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6 Basic & Essential Tools Planners use to Draw

Placemaking is the art of planning and building great public spaces. In this edition of KlikNotes, I want to take you behind the scenes and share 6 essential tools that help planners design the places we like to visit. Remember, these are the basics, so let's get started.

The Essentials
1. Architectural and Engineering Scales

A good scale is likely to be one of the most important tools for any urban planner. They allow us to measure a site plan and review plan dimensions. They also give us the ability to create site plans, master plans etc. “to scale.”

In my experience, most drawings are based on engineering scales and typically use a 1:20 scale. As a result, you’ll probably use the engineering scale far more often than the architectural scale. But every once in a while, the architectural scale comes in really handy for those really complicated projects (or the old school plan set!). I use the Staedtler brand scales because they are very clean and easy to read. Also, triangular scales are far more useful than flat scales. Triangular scales let you pick a separate scale on each side so you don’t have to read tiny lines and wonder if you've measured to the right scale. Plus, they’re easy to handle when drawing and measuring.

2. Trace Paper

When it comes time to be creative with a site plan for any development, I prefer going analog and using trace paper. There is something about placing that white sheet of trace paper over a drawing that speaks the language of potential and creativity.

Tracing enables drawing modifications to scale

Many times I’ve tried to open a PDF in an Adobe product or in SketchUp and could not advance an idea successfully because the application was too cumbersome to visualize an idea.

Those programs also aren’t readily available in a fluid meeting situation as design is negotiated. But tracing paper is and communicating an idea effectively during a meeting is more important than whether or not you can draw the plans better than the architect or engineer. Get the trace paper and draw out the ideas. A drawing doesn’t have to be artistic to communicate an idea visually to stakeholders.

3. Mechanical Pencil

Going analog on site planning work means you start with a good pencil. I recommend a mechanical pencil so you don’t have to keep sharpening the tip after drawing on trace paper. It’s also quicker and easier to lightly sketch using a pencil that can keep a sharp tip.

I’ve used Staedtler mechanical pencils since my time in school and I have found them to be highly versatile in plan mark-ups (when you’re sketching quick ideas versus correcting information) and plan drawing. They also make great pointers when you’re in a meeting and want to point to small details on a plan.

4. Tracing Markers

Markers are indispensable and the following are good for site planning. Once you’ve traced or drawn a concept, it’s a good idea to ink it. Sharpie pens are really good for this and you should use fine point and extra fine point Sharpies for drawing parking lots, sidewalks and other site work.

Because you want to show a hierarchy of lines in your drawing to help the reader differentiate between a road line and a building line, it’s a good idea to ink building edges using a thicker point. I mainly use the Pilot Bravo for this job, which has a real thick point and deep black color for the building edge.

Sometimes, depending on the project, I use the Pentel Sign Pen or the Pentel SES15N for the same job (I also think the type of trace paper influences which of these I use). Those also produce thicker lines for tracing a sketch.

5. Coloring Markers

For quick subdivision designing, I use Chartpak Markers. I use Chartpaks because at a 1:100 scale, which is a decent scale to work at when planning a large scale subdivision and trying to figure out a plan, the tip of these markers are about 30 feet wide.

In most communities, that’s a typical residential street cross-section. So with the swipe of these markers you can lay down some pretty quick road patterns that are immediately drawn to scale. After that, you can establish block sizes and lot sizes pretty easily. They also come in many color variations, which is useful categorizing land uses and places.

6. The Blue Bible

Every beginning planner must have the Planning and Urban Design Standards, by the American Planning Association.

This book is affectionately known among planners as the “Blue Bible”. Reading this book will teach you a lot about site planning standards, subdivision standards and all the variations in design for things like landscape planning, storm water management planning, mapping, districts, parks, impact assessments, legal foundation, theories on city form etc. You name it, and it’s in there. This is a must have book for a beginning planner to learn the planning speak and communicate ideas clearly.

That's all for now. Thank you for reading this post. Visit my blog and please like our page on Facebook.

Created By
Nectarios Pittos
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