Recommended Mobile Apps for Urban Planning in 2023

Planetizen's annual list of top apps for planners is back, ten years after its first appearance on the site. Scores of apps have been recommended by planners as examples of planning in action, or tools for planning action.

20 minute read

April 27, 2023, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell

@CasualBrasuell


A series of screengrabs illustrating the functionality of Google Maps.

One app to rule them all. | Google Maps

It's been more than ten years since Jennifer Evans Cowley introduced the Planetizen audience to the emerging world of mobile apps for planning. Since then, Planetizen has conducted annual surveys to gather feedback on the apps used by planners in the day-to-day tasks of working and living in their communities. These mobile apps have included tools for the day-to-day task that supports the work of planning, such as scheduling meetings, note taking, and conducting meetings, as well as the tasks specific to planning, such as mapping, modeling, and designing.

Planetizen's Top Apps lists have evolved and grown over the years, from just a few emerging examples, to a long list of apps, many of which are also seen on computers sitting on desks in offices and homes. What started out as a clever marketing tagline, “There’s an app for that,” is most certainly true in 2023. The field of planning’s ability to perform so many essential tasks on mobile phones is another example of that maxim’s essential truth.

Though Planetizen has conducted annual surveys since 2023 to collect recommendations for apps and to gauge the adoption of smartphone tech on the planning job, based on the results of 2023’s survey, the pace of growth seems to be slowing in the world of urban planning apps. Despite weeks of recruitment to take our annual survey, respondents reported fewer new apps than ever before. Is it possible that we are on the other side of an era in planning, or is this simply a lull in the action? Or is it time for a new survey, as some respondents suggest every year? Time will tell.

But in the meantime, the following list of apps, some appearing for the first time and some appearing once again, offer a testament to the utility of the smartphone and the resources and tools available to planners looking to excel in their careers. With last year's list, Planetizen started compiling all of the apps listed by planners as useful in recent years, creating a massive compendium of resources and tools. You'll find the same compendium here. Each one of these apps was recommended by planners as examples of planning in action, or tools for planning action.

The Most Frequently Mentioned App

Multipel screngrabs of mapping and navigation uses on the Google Maps app.
Google Maps is the most popular app among Planetizen readers: “Double True.”

Before we start digging into the apps appearing on Planetizen's list of Top Apps for Planners for the first time, we should first acknowledge the most frequently recommended app to grace this list, Google Maps. By our admittedly unverified count, Google Maps is the app obviously most frequently cited by planners as useful in the day-to-day of the profession.

It's safe to assume that many of the people who recommend the use of the app for mapping and navigation are too young to have been watching Saturday Night Live when "Lazy Sunday" first announced the dominance of Google Maps over its predecessors, yet the hegemony of Google Maps continues to this day. Every year, Google Maps is the most frequently recommended app, and it’s not even really close.

New for 2023

A series of screengrabs illustrating the mapping and navigation tools available in the Citymapper app.

Citymapper - An award winning app that was recently acquired by Via, Citymapper is billed as an "urban movement planning app" that solves some of the inherent limitations of other mapping and navigation apps. 

Libby - All Libby requires is a library card and the desire to learn. In return, you get access to your local library. "Libby," as one user puts it, "is the library."

Photos (Apple) - Apple has been steadily improving the power of the Photos app, transforming a simple photo storage app into a much more powerful photo editing app. The Photos app makes the list for the first time this year, because, as one user puts it, the app allows users to "isolate images and remove the background."

Poll Everywhere - Poll Everywhere allows for live polling and interactive meetings to ensure higher levels of participation at community engagement, a technique recommended to ensure that more than just the loudest voices are heard during planning processes.

A series of screengrabs showing pages from the REINS app.

REINS - REINS is designed to break down barriers between subject matter experts and teams looking for solutions. REINS creates a searchable "Infrastructure Knowledge Base" for questions, allowing users to go directly to experts for answers.

Umo - The Umo App allows transit users to prepay and reload fare value on mobile devices, which isn't useful for many riders who depend on cash to move around their communities, can take one concern about riding transit out of the equation for many riders. Maybe you've heard, but transit riders have been slow to return to transit systems all over the country. Maybe services like those provided by Umo can make it a little easier for riders to return to the buses and the rails.

A Compendium of Planning Apps

Maps!

A series of screengrabs illustrating the functionality of the All Trails app.

AllTrails – The largest collection of detailed trail maps in app form. AllTrails works with an iPhone or without to help navigate while on the trail and to log your activities as you go and after you're done. (Also available for Android.)

Bike Citizens – A cycling app that's just as helpful for navigating in urban areas as in the countryside, Bike Citizens also leverages the observations and advocacy of its users to monitor road conditions. (Also available for Android.)

Google Maps – Remember that "Lazy Sunday" music video made for Saturday Night Live by an early incarnation of Lonely Island? Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell probably don't get enough credit as the first pop culture reference of Google's domination of the mobile map and navigation market. Double True. (Also available for Android.)

Hush City – A crowdsourcing and citizen science app called Hush City allows users to help map the quiet, and noisy, places in the world. (Also available for Android.)

iMAPS – Wake County GIS and Raleigh GIS developed the Internet Multi-Access Parcel System (iMAPS) online interactive mapping application to provide easy access to property information.

LandGlide – A parcel data and property line map app with 150 million parcel records in over 3,000 counties. (Also available for Android.)

Mapillary – An app for building visual records of street-level imagery and integrating that archive with location data. Mapillary relies on the power of its network of contributors to build better maps and records of conditions on the ground. (Also available for Android.)

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. (Also available for Android.)

OneMap – OneMap is an authoritative national map of Singapore, available in app form with detailed, regularly updated information from the Singapore Land Authority. (Also available for Android.)

Refuge Restrooms – This app maps safe restrooms for transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals, until the day all places are safe for everyone. (Also available for Android.)

Strava – The activity tracker you're most likely to see when your hard core hiking and cycling friends share their accomplishments online. There's a reason why Strava is so popular among exercise enthusiasts, and it has everything to do with user experience and precise gps tracking. (Also available for Android.)

Hard Planning Science

3D Scanner App – The 3D Scanner App processes photos and videos in real-time to create 3D models, including high-resolution and textures.

ArcGIS (Explorer, Collector, Navigator, Survey123, Business Analyst) – These apps are commonly referenced by survey respondents. Planning is, after all, still a professional practice requiring technical skills in spatial analysis, visual presentation, and systems modeling. The most amazing thing about apps like the ArcGIS suite is how much power to do that kind of planning work is available in such small devices. (Explorer, Collector, Navigator, Survey123, and Business Analyst are all available on Android.)

AutoCAD – Autodesk created a mobile version of the AutoCAD software essential to drawing and marking up site designs during the design and development approval process. Autodesk's entire portfolio of mobile apps, including A360, BIM 360, Configurator 360, and more, deserve a mention too. 

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

SunCalc – An app that shows sun movement and sunlight phases during the day at a given location. See sun positions at sunrise, sunset, and specified times all over the world (information that might be useful when planning an infill development project with traditional local opposition). (Also available for Android.)

Data

Eco-Link – Retrieve data from pedestrian and bike traffic counts at all kinds of sites. (Also available for Android.)

Fulcrum – Fulcrum is a tool for creating the right kind of forms for the right data collection job. Custom forms allow mobile users to collect data like text, photos, SpatialVideo, SpatialAudio, GPS Location, and more. (Also available for Android.)

LoopNet Real Estate – The mobile app for LoopNet's commercial real estate search service. (Also available for Android.)

onX Hunt – One survey respondent recommends the onX Hunt app, designed to provide property data and weather reports to hunters, as a useful property information tool for planning work. Clever! (Also available for Android.)

Social Explorer – Demographers rejoice. The Social Explorer app offers access to current and historical census data. Some reviewers complain that the free version of this app is too limited to be of value.

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. Zillow offers a suite of apps for both iOS and Android.

Community Engagement and Social Media

CitySwipe – The website for CitySwipe, created by the city of Santa Monica in California for an update to the city's Downtown Community Plan back in 2016, is no longer active. An app called CitySwipe for European cities is still available on the Apple App Store, but that app was created by Optimum Designs. The CitySwipe app attracted media attention locally, from Santa Monica Next, and internationally, from the Guardian, as a "Tinder for cities," so here's hoping the original tech is just dormant while looking for new locations.

Flickr – Flickr once had the potential to become a dominant social media platform at the level of Twitter and TikTok, but instead has become a vast repository of crowdsourced images. The savvy company or public agency also knows how to leverage Flickr's Creative Commons license for public and media relations. (Also available for Android.)

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. (Also available for Android.)

Instagram – Instagram might have lost some of its luster (and some of its popularity with the youth), but the most trendy photo sharing app of all time is still incredibly popular for sharing adventures, hidden locations, and breathtaking views. Few apps have ever done so much to deliver the big, wide world to everyone with a phone and an eye for new places. (Also available for Android.)

Input – Input is an open source app designed to streamline geo-surveys using QGIS. (Also available for Android.) 

LinkedIn – The career-minded social media platform should be a staple of any career-minded planner. Great for networking while on the job and while on the job hunt. (Also available for Android.)

NextDoor – NextDoor has emerged from its early days as the headline grabbing "Facebook for neighborhoods" into a widely adopted platform for neighborhood-centric conversations, collaborations, and, yes, controversies. (Also available on Android.)

Pinterest – In the 2015 Top Websites post, Planetizen documented Pinterest's emerging role in the planning community as a platform to curate and brainstorm ideas and themes. Given Pinterest's availability as a mobile app, it can also serve as a great on-the-go reference tool, when looking for inspiration in the field or on the road. (Also available on Android.)

QuestionPro –  survey software that includes a free version as an alternative to paid survey services. QuestionPro has also created two mobile apps: the QuestionPro Offline Surveys app (iOS and Android) and the QuestionPro Communities app (iOS and Android).

QuickTapSurvey -  promises data capture anywhere, even offline, for lead generation, customer engagement, and research. QuickTapSurvey is popular with large companies like Disney, McDonald's, and Nike. The mobile version of the software (iOS and Android) is used for offline surveys.

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. (Also available for Android.)

SeeClickFix – By definition, SeeClickFix is an app developer for cities and communities to build out their own SeeClickFix app (available on both iOS and Android). Numerous U.S. cities already have adopted this platform for apps that gives the public the power to report safety and infrastructure issues.

SurveyMonkey – SurveyMonkey is a useful and powerful tool for community engagement and crowdsourcing ideas. The survey for this article was created in SurveyMonkey, for instance. (Also available for Android.)

SurveySparrow – differentiates itself from a crowded survey market by promising automated responses for customer response management and automated tickets with resolution tracking. The SurveySparrow mobile app (iOS and Android) offers offline surveys.

TikTok – TikTok is the social media du jour for the youth. If you aren't up to speed on how urbanists have converted this platform into a powerful tool for advocacy, it's past time to catch up. (Also available for Android)

Twitter – Even if you never send one tweet, the number of voices on Twitter leading the discussion about every possible planning-related subject is too immense to count. Twitter could also easily have been included in the above category as an essential tool for community engagement. Of course, Twitter isn't what it used to be, and it's unclear how much longer Twitter will play such a central role in the planning discussion. (Also available for Android.)

VideoAsk – A mobile app created by survey and engagement software company Typeform to provide a platform for collecting and sharing video testimonials. (Also available for Android.)

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 mainstream YouTube star, but it probably isn't too far off. (Also available for Android.)

Mobility as a Service

Amtrak App – Access to Amtrak travel information, including eTicketing, seat selection, and status updates. Set the Amtrak app to send travel-related push notifications. (Also available on Android.)

BART – Bay Area Regional Transit launched its end-to-end trip planner in early 2019, integrating information on driving, walking, and biking routes in addition to bike-sharing and ride-sharing services. (Also available for Android.)

Bikemap – The Bike Maps app boasts 8 million bike routes around the world, offers personalized bike routes, and voice controlled navigation. There are many other examples of apps that offer this kind of functionality, but this one topped this list with survey respondents. (Also available for Android.)

Bird – After a complete overhaul of the company branding and almost nonstop controversy, the original electric scooters are still available at the push of an app button. (Also available for Android.)

Bolt – Bolt is a ride-hailing company built on an expanded model of mobility. The company, which is already prioritizing electric vehicles in some markets, also made headlines for experimenting with a nudge to a micromobility option, like a scooter ride, instead of a car ride in the app. (Also available for Android.)

BUSLNK – BUSLNK provides real-time bus tracker and arrival information for StarTran, the public transit system for Lincoln, Nebraska. (Also available for Android.)

Caltrans QuickMap – The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has created its mobile app for tracking traffic and travel conditions on freeways and highways. The QuickMap app even lets users peek in on traffic cameras in some locations. (Also available for Android.)

Coord – Curb management is one of the hottest button topics of contemporary planning, and the Coord app provides the platform for cities to implement "Smart Zones" that allow reliable and efficient access to the hottest commodity on city streets—the curb—for private fleets and on-demand drivers. (Coord Driver for Android. Coord Collector for iOS. Coord Inspector for Android.)

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

Google Maps – The integration of transit data and multi-modal navigation, in addition to congestion reporting, earn this popular app a second appearance on the list. 

GreenTrips – This app encourages Nashville-area residents to share rides, walk and bike, or take public transit. Use the app to record your "Green Trip" and earn your way to rewards. While you have to visit Nashville to use this app, here's hoping more apps like it will be available in every U.S. city soon. Orlando partnered with the Miles app to create their own version of gamification for non-automobile trips in 2021. Which city will be next?

Passage: Transit Ticketing – The app formerly known as Hopthru provides mobile transit ticketing for a number of U.S. transit systems, including systems in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, and many more. (Also available for Android.)

Lime – See Bird entry above, except with controversy created specifically by and for Lime. (Also available for Android.)

Lyft – One of the original transit network companies, or the entities now most commonly referred to as ride-hailing companies. Lyft has persevered through worker shortages and structural deficits, while frequently positioning itself as more palatable compared to the controversies of Uber and focusing its business on micromobility (rather than Uber's focus on food delivery services). (Also available for Android.) 

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." (Also available for Android.)

ParkMobile – ParkMobile allows users to find and pay for parking in 350 cities, including New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. (Also available for Android.)

Passport – Similar to SeeClickFix, Passport is a platform for municipalities and organizations to build parking apps that manage parking payment, enforcement, permits, and more. According to Passport's website, more than 800 cities and operators use the technology. Apps built with Passport can be found on both iOS and Android

PlugShare – PlugShare is home to the "world’s largest EV driver community." Users use the app created by Recargo, Inc. to contribute station reviews and photos to help drivers make informed decisions about charging stations. The results produce what developers claim is the most accurate EV and Tesla charging station map available online. (Also available for Android.)

Transit – The app most likely to get Planetizen staff to and from the office is expanding its reach, including by providing a regular source of real time information about how many transit systems struggled to maintain planned service levels during the pandemic. (Also available for Android.)

Uber – See Lyft, above. (Also available for Android.)

Via –The Via on-demand ride sharing program promises low-cost rides. When checking in with the Via website for this post, we found the company reporting reduced costs for on-demand transit rides, increased partnerships with public schools, and reduced trip times for paratransit trips. (Also available for Android.)

Waze – Waze is a navigation app that also provides updates about congestion, construction, speed trapWaze Navigation & Live Traffic on the App Stores, and crashes, while gamifying the driving experience in a way that's probably bad for the planet. (Also available for Android.)

Creative Work

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 Creative Cloud Express – The app formerly known as Adobe Spark is now known as Adobe Creative Cloud Express. The app is designed to deliver design resources to your fingertips, with stock photos and other tools to help get you started. (Also available for Android.)

Beyond AR – A mobile app from the Boston Consulting Group that promises "unmatched and immersive business experiences" through the use of augmented reality.  (Also available on Android.) 

Camera+ 2 – Camera+ rose to prominence in the early days of Instagram as the go-to tool for photo sharers who wanted to produce more filtered and colored looks—or just realistic looking—images than possible on Instagram. The developer released Camera+2 in 2018 to good reviews and also expanded the app to desktop for Mac users in 2021.

A series of screengrabs illustrating the functionality of the Canva app.
After making its appearance on the Planetizen Top Apps list in 2022, Canva was a popular mention again on this year’s survey.

Canva – Features like 60,000 free templates, a free photo editor, and instant connections to social media, Canva is a design app made for amateur designers. (Also available for Android.)

Concepts – Users report that the Concepts app, with its infinite canvas for drawing and sketching, has become an integral tool in their creative workflows. (Also available for Android.)

PowerPoint – PowerPoint remains as essential to professionals with a presentation to make as it was 20 years ago. PowerPoint has maintained its position despite the best attempts of innumerable imitators and technological advancements over the decades. (Also available for Android.)

Sketchbook – The popular drawing app recommended for beginners or pros looking to get creative in a free, lightweight app environment. (Also available for Android.)

Productivity and Project Management

Apple Wallet – As mentioned above, the D.C. Metro now allows riders to upload their transit fares to Apple Wallet. The same service is available in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Vancouver, in addition to cities in Asia and Europe.

Basecamp 3 – The project management and collaboration workspace app is now on its third iteration. (Also available for Android.)

Doodle – The most common meeting scheduling app for years now, we have seen zcal starting to take some of Doodle's market, but of the two options, only Doodle is available in a mobile app (as of this writing). (Also available on Android.)

Dropbox – One of the most commonly used file sharing services. Usually, it's Dropbox or Drive. (Also available for Android.)

Evernote – More like an organizer than a note taking app, Evernote syncs to all devices, organizes to-do lists into tasks, and connects to Google Calendar. (Also available for Android.)

Excel – Another classic of the Microsoft Office suite, along with Outlook and PowerPoint, listed above. "The elephant in the room is the lack of Word," the author of this post wrote on a Google Document. (Also available for Android.)

Figma – Figma is a collaborative design tool available at various price points, including free, for those planners that double as user experience designers. (Also available for Android.) 

Google Drive – All of the Documents, Spreadsheets, and file sharing capabilities of Google Drive are accessible on your phone. (Also available for Android.)

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. (Also available for Android.)

Microsoft OneNote – A highly-rated note taking app that's available on iOS as well as Android.

Microsoft Teams – A gigantic professional collaboration tool that facilitates chats, meetups, files, and tasks—all under one app's roof. (Also available for Android.)

MindMeister – The mobile version of MindMeister makes the brainstorming, inspiration, and collaboration tools of the Internet portable. (Also available for Android.)

Miro – The visual collaboration tool (i.e., a big, super intuitive digital whiteboard) Miro is available in mobile form. (Also available for Android.)

Notability – A note taking and annotation app only available on iOS, recognized as an editor's pick on the Apple app store.

Notion – Notion is project management software that promises to provide an all-in-one workspace—notes, tasks, projects, wikis, and databases all included. (Also available for Android.)

A series of screengrabs illustrating the functionality of the Otter.ai app.
Planetizen Editorial Director James Brasuell uses Otter for bulk transcriptions but still stumps the service regularly with the use of the word Planetizen.

Otter – Automated meeting notes for Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and more. (Also available for Android.)

Outlook – The email classic makes an appearance on the Planetizen top apps list for the first time. Outlook, of course, is a component of the standard Microsoft suite of office tools known as Office 365. The 365 refers to the number of days in the year that you'll receive more email than anyone could possibly read in a lifetime. (Also available for Android.)

Slack – The messaging app of the Planetizen office and, from the references on social media, many, many others. Slack can be beefed up with integrations to Google Drive, Notion, and other productivity apps, as well as internal features like Giphy and a timezone butler. (Also available for Android.)

Todoist – In 2017, the Verge ranked Todoist as the best "to-do list" app on the market. (Also available for Android.)

Trello – A project management tool built around boards, cards, and checklists. (Also available for Android.)

ZOOM Cloud Meetings – Zoom might have needed an introduction in 2019. Don't  Zoom and drive. (Also available for Android.)

For Fun

A series of screngrabs showing the gameplay of Pokemon Go.

Pokémon GO – The mobile game that integrated a love for exploring places with augmented reality and compulsive collecting and competing. Few apps have spoken directly to the heart of planning like Pokémon GO. (Also available for Android.)

Toca Life: City – A city oriented game geared toward children that offers a chance to customize characters, explore locations and find hidden treasures. The game's developers tout the game's storytelling tools as a springboard for the imagination of young people. (Also available on Android and Kindle Fire.)

 

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