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SubjectsPlanning › Planning Illustrated
Reviewed 01/2013

Planning Illustrated


Introduction (or a picture is worth a thousand words)

We've all been there - trying to get across some abstract planning concept at a public meeting. Planning has to do with the future and, most often, involves some change from the current state of affairs. Citizens do not come equipped with crystal balls that allow them to view and understand alternative futures. People are uneasy about change, unless they can grasp what those changes will mean for them, and that the changes will generally 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 those who do not work on a daily basis with such concepts. In addition, one 20-units-per-acre proposal does not exactly equal another 20-units-per-acre proposal. Project design can transform the appearance of projects, even when of the same density. Citizens may react totally differently to two projects of the same density. 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.

If you have information to share or are aware of other websites that we should link to, please contact Sue Enger, Planning Consultant at, or call at (206) 625-1300.

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.

Density Mitigated by Design


Revitalization Photos

Compact or Cluster Vs. Sprawl Development

Other Image Banks on Focused, Planning-Related Topics

Technical/Aerial Views/Maps

Other Graphics, Videos or PowerPoint Presentations on Planning Topics

Making a Point with Humor

Tools for Helping Citizens to Visualize Planning Concepts and Alternatives

Washington Jurisdictions (mostly maps and photographs)

Related MRSC Pages

Need more information?

Feel free to Ask MRSC. Washington cities, counties, and our contract partners can call or email MRSC for more information and advice - free of charge.