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Thread: How professional planners can use Google Earth and other free online mapping tools

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    How professional planners can use Google Earth and other free online mapping tools

    I use Google Earth everyday in my professional life as a community planner. To learn the technical aspects of the applications, I regularly read a number of blogs and websites, such as Ogle Earth, Google Earth Design, Google Earth Blog, and Tech-Ease at the University of South Florida.

    Interestingly, on Cyburbia, I have not been witness to many discussions on how to use Google Earth professionally. To help get a discussion started, and hopefully to exchange some ideas and learn some new creative ways to use Google Earth (or other virtual globes and online mapping tools), I would like to share with you four ways that I have used Google Earth at work.

    1) Show the location of a proposed non-motorized pathway The following image is for illustration purposes only (it's near Estes Park, CO), but once generated, it can be inserted into grant applications, memos to municipal officials, posted on the town website, etc. Of course, you would want to dress it up with street names and maybe existing sidewalk locations, but you get the idea.



    2) Create an inventory of municipally-owned property Here, some parks are shown. Again, this image can be placed in appropriate documents and placed on the municipal website to show the public the wonderful recreation opportunities that your elected leaders provide!



    3) Create graphics for special studies and reports Below is an example of how Google Earth might be used to show the number of curb-cuts for a corridor study.



    4) Use the aerial images for staff reports Most community planners probably have access to a municipal GIS with detailed parcel data and have no need for Google Earth. But for rural areas that lack those resources, Google Earth is a workable substitute. In the following image, a hypothetical area (yellow) for a proposed shopping center is shown in the cover page for a staff report.


  2. #2
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    great ideas!

    even with access to GIS materials and the wealth of information available from large urban municipalities, the sheer speed that basic exhibits can be made using Google Earth makes it a valuable tool in the world of planning.

    However, I do have a question...I was under the impression that the free Google Earth download was strictly for personal use and should not be used for commercial purposes. We have a Google Earth Pro license and I thought it was because of that reason...if I'm mistaken, please let me know!

    Thanks for the informative post!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Cool Stuff,

    Wanigas, I assume that you know this area. What the heck is the land use immediately NW of the tennis courts in the second picture? It sort of looks like a trotters track, but with buildings in the center, and the sides of the track don't meet!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  4. #4
    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    Cool Stuff,

    Wanigas, I assume that you know this area. What the heck is the land use immediately NW of the tennis courts in the second picture? It sort of looks like a trotters track, but with buildings in the center, and the sides of the track don't meet!
    This is a good example of how Google Earth et al can cause problems. The system they use to stitch photos together grabs images from a number of sources, and can cause rendering problems like the one here, where one of the tiles is off by a few pixels or so. When viewers are not used to looking at satellite/aerial photography, the mind tries to reconcile the failure of the system.

    That said, I think that programs like Google Earth and Google Maps are, in many cases, better than ArcGIS for quickly showing how a project might integrate with the world that they know. The imagery that Google uses tends to be easier for the lay-person to read than that of the ISRI product line, and it can be much faster for the planner/researcher/etc to work up a map using Google Earth.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have not really seen where Google Earth offers features that are better, or for that matter, as good as are available through GIS or Photoshop. It makes a very useful reference source and I frequently go there first to bring up a view of the property I may be researching, but for presentation purposes, I would use another platform.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    What the heck is the land use immediately NW of the tennis courts in the second picture... the sides of the track don't meet!
    Good catch! Gdubya provided an excellent explanation.

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I have not really seen where Google Earth offers features that are better, or for that matter, as good as are available through GIS or Photoshop. It makes a very useful reference source...
    I think these are excellent points. One key aspect of unleashing Google Earth's power for community planning purposes is being able to convert the usual GIS file formats into the KMZ format. I use Google Earth Pro at work and always enhance its imagery output in Photoshop, using Illustrator to create high-quality presentation boards.

    Quote Originally posted by hans View post
    even with access to GIS materials and the wealth of information available from large urban municipalities, the sheer speed that basic exhibits can be made using Google Earth makes it a valuable tool in the world of planning.
    This is one of the main reasons why I use Google Earth for most of my projects.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    interesting, I can see that as plain as day on my home screen, but my work one does not show it. BTW both screens are 19 inch LCD's made by the same maker!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    We are not supposed to use it as its not an "authorized download" Some folks have managed to download it on the sly but we don't use it for work much
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    We use google earth to do initial research as well as overlay land plans or renderings when an aerial is not available for us. We do use the pro version so we can import GIS information to pop up zoning and land use colors over the aerials they provide. I find Google Earth most help when working on projects that have a lot of topo features, so instead of looking at topo in 2d mode, i import the project in Google Earth and see how the design assimilates into the natural topography of the site. Another cool feature is CAD has an "add-on" where you can import google earth aerials and 3d renderings back forth. very cool!
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  10. #10
    Cyburbian b3nr's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PlannerGirl View post
    We are not supposed to use it as its not an "authorized download" Some folks have managed to download it on the sly but we don't use it for work much
    Haha. Yeah, we're not meant to have it either, but i dont't know why they don't buy it properly, it would be cheaper than this bespoke software thing they got which is really hard to use and pretty much does the same thing with only very slightly better resolution...

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    I use it all the time because it is quick and often is the only fast to get aerial photo of an area. Many counties in FL have aerials tied into the Property Appraisers websites, but they often take much more time to access. Another great thing about Google Earth is the layers of info that you can access, roads, railroads, boundaries, recreation areas, etc, etc.

    It also is very useful in covering areas that overlap jurisdictions. Recently used it to get an idea of forest land vs. cropland & urban areas within a 60 mile radius of a location. Covered parts of two states and several counties. The measure tool is a great resource.

  12. #12
    I was also looking around for a convenient way to work with Google Earth imagery and I ended up Plex.Earth Tools for AutoCAD. It is a very cool tool which brings color imagery from GE, create "mosaic", make GE focus in site plan area, etc.

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