PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and Design

The PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and Design is a 39-credit program that prepares students to teach at the university level in departments of urban planning, architecture, historic preservation, landscape architecture, or real estate development. The program will qualify graduates to conduct research and participate in high-level decision making in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

The PhD program is highly selective and individualized. Adequately prepared students will generally need four semesters of formal coursework leading to comprehensive exams and all students are expected to spend a minimum of two years in residence. Students admitted to the PhD Program are expected to have completed a master’s degree in a related field including (but not limited to) urban planning, architecture, historic preservation, or landscape architecture. Students are expected to enter the PhD program with two semesters of graduate level quantitative research methods. 

The PhD program is integral to the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education and our nationally recognized Architecture, Urban Studies and Planning, Historic Preservation, and Real Estate Development Programs. These affiliations enable our students to take advantage of a rich interdisciplinary environment.

Fields of Specialization

Students are expected to develop two fields of specialization, a major and a minor field. The following major fields are based on the University of Maryland faculty's particular strengths. However, other fields can be developed with the guidance and approval of the faculty mentor. Emeritx Professors will not serve as the main academic advisors.


Land Use Planning:

This field includes the theoretical underpinnings of land use and the segregation of uses, as well as the study of the theory, history, and practice of policies intended to regulate the amount, pace, location, pattern, and quality of growth in U.S. metropolitan areas. This includes the study of legal and constitutional issues, public costs and benefits, the role of externalities, political conflicts, equity concerns, and socioeconomic impacts of zoning and other forms of land regulation and growth management.


Urban Spatial Structure:

Students in this specialization will study the factors that determine and influence urban and regional spatial structure. Of special interest is the role that changing technology plays in shaping urban form.


Economic Development:

Students in this specialization will focus on the theory and practice of local urban and regional economic development, including the study of theories of regional growth, intra-national population migration, business location decisions, and community development. This field also includes the study of economic development politics.


Environmental Planning:

This specialization analyzes opportunities and challenges related to making cities more sustainable and resilient in terms of environmental conservation, economic prosperity, and social equity. The specialization aims to equip students to enhance the natural and built environment minimizing the negative impacts of growth and development. Environmental planning centers environmental justice and includes questions related to natural resources and physical infrastructure, and policies and programs to protect and recover ecosystems and natural resources, hazard mitigation, disaster recovery, and climate adaptation and mitigation.


International Planning:

This specialization explores urbanization abroad, particularly the developing world. Students in this specialization explore planning, urban spatial structure, urban development, historic preservation, and urban design challenges in the newly industrializing countries and the newly independent states of Eastern Europe, and how the political, social, cultural, and economic conditions within and among regions and countries affect the development, design, and implementation of plans. Within the proposed Ph.D. program there will be special emphasis on the relationship between social, cultural, and economic conditions and improving the quality of urban life.


Urban Design:

This specialization includes the study of both historical and contemporary issues of design in an urban environment, including the means by which urban form and design is regulated through codes, guidelines, and review processes. Students in this specialization will explore the relationship between buildings, culture, context, the urban condition, and their influence on the making of the urban form. This field includes an emphasis on the relationship between human behavior and built form and also encompasses a special focus on design strategies and initiatives that revitalize cities and mitigate urban sprawl. It also includes the exploration of how sprawl and growth management can and do inform urban design.


Urban Community Social Development:

This specialization focuses on revitalizing the central city to make it a more attractive place to live and work, and to slow the outward migration that necessitates suburban growth management. This specialization gives special attention to the social and cultural character of communities, in addition to their physical and economic requirements, and concentrates on developing strategies to draw more people to central city communities. Because concern about declining schools, fears about safety, and anxiety about racial differences are three strong forces motivating outward movement, education, public safety, and race relations will be central to this study.


Transportation Planning and Policy:

This specialization focuses on the theory of travel and transportation systems and their interactions with the built environment, including land use, urban design, and the natural environment. This specialization provides students with a broad, multi-faceted understanding of the efficiency, effectiveness, and equity outcome of transportation policy and planning. It also covers travel behavior analysis, public transportation policy, planning, and management, travel demand forecasting, transportation finance, sustainable transportation, and energy and environmental issues in the transportation sector.


Housing Policy:

The housing policy specialization draws upon the program’s strengths in the areas of Smart Growth to prepare students to analyze housing markets and evaluate policies designed to ensure that housing is delivered in a manner that is efficient, equitable, and sustainable.


Architectural History:

Based on the broad spectrum of expertise of the design, history and preservation faculty, this specialization focuses on the history and preservation of the built environment in the United States and Canada - envisioned as a significant element of social, cultural, religious, economic, and political history - both from a vernacular and a “high style” perspective and from a cross-cultural angle.


Comprehensive Exams Policy

Doctoral students are required to take a set of written comprehensive exams shortly after completion of their coursework. To pass the exams, students must demonstrate a mastery of advanced planning and design theory, and the important work in their major and minor fields. At least four faculty members serve on the exam committee of which two must be from the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The examining committee will include the student’s advisor, at least two additional members familiar with the student's major or minor fields, and the student’s planning theory professor. The selection of the committee is made by the student, with the approval of the student’s advisor. The comprehensive exam is a three-day take-home exam.

To prepare for the examination, students are required to prepare a reading list for their chosen major and minor fields, plus urban planning theory, in consultation with their advisor and committee members. This reading list will reflect the agreed-upon scope of work that students are expected to know for the exam. All of the committee members must review this reading list and agree that it includes the relevant, important work in the students’ chosen fields.

Each committee member should write one question in the area of each student’s major or minor field. The committee member may write several questions among which the student should select one. The advisor should collect all questions from the committee members, review the questions for clarity, comprehensiveness, and fairness, and pass the exam to the student. Generally, the total exam includes two questions from the major field, one question from the minor field, and a planning theory question. At the end of three days (72 hours), the student should return the exam to his/her advisor. The advisor will pass the exam to the committee.

The questions will be graded by the committee, with each committee member responsible for grading the question they asked. The advisor is responsible for reading and grading all questions. The examining committee should take no longer than two weeks to assess the exam. The options are (1) pass, (2) rewrite, or (3) fail. A student may receive a pass, rewrite, or fail on each question separately. Students are allowed to rewrite a question one time only. Only one committee member is required for a decision to rewrite. At least two faculty members must concur if a failing grade is given. The case where the student fails one or more questions constitutes an exam failure. Once successfully passing the comprehensive exam, students must complete the required paperwork to be formally admitted to candidacy.


Advancement to Candidacy

Students must complete and pass their comprehensive exam before they advance to candidacy and begin to take URSP899 dissertation research courses. Click here to fill out the application for advancement to candidacy.



The dissertation must demonstrate the ability to do independent research on an original topic approved by the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and the graduate program.



The student will assemble a dissertation committee made up of at least five faculty members with expertise in the student's proposed research area. According to the university requirement: "The Committee must consist of a minimum of five members; additional committee members may be required or invited to serve at the discretion of the program. All members of the Dissertation Examining Committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Maryland under one of the following membership categories: Regular Member; Adjunct Member; Special Member. At least three of the committee members must be Regular Members of the University of Maryland Graduate Faculty." Once a prospectus is finished, it must be approved and signed off by the student's PhD committee. Students will orally defend their dissertation proposal. The oral defense is informal. Students are expected to propose planning-related research and theory construction, which will lead to significant, original, and relevant contributions to the field. The core course Advanced Planning and Design Theory is designed to assist students in the preparation of a thesis proposal.



Visit the Courses page to view all courses offered by the PhD Program. 

For a list of courses offered this semester, visit Testudo