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Planning Illustrated

Introduction (or a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words)

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 just may represent the difference between moving forward with a beneficial plan, or instead, coping with the consequences of unplanned change.

This webpage 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. The page highlights resources that can help citizens (and planners) to visualize alternative scenarios and concepts. 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 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. You may also need to download special software such as Real Player to view some of the maps.

Image Banks - Images of Multiple Planning-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.

  • Public Domain Clip Art - Large and well-organized collection of public domain clipart
  • Wikipedia:Public Domain Image Resources - Includes links to many public domain and government image librarys
  • U.S. Government Photos and Images - Photos categories include environment, energy, health, public safety, art and science. Also links to state photo galleries
  • - Includes great collection of photos from the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Density Mitigated by Design


Compact or Cluster Vs. Sprawl Development

Other Image Banks on Planning-Related Topics

Other Graphics, Videos, or PowerPoint Presentations on Planning Topics

Tools for Helping Citizens to Visualize Planning Concepts and Alternatives

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

Washington Agencies

  • Washington Maps, Access Washington - 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 - Publications: Maps, and GIS Data Center
  • Washington State Department of Ecology County, State 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 Clearinghouse - 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

  • National Geographic Society Map Machine - Print street and satellite maps of various U.S. locations, and Maps
  • Google Earth - Combines satellite imagery, maps and the power of Google Search for up close and personal views around the world
  • MSR Maps (Microsoft Research Maps - Formerly Terra Server USA) - Searchable repository of aerial photographs, satellite images and USGS topography maps available for purchase
  • Topographic Maps, - Access to USGS maps across the country on subscription basis or two week free trial
  • Research & Maps, Sightline Institute - Maps display impressive data on sprawl and transportation, energy and climate, economy, forests and wildlife and others in Washington and other Cascadia states
  • University of California, Berkeley Earth Sciences and Map Library Map Collection - Comprehensive collection of links to map resources
  • 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 Assistance Center Maps - Organized by state, sponsors or topics such as aging, health care access in rural communities, or high school graduates

Maps and Photographs from Washington Jurisdictions

Last Modified: August 22, 2017