Regional planning is a category of planning and development that deals with designing and placing infrastructure and other elements across a large area. Planning zones may include several towns, cities or even parts of different states or regions, each of which could have its own "urban planning" office.
The key to regional planning is anticipating the needs of a community or group of communities before those needs arise. Experts in this field might try to predict how and where the population of a region is going to grow over the next decade and recommend the building of roads and other infrastructure to support that growth before it happens. Those involved in the field are often called planning commissioners, and they work with local governments and urban planners within their planning zone to discuss such issues as regional development, land use, community development, long-range planning, environmental planning, housing, and economic development.
Regional planning often walks a fine line between serving the needs of the community, protecting the environment, and taking into account the rights of individual land owners and community members. Depending on the mission statement of the particular planning commission, the group may serve exclusively as an advisory board, as a research arm of the member cities, or as a governmental entity that approves building permits or neighborhood plans in the region or in unincorporated areas of the region. Commissioners should have sufficient knowledge in many areas, including engineering, the environment, transportation, sociology, and geography. Many colleges and universities now offer degrees in urban and regional planning.
Regional planners are key to the thoughtful development of cohesive regions that both serve the needs of the communities within them and keep in mind the environmental impact of large groups of people living together. It's important that they understand how a region is growing and what needs to be done to ensure that growth happens in a logical and reasonable way. Planners are not usually anti-growth; instead, they seek to determine the best way for a community or group of communities to grow for the benefit of all involved.