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Planning Illustrated

This page provides links to image banks, photo galleries, map resources, search engines, and other tools that can offer ideas and help planners to graphically communicate planning principles, best practices, and potential impacts.


We've all been there - trying to get across some future vision or abstract planning concept at a public meeting. People are uneasy about change, unless they can grasp what those changes will mean for them, and that the changes will benefit them.

Planners use concepts such as density, land area, and various design concepts as shorthand to describe alternative proposals. Yet these are not intuitive concepts for citizens who do not work on a daily basis with such concepts. In addition, two proposals of the same density are not necessarily equal. Project design can transform the appearance of projects, even when of the same density, and citizens may react totally differently.

As a result, it is essential that planners and public officials illustrate planning concepts in a manner that allows citizens to visualize proposals and that creates understanding of important design concepts. A picture is not only worth a thousand words – it may be the difference between moving forward with a beneficial plan or coping with the consequences of unplanned change.

Although it is generally better to use illustrations tailored to local conditions, most planning departments can not afford extensive in-house graphics. Tools highlighted here, such as visual preference surveys and other visioning techniques, will often be worth the modest costs, if they contribute to plans that the community supports.

Please note that you may also need special software to view some of the maps.

Usage Guidelines

Please note the different usage guidelines and requests to give credit to the source of the images. In some cases, the images are readily available for non-commercial use. In some cases, you will need permission to use an image.

Image Banks - Images of Multiple Planning-Related Subjects

  • Cyburbia Gallery - The good, the bad and the ugly images of development, best practices, worst case scenarios, cities and places, and other images. Website requires registration.
  • Smart Growth Illustrated, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Walkable neighborhoods, transportation choices, mixed-use, development, others
  • Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center - Image Library - A variety of images of compact development, traffic claming, pedestrian and bicycle paths and facilities, including design details
  • Urban Land Institute Development Case Studies - Helpful pictures and project profiles of various types of development, but complete case study information available to subscribers only
  • Cities and Buildings Database, University of Washington - Can be searched by country, city, style, and architect
  • Visual Resource Center, University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design - Library of images focused on architecture, landscapes, cities, art, and related subjects

Search Engines with Image Finder

Public Domain Clip Art and Images

In general, use of public domain images does not involve either acquisition or royalty fees. It's always a good idea to check usage guidelines, however.

Density Mitigated by Design


Other Graphics, Videos, or PowerPoint Presentations on Planning Topics

Tools for Helping Citizens to Visualize Planning Concepts and Alternatives

  • Visioning and Visualization: People, Pixels, and Plans (2008), Lincoln Institute of Land Policy - Case studies and descriptions of a number of visual simulation tools used in citizen engagement. Available for purchase
  • Resources, National Park Service Community Tool Box - Provides a range of publications, case studies, tool kits, and annual reports to help partners and communities best achieve their conservation and outdoor recreation project goals.
  • Viewshed Tool, Google Earth Pro, and Viewshed (Spatial Analysis), ArcGIS 10.2 - Several different tools for calculating how visible new development will be, and from what locations
  • Visualization for Transportation Planning, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) - Guidance and examples regarding transportation visualization
  • This Amazing 3-D Tool Might Transform Street Planning (2013), People for Bikes - Described as "a three-dimensional, pannable, zoomable, animated customizable simulation of how a street would look and feel if it were laid out differently."

Technical/Aerial Maps From State and Federal Agencies, and Other Organizations

Washington Agencies

  • Access Washington: Washington Maps - Links to maps from multiple Washington agencies including maps of state highways, parks, fish and wildlife, watershed, coastal atlas (and shoreline photos), and legislative districts
  • Washington State Department of Natural Resources: DNR Map Resources and Open Data/GIS Data Center
  • Washington State Department of Ecology: State, County, and Watershed Maps - County maps include farm soils, and major public lands with urban growth boundaries, campgrounds and boat launches shown. State maps include population density, Water Resource Area Inventory Maps (WRIA), flood hazard areas, EcoRegions, land use and land cover, tribal lands, and solar and wind energy
  • Washington State Department of Transportation: Maps and Geospatial Data
  • Washington State Geospatial Open Data: Browse mapped information from various state departments by subject category such as biology and human health. the Administrative/Political Boundary category includes different types of district maps
  • Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife: Salmonscape interactive mapping
  • Washington State University: Early Washington Maps - A Digital Collection,

Federal Maps

Maps of Interest from Other Organizations

  • Google Earth - Combines satellite imagery, maps and the power of Google Search for up close and personal views around the world
  • Topographic Maps, - Access to USGS maps across the country on subscription basis or two week free trial
  • North American Environmental Atlas, Commission for Environmental Cooperation - The U.S., Canada, and Mexico cooperate to map natural and human-caused events are altering land cover - whether from insect infestations, forest fires or urban sprawl
  • Atlas of Rural and Small Town America, U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Services - Includes demographic data from the American Community Survey, economic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, agricultural data from the Census of Agriculture
  • Rural Health Information Hub Maps - Organized by state, sponsors or topics such as aging, health care access in rural communities, or high school graduates

Last Modified: April 09, 2019