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July 2023

Artificial intelligence and urban and regional planning: Opportunity, threat, or both?

This Case Study is based on an article that appeared in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of OPPI’s Y Magazine. Read the full article online.
You can read full issues of Y Magazine anytime online.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is impacting jobs every day in all industries, and now with the latest AI tool, ChatGPT, professionals are finding ways ChatGPT can help their careers.  

ChatGPT’s ability to produce coherent and natural responses with a simple prompt can assist urban and regional planners with generating reports or other written materials. For example, ChatGPT can produce a rough first draft of a long planning document that can then be reviewed and refined by the planner to include their expert analysis.  

ChatGPT can also be used to help generate standard responses to questions frequently asked by the public during community meetings. After public meetings, ChatGPT can be used to summarize and consolidate public input while highlighting key themes. Used in these ways, ChatGPT could help planners respond to the community while also streamlining the feedback gathering process on planning proposals. In both examples, ChatGPT can make quick work of the normally lengthy process of combining thorough data, freeing up more time for planners to provide analysis or look after other important tasks related to the planning process. The takeaway is that ChatGPT will not replace human planners but rather can be used as a tool to assist them in their everyday work. It is critical planners remember to always use AI tools in conjunction with their own expertise and judgement.  

While AI tools have many advantages, they also present some risks, including bias, lack of accountability, transparency, security risks, and job displacement. For example, bias can happen if ChatGPT was given biased data, also if an AI tool’s decision has negative consequences it’s hard to explain how the tool made that decision and there would be no accountability for its outputs. All professionals, including planners, need to carefully consider these risks before using AI tools like ChatGPT. Also, to best avoid risks, planners should take proactive measures like ensuring the security and transparency of AI systems, and first taking AI tools for a test drive to best understand the tool’s capabilities and limitations before using them in their daily tasks.   

If you have further questions about how to use AI tools to benefit your career in planning, please reach out to Member of OPPI Council, Rob Dowler, for more information. Dowler served 13 years as a policy Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) in the cabinet office and was corporate chief strategist for enterprise IT in the Ontario government. He is now a planning consultant and teaches at Toronto Metropolitan University and University of Toronto.