Planning the built environment requires legibility and comprehensibility, something you are well aware of as an urban planner. Implementing effective plans depends on acquiring knowledge of urban design tools and techniques. Check out 3dcityplanner.com for more information.
You do not need a graphic design degree to learn design principles, regardless of whether you are an urban planner or an urban planning student. For the next level of your plans, there are several free software tools readily available:
An image manipulation program based on raster graphics, GIMP is known by its commonly used nickname as GIMP. As an alternative (and free!) to Adobe Photoshop, GIMP has similar capabilities to Adobe Photoshop.
Urban designers use GIMP to edit images, overlay graphic content on maps, and add text to images. There are also a number of tutorials and educational resources that GIMP offers for free.
Planners and urban designers alike rely on SketchUp as a planning tool. As a tool that allows users to visualize buildings, neighborhoods, and cities quickly and accurately, Sketchup is unique.
In Urban Design for Planners: Software Tools you'll learn about workarounds you can use in the freeware version as opposed to SketchUp Pro. Google Earth can also be used with SketchUp.
It is a vector-based, open-source graphics editing program that is often considered a competitor to GIMP. Among its uses for the urban designer is drawing and manipulating shapes and lines on maps using Inkscape.
For designers and planners, Inkscape offers a user-friendly alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
With QGIS you can create a powerful geographic information system with a variety of features. QGIS is a great option for planners who wish to expand their design capabilities since it is compatible with Esri (the industry standard maker of ArcGIS).
You can use QGIS to view layered mapped data relative to each other, group mapped data elements or locations based on specific criteria, determine distances, examine proximities, and create terrain maps quickly. With an extremely active support community, it is easy to quickly get up to speed with QGIS.
A variety of professional applications can be conducted with Google Earth. Axonometric views (from a low-flying plane's perspective) are especially useful for urban planners and urban designers.
A 3D perspective can be experienced, and distance can be measured accurately. GIMP and SketchUp integration is also possible. Google Earth is a unique tool for exploring cities and landscapes around the world in addition to its practical aspects.