Images for Planning: Free Internet Resources

Ann Forsyth's picture

Visual communication is becoming more sophisticated in planning, however many online image sources are restricted and require payment for use. Others, such as and Google Images are extremely useful but have uneven quality and information provided about the images can be difficult to assess. While and Google Images will remain a key resource, a number of other online image databases provide more consistent metadata along with free access.

  • Irin, the news service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has wonderful, high quality images from around the world. Users wanting high resolution images need to register, but image use is free and I've had good luck getting permission to reprint photos in publications. Go to:
  • The American Memory collection in the Library of Congress has a rich collection of historical photos. Not all are digitized but if you search for a key word, then slect "gallery view" as the display option you'll see where images are available. Go to:
  • The Lincoln Institute's new web site on Visual Tools for Planners, under the direction of Lew Hopkins, has handy examples of planning graphics. It seems to be still under development but could become a key resource. See:
  • Another great source for ideas about finding images is the blog of Karen Brummand, the digital image instruction guru at Cornell. While some images she lists are restricted, her blog illustrates her great resourcefulness in locating images on the web. The digital image section and a special list on global cities are both useful.

Some of my earlier posts have pointed to video and film resources available online as well as planning scholarship available for free. In upcoming months I'll be investigating various topics related to how planners communicate, including more on visual communication.

Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.



Another Resource: NYPL Map Rectifier

Your readers might like to know about a really great tool that the New York Public Library has built to match up its collection of historical maps to present-day maps: the "Map Rectifier." Here's the URL:

--Joan Starr
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