development, housing, land use, environment, transportation, planning theory, collaborative governance, and urban design.

Some of the cutting-edge issues they focus on include climate change, urban analytics, economic resilience, megaregions, disaster planning, and healthy cities. The three to five new Ph.D. students that we admit annually work closely with their faculty advisors to develop a course of study that will extend the horizons of knowledge available in our profession.

Besides their major area of focus in planning, students identify a minor area outside of planning to augment their intellectual foundation. Students are able to take courses in other degree programs at Georgia Tech, as well as at other research universities in Atlanta, including Emory University and Georgia State University.

If you apply to our program, we will want to know what motivates you to make the significant commitment to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of planning, as well as why you see Georgia Tech as an appropriate home to fulfill that commitment.  

Recent Doctoral Student Work

Flow chart demonstrating green infrastructure investment.

Student Work: Green Infrastructure

Jessica Fisch

Planners, policymakers, and elected officials increasingly view investments in green infrastructure, parks and other green development as opportunities for spurring economic growth, increasing environmental quality, and providing social and recreational amenities in urban areas. However, research has indicated that these projects do not adequately address equity concerns, such as access for low-income and marginalized groups, housing affordability, and displacement of existing residents. Consequently, green infrastructure projects can lead to ‘environmental gentrification.’

This dissertation work finds that green infrastructure planning may reinforce social capital, which in turn shapes green infrastructure projects and planning processes with regard to addressing housing affordability and community benefits concerns. It further finds that social capital has served as a catalyst for advocacy and the development of organizations, policies, and programs focused on housing affordability and workforce development.

Chart comparing the demand for parking in three pricing scenarios: free parking, flat rate, and time-variable rate.

Student Work: Shared Autonomous Vehicles

Wenwen Zhang

We are on the cusp of a new era in mobility given that the enabling technologies for autonomous vehicles (AVs) are almost ready for deployment. This promising technology together with the sharing economy will enable a new travel mode – Shared Autonomous Vehicles (SAVs), a taxi service without drivers.

Recent studies have explored the feasibility, affordability, environmental benefits, and parking demand of the system in hypothetical grid-base cities. Despite these rapidly proliferating studies, it remains unclear how this affordable and environmentally friendly travel mode will influence residential and commercial location choices and potentially transform urban form. How much parking will we need and where will it be located when the SAV system is a popular mode of travel?

In this graphic, we see how the demand for parking fluctuates in response to three pricing scenarios: free parking, a flat rate, and a time-variable rate. The results of this dissertation work suggest the SAV system can reduce over 90% of parking demand for households who participate into the system and give up their private vehicles, potentially freeing substantial acreage of urban land for other critical needs. 

Heat map of a neighborhood comparing heat influenced by physical design.

Student Work: Local Environment and Extreme Heat

Jason Vargo, 2012

This dissertation explores interactions between global trends in climate change with local influences tied to urban land covers. First, it examines temperatures during an extended period of extreme heat and asks whether changes in land surface temperatures during a heat wave are consistent in space and time across all land cover types.

Second, the influences of land covers on temperatures are considered for normal and extreme summer weather to find out which characteristics of the built environment most influence temperatures during periods of extreme heat.

Finally, the distribution of extreme heat health risks within cities are described and examined for spatial patterns. As illustrated in this graphic, the physical design of city blocks can yield very different patterns of heat exposure in cities, with direct implications for human health. The results of this dissertation are assisting cities in their development of climate change adaptation plans focused on rising levels of heat exposure.

Program Requirements

The doctoral program has three main components: the coursework (which includes the program core, a major field, and a minor field); the comprehensive exams; and the dissertation.

The program of study requires two years of residency minimum (no fewer than four semesters enrolled for at least six credit hours each, excluding summer) devoted to coursework and other preparation for advancement to candidacy. Successful students demonstrate mastery in these areas and are prepared to pursue upper-level careers in government, business, research, and academia. Full details can be found in the Ph.D. Program Handbook.


Coursework involves a specialized program of study designed by the student and faculty focusing on a major field within city and regional planning, and on a minor field outside the College of Design.

Students complete at least 46 credit hours in their major field, minor field, and the Ph.D. program core requirements, and in various elective courses.

Students complete a minimum of 15 semester-hours of study in their major field, a minimum of 9 hours in their minor field, and a minimum of 19 hours in the program core.

Descriptions of courses offered in city and regional planning and other programs in the College of Design can be found in the Institute’s course catalog.

Major Fields

Upon admission, each Ph.D. student chooses a major area of study. Any change to the major requires review and approval by the Ph.D. faculty.

To meet the major requirement, students must have satisfactory performance (B or better letter grade) in courses composing not fewer than 15 credit hours. The student’s Advisory Committee may require other courses within the College or other units within the University System of Georgia consistent with the student’s expressed interest in her selected field of concentration.

The composition of chosen courses should provide a full background and preparation in both the substance of the field of study, and appropriate methods of inquiry and analysis.

Examples of majors pursued by doctoral students in the School of City and Regional Planning include:

  • Urban climate change management

  • Built environment and transportation planning

  • Equity and social justice planning

Minor Fields

Students choose a minor to demonstrate competence and inquiry in an area of study related to, but outside of, the School of City and Regional Planning.

To meet the minor requirement, students must have satisfactory performance (defined as a B or better letter grade) in courses composing not fewer than 9 credit hours.

Examples of minors outside the School of City and Regional Planning include:

  • Regional economics

  • Public health

  • Water resources management

Program Core

The core course requirement provides students with a basic knowledge of planning theory, regional theory, and research design and methods.

The Ph.D. seminars acquaint students with questions, methods, and paradigms of research and with the modes of scholarship and pedagogy associated within the city and regional planning field.

Requirements include:

  • Advanced Planning Theory (three credit hours)

  • Advanced Urban and Regional Development Theory (three credit hours)

  • Quantitative Research Design and Methods (three credit hours)

  • Qualitative Research Design and Methods (three credit hours)

  • Ph.D. Foundations Seminar (one credit hour)

  • Ph.D. Planning Seminar (one credit hour each year)

Comprehensive Examination

Once students have completed their coursework, with the exception of on-going attendance in Seminar in Advanced Research Design and Methods, they are ready to take the comprehensive examinations.

Students are tested in five areas: the student’s major and minor fields, and three core area exams in planning theory, regional economic theory, and research design and methods. Core comprehensive exams can be waived by earning a letter grade of ‘A’ in a core course.

The examination process includes both written and oral testing of a student’s mastery of the subjects. Upon successful completion, the student moves on to the dissertation phase of the program.


The doctoral dissertation is a written piece of original scholarship that represents a significant new perspective or contribution in the candidate’s chosen field of study. The dissertation must be relevant to the field of planning, and either an addition to the fundamental knowledge base in the field of study or a new and better interpretation of facts already known. It must demonstrate that the candidate possesses powers of original thought, talent for research, understanding of theory and methodology, and ability to organize and present findings.

Photo of Elora Raymond in front of a bookcase background

Meet the Ph.D. Program Director

Elora Raymond

Elora Lee Raymond is an urban planner and Assistant Professor in the School of City and Regional Planning in the College of Design at Georgia Tech. She is interested in the financialization of housing and property in land, displacement and dispossession through housing systems, housing and disasters, housing justice, race, segregation, and the transnational Pacific Islander community.

We know the relationship between a Doctoral Student and their advisor is crucial to getting the most out of their degree. We are here to make the most out of your PhD education. We encourage those interested in the Ph.D. program to reach out to Elora Raymond with questions about pursuing a Ph.D. at Georgia Tech.


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