10 best urban mapping tools that every urban planner needs to know

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© Tobias Hage

With the evolving time, land needs are evolving too. The growing population has brought in a need for urbanization. Cities worldwide are exhausted and used over their capacities. Thus, we need to plan new cities and urbanscapes that help make urban lives accessible and easy. Town planning has become complicated over time with technological advancements, building systems, evolved human needs, and dwelling patterns. Therefore, urban planning is gaining huge traction and requires the involvement of technology.

This involvement of technology is thus seen through the emergence of various tools and software that help make urban planning, mapping, and development more accurate and seamless than ever.

Here’s a list of the 10 urban mapping tools that are driving the urban design process currently in the industry. Let us have a look!

Leading Urban Mapping Tools

1. CityCAD

Urban Design CityCAD Introduction © Geovany Silva – YouTube

CityCAD helps urban planners and designers test the design schemes at the initial level and offers tools to perform a city analysis, providing a deeper insight into the master plan strategies. Though not used at a construction stage, CityCAD helps designers easily sketch urban maps and convert them into 3D developments. Moreover, it also helps derive quantitative analysis from the conceptual design masterplans. Thus, this facilitates efficient urban mapping through its features that allow calculating energy consumption, water usage, and design feasibility.


Creating 3D map in QGIS © giscourse

QGIS is an open-source GIS with pivotal features and immense capabilities. It is compatible with the industry standard maker of ArcGIS- Esri. QGIS has provisions to map multiple layers of data at a time. This makes the tool feasible for carrying out urban design processes like analyzing the relation between the mapped data layers, group locations, or elements and determining criteria for analysis. This also aids in carrying out distance calculations, examining proximities, and prompt creation of figure-ground maps.


Making city maps with GIMP © r/worldbuilding

GIMP is a GNU Image Manipulation Program that facilitates raster-based image manipulation. Compared to Adobe Photoshop, GIMP is known to be a more effective and feasible tool for urban mapping. GIMP has a range of features that allows editing images, adding text to images, and overlaying graphic content on maps.


ArcGIS Editor for OpenStreetMap © esri

One of the most widely used GIS tools by urban designers, ESRI ArcGIS, has gained traction as it allows planning stakeholders to execute conventional urban planning methods much more efficiently and accurately. A range of functions offered by ESRI helps designers and planners compare different development scenarios and assess the impacts of different development plans, land use schemes, and demographic and employment cases. Thus, this tool helps designers with more informed decision-making.

5. Urban Footprint

Urban Footprint © American Planning Association

Urban Footprint helps urban designers in urban mapping by helping them analyze existing conditions and land use down right from a unit level with granular urban, environmental, and mobility data. It also aids in assessing and intersecting vulnerabilities, impacts, and policy interventions at the state, city, and neighborhood levels.
One key feature of Urban Footprint is that it allows urban planners to evaluate the impacts of climate change and natural hazards and helps map these aspects efficiently.

6. Google Earth

Creating Map Layout © i.ytimg

Another crucial tool for urban planners is Google Earth. Its key feature is that it is compatible with most urban mapping tools and software. Its ability to provide views of cities in an axonometric view makes it stand out from the rest of the urban mapping tools. Moreover, Google Earth also helps users accurately experience 3D perspectives and street views. It has features wherein users can accurately measure distance, add information on the maps as needed, and integrate it with GIMP and SketchUp. Google Earth has thus made a path-breaking progression for designers helping them accurately explore cities and urbanscapes worldwide.

7. Streetmix

Streetmix Tool © raw.githubusercontent

An online open-source street design tool, Streetmix provides users with an interactive and efficient system to create quick proposals for cityscapes. Streetmix is being created for city planners, public and private entities, and pedestrian and bike users, to participate in the process of city planning and make cities accessible for all. It is thus a collaborative city planning platform with provisions for civic engagement by creating an ecosystem for people to design, remix and include their choice and opinions for their streets.

8. ArcGIS Urban

3D Imagery © nearmap

An ESRI application designed for urban planning, ArcGIS Urban helps urban designers and planners to create a 3D experience for a more realistic understanding of potential land use and urban development. This tool helps in better decision-making as it helps visualize the potential fit of the urban schemes and design into the local surroundings.

9. ArcGIS CityEngine

Building Public & Streetscapes © i.ytimg

Another 3D modeling software, ArcGIS CityEngine, is used by urban planners, designers, and architects to envisage and plan large-scale urban schemes. This tool eliminates the need to model each building in the scheme separately. Thus, otherwise, cutting down the time and effort spent on large-scale urban mapping. This urban mapping tool also offers features to measure areas, pathways, and distances accurately, thereby facilitating a feasible comparison of development plans. Thus, when it comes to analyzing urban design and mapping solutions, ArcGIS CityEngine proves to be a well-known tool.

10. Modelur

3D Mapping & Analysis © upload.wikimedia.org

Modelur is actually a SketchUp extension with features and functions very similar to that of ArcGIS CityEngine. It is a simple and inexpensive tool that helps with impactful 3D development. Thus, it is well-known among urban designers regarding conceptual urban massing. Furthermore, what really sets Modelur apart from other urban mapping tools is its ability to calculate design and urban planning parameters like Floor Area Ratio (FAR), Gross Floor Area (GFA), Built-up Area (BUA), Site Coverage, etc. in real-time with extreme accuracy. It also helps analyze recommended parking lots and required green covers in the scheme, thereby helping position them efficiently on the maps.

In Closing

These tools focus on creating a system where urban planning and development becomes more accessible and realistic. Thus, giving rise to well-planned and well-assessed cities as well as urban schemes.

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