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Top Planning Apps for 2019

Insights into the mobile app technology used in the practice and study of planning.
July 29, 2019, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Planetizen created a survey to discover more information about the use of mobile phones and mobile app technology in day-to-day professional and academic work in the field of planning. The latest version of this survey continues a tradition dating back to 2012.

The number of survey respondents was not large enough for this survey to be considered scientific. The purpose of the survey is to track the adoption of mobile technology and to disperse information about new and emerging uses of mobile apps among the planning audience.

Here's how survey respondents parcel out in terms of employment type, employment length, and employment location, which we document to provide an idea about the kinds of planners that contributed to the findings of the survey.

Employment Duration

  • Students: 5 percent
  • Less Than 5 Years: 15 percent
  • 5-10 years: 17 percent
  • 10-20 Years: 30 percent
  • 20-Plus Years: 28 percent
  • Retired: 5 percent

Employment Type

  • Public Sector: 53 percent
  • Private Sector: 18 percent
  • Non-Profit: 3 percent
  • Student: 3 percent
  • Academic: 18 percent
  • Retired: 2 percent
  • Advocacy: 3 percent

Employment Location

  • West: 28 percent
  • Midwest: 16 percent
  • South: 26 percent
  • Northeast: 16 percent
  • Canada: 2 percent
  • International: 11 percent

Defining the Term

The term "app" is widely overused, so we made sure to establish a clear definition: mobile native apps and mobile friendly websites.

Mobile native apps require users to download a standalone piece of software. Mobile native apps are also defined by a programming language specific to mobile operating systems. "Mobile friendly" websites offer software functionality through a website accessible on a phone's browser. 

These definitions exclude a number of the most useful and expansive software tools common to the planning field, available exclusively for download and use on desktop computers. Desktop software tools are sometimes referred to as "apps," but they do not fit scope of this survey. Information on those technological tools will have to wait for another post (or a visit to any of a number of booths in the exhibition halls of your state or local planning conferences).

Survey Results

The results of the survey follow trends established in previous surveys: almost every planner has a mobile device (98 percent of respondents), many planners have more than one mobile device (61 percent), and the vast majority of those planners are using mobile devices for professional purposes (71 percent). Among survey respondents, 55 percent receive mobile devices from their employers to use on the job.

The most frequently used type of app remains social media—61 percent of survey respondents report daily use of social media apps like Facebook or Twitter. Productivity apps follow at a distance, like Photoshop and Safari, which 38 percent of respondents report using daily.

Responses to a question about how many planners work for organizations that have developed a mobile app were notable for a relative lack of positive responses. Only 22 percent of respondents report working for an organization that has developed an app.

Planners are most likely to use apps that aren't specifically designed for use by planners. Only 17 percent of respondents report daily use of planning-specific apps. Among respondents, 53 percent report never using planning-specific apps at all. Some survey respondents used open response questions to describe the lack of relevant mobile apps for planners. One respondent said, "I don't know of any mobile apps that are closely related to planning." Another said that they, "never found mobile 'apps' useful for planning purposes."

Maybe the rate of adoption of planning-specific apps would jump if we included desktop software, but it seems that planning is lagging behind in the mobile apps arms race. This year's list of apps, and many of the lists that came before it, is populated by two kinds of apps: apps that are intended for a general audience, applied to the planning context (like social media, calendar, or file sharing apps), and apps that apply planning ideas into apps used for a more general audience (like navigation, mapping, and transit apps).

In May 2018, Planetizen published a very long list of planning apps, resulting from a previous version of this survey. This year, survey respondents mentioned numerous apps that hadn't been identified in the previous survey. We list those apps here.

New for 2019

This list doesn't evaluate whether these apps are new to the market, only that these apps were not listed on the 2018 list of top planning apps

Adobe Creative Cloud Mobile Apps – Adobe Creative Cloud offers a suite of mobile apps meant to supplement and integrate with the developer's desktop programs. The specific apps survey respondents mentioned as useful to planning include Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for Mobile, and Adobe Photoshop Sketch.

Adobe Acrobat Reader for PDF – Until .pdfs of planning documents are no longer a thing, there will be a need for an easy way to access and read .pdfs.

Amtrak App – Access to travel information and mobile ticketing for all kinds of ticketing options on the Amtrak rail system.

Apple Maps (iPhone only) – A mapping program, including navigation and search capabilities, which probably came with your iPhone and is built into some of the messaging and search capabilities of the phone.

CrowdCompass AttendeeHub – An event planning mobile app to facilitate attendance, networking, and more of the standard operating procedures of big events.

Blackboard – Blackboard is usually thought as an educational tool for tracking course progress, assignments, and syllabi, but the mobile app also includes products for community engagement, so it could be helpful at multiple stages of a planner's career.

Buffer – A social media manager, Buffer can help those institutional social media footprints that can include multiple channels and platforms.

Feonix MaaS App – Mobility as a service and transportation with a purpose.

Google Cardboard – Google Cardboard and Google VR provide the most accessible avenues to exploring virtual reality. Virtual reality has the potential to provide significant benefits to planning and design processes, offering immersive access to existing case studies and also the ability to tour projects and developments that haven't yet been built.

Go Mobile PGH – When in Pittsburgh, find parking and pay for it using this mobile app created by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

GoPass – The mobile transit card for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Trinity Metro, and the Denton County Transportation Authority also provides step-by-step travel directions and personal customization. 

Google Street View – Google Street View is probably the favorite tool among urbanists for doing quick visual surveys and comparisons of conditions at ground level over time. The Google Street View mobile app allows Google Streetcations from the comfort of your own phone.

Guidebook – Guidebook is app building software that also comes in mobile app form.

Hopthru – Hopthru provides universal mobile ticketing for transit passes on 11 transit systems in the United States, located in Washington State, Oregon, California, Colorado, and Texas.

Hush City – A crowdsourcing and citizen science app called Hush City allows users to help map the quiet, and noisy, places in the world.

iGIS – iGIS claims to be the world's first and leading iOS GIS, and to deliver "true GIS functionality" to smart phones.

iNaturalist – The iNaturalist app connects the iNaturalist community, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, in pursuing and sharing citizen science.

LA Mobile – The mobile ticketing app for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

LastPass – The hardest part about life is remembering all the passwords you need to get through a day. LastPass safely stores all your passwords so you'll never have to worry about forgetting that password you only need once a year.

Loveland Next – A parcel data app that allows surveys to be collected and posted from a mobile phone. The Loveland app technology has enabled numerous newsmaking survey efforts in recent years.

Lucas County AREIS – Online parcel, zoning, and GIS data for Lucas County, Ohio.

Maps.me – Detailed maps of the world, downloadable and searchable, with navigation, that work offline. Great for traveling without access to the Internet on a phone, or in a pinch when closer to home.

Memo – A note taking app, because no one can remember everything.

Migo – An app for searching on-demand transportation options. "Real-time price and wait time estimates mean no more switching between apps to see who's closest or which one is surging."

myStop mobile – myStop Mobile provides real-time bus information and trip planning for 39 transit agencies around the United States.

Notability – A note taking and annotation app.

ParkMobile – ParkMobile allows users to find and pay for parking in over one million parking spots in 3,000 locations around North America.

Planning Toolkit – The ZIMAS online zoning and parcel data software for the city of Los Angeles, but in app form.

Pocket Census – The Pocket Census app is a portal for retrieving Census data on the fly.

Reddit – A social media and microblogging site that is popular with people in the know. The r/urbanplanning subreddit is particularly helpful for planning news and information.

Roadsoft – The Roadsoft mobile app supplement the Roadsoft desktop software to manage road, sign, culvert, and sidewalk management projects.

SurveyMonkey – SurveyMonkey can be a useful and powerful tool for community engagement and crowdsourcing ideas. The survey for this article was created in SurveyMonkey, for instance.

Via – The Via on-demand ride sharing program promises low-cost rides.

Walk Score – Most real estate apps only list details like price, square footage, and amenities. Only Walk Score allows users to search for details like distance from transit or commute time—information vital to quality of life in more urban environments. Walk Score searches listings from websites like Apartment Finder, Apartments.com, HotPads, MyNewPlace, Realtor.com, Trulia, and more.

YouTube – YouTube is a favorite social media channel for many people, but it's also rapidly become a platform for planners and designers to share project proposals and for advocates to present ideas for innovation. Planning still needs its first YouTube star, but it probably isn't too far off.

Zillow – Zillow offers immediate access to the data on the cost of housing and the value of land, and it's a regular fixture in the lives of anyone who deals in real estate. In the current housing affordability crisis, that should include planners.

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