I love location data – it tells so many stories, and shows so many scenarios of our past, present and future. You must learn how to manipulate geographic information if you want to stay relevant in urban planning.

Check the Find GIS data page if you want to find and download about a place and to use in these tools.

GIS and mapping

  • Desktop
    • Quantum GIS (QGIS) – Free, open source software that works on Mac, Linux, and Windows. QGIS is especially helpful to convert geodata between formats, like KML to shapefile and vice versa. Read all posts about QGIS.
    • TileMill – Create your own slippy maps and images using geographic data from all kinds of sources (PostGIS databases, KML, CSV, and shapefile). I used it to create the basemap for the Chicago Bike Guide app for iOS and Android. Created by MapBox.
    • GRASS – This has very powerful conversion tools, based on OGR, and is essentially a GUI for OGR. I’ve used this to convert shapefiles to DXF files for use in AutoCAD.
    • MapWindow – While I continued to figure out the best, fastest and least error prone method to convert shapefiles to KML files, I came across the free and open source MapWindow software.
    • uDig – Another GIS application.
    • Esri software’s ArcGIS suite – Like Microsoft Windows, ArcGIS has several levels of programs, each provides more features than the program below it. I only used ArcMap for school and when I worked at CDOT. I do not recommend it because it’s expensive and is very unintuitive.
  • Web
    • Geocoding sources: This is the most complete list of free and paid geocoding services I’ve seen (all have developer APIs).
    • Texas A&M University has a free geocoding and reverse geocoding service.
    • LeafletJS – A lightweight, highly-extensible slippy map JavaScript library. Can show maps from nearly all web mapping sources (like Bing, WMS, Esri, OpenStreetMap, and MapBox).
    • BatchGeocode.com – Website with simple, but powerful functions. I recommended this to someone who wanted to create groups of church members who lived near each other. BatchGeocode, the resulting KML file, and Google Earth provided him the fastest route to visualizing where everyone lived and he could then manually group them. Obviously, GIS software would then allow him to select adjacent homes and categorizes them into “districts” for better sorting.
    • GeoGinger – Visualize changes in your geodata. It’s like “git” that thinks geographically (it’s using GeoGit).
    • GPS Visualizer – This multi-address geocoder does provide the latitude/longitude coordinates. Read all posts about geocoding.
    • GeoCommons – Quickly create maps from all kinds of geodata, including shapefiles, KML, and CSV or Excel tables. Provides you with the latitude/longitude coordinates. See my maps.
    • Google Static Maps Playground – You don’t always need to spend the time building an interactive slippy map (using a JavaScript library). Make a static map easily with this URL helper.
    • Map Stack by Stamen – Quickly and easily design your own map styles.
    • GEOLocate – Geocode a place when you don’t know the address.

Data tools

  • Google Refine (now OpenRefine) – Clean up and get to know your data a little better. Also helpful at creating new data based on existing fields, or fetching data from APIs using your data as parameters. For example, using the Sunlight Labs Congress API, I fetched the U.S. congressional districts for street addresses based on their latitude/longitude coordinates.
  • Google Fusion Tables – Quickly share your tabular data, starting from CSV, KML, XLS, or Google Docs formats. Map your data instantaneously. Read all posts about Google Fusion Tables.
  • Dedupe – Remove duplicate records from variably-formatted datasets.

Tutorials & Instruction

  • Web Map Academy – Tutorials on a wide range on publishing online maps with various tools and data sources.