Introduction to Mapping Used in Town Planning

Mapping is one of the main planning instruments for a spatial display of information. Modern town planning and mapping consultancies make use of GIS software systems for the preparation of site and development plans and maps. The maps can be used for several purposes, including site identification or identification of particular characteristics and elements present, and the combination of these for a specific area. Such elements range from vegetation to infrastructure, road networks, proximity, and more.

Every map has specific elements that must be present. These include:

  • Grid
  • Title of the map
  • Legend
  • Indication of North
  • Scale indication


The grid represents a range of vertical and horizontal lines, which are drawn on the map. These are representative of the latitude and longitude lines. With the grid system, the map can be broken up into smaller sections. You will find the labelling for grid lines at the end of each line.

Title of the map

The map heading is located at the top of the map, which is a drawing, imagery, 3D rendering, or layered indication of specific elements found and how these are connected for a particular site, location or geographical area. The title gives a clear indication of the mapping purpose.


This indicates the map key and refers to the symbols found on the map. Instead of using words, symbols are used to indicate, for instance, historical buildings, roads, natural resources, income levels, population, etc. The map key or legend indicates which symbols resemble the key information.


Unless the user knows in which direction north is, it is difficult to read and understand the map. With that in mind, the map includes an arrow or a compass drawing to show the direction of north to help with orientation.

Scale Indication

Mapping can be done for a very large area. To make it possible for a graphical display of the information in a format that can be used, the map is much smaller in size than the area mapped. To ensure accurate distances between points, the rendering is scaled. In order for the user to understand the distances, sizes, or proximity of structures or elements to specific points, the scale is given. For instance, the map can be drawn to a scale of 1:50 000 with a graphical (linear) indication of the distance resembled, showing that one centimetre on the map is equal to so many metres, kilometres, miles or feet in the real-life situation.

The above elements are the basic components you can expect on a map to help you make sense of the mapping.

Mapping plays an integral role in urban planning. Elements such as open spaces, forests, roads, buildings, land usage, vegetation, contours, and more are indicated in the maps. To make the information more accessible and useful, town planners make use of a GIS system. This system brings together all the information collected, enabling layering, focussing on a specific section, understanding the relationship between the information, and more.

With the spatial information available in the GIS system, selected components can be used. You don’t have to draw maps from scratch for new service lines, etc. The previous maps and information can be used and the location of, for instance, new utility lines can be shown on these.

Constant addition and correction of information, using the GIS system, make accurate mapping possible. In turn, this is essential for choosing areas where new developments can take place, allocating appropriate uses for the pieces of land and more.

Tools and Instruments used for mapping

With mapping, building on previous information collected, it’s important to use reliable information. For this purpose, instruments such as cadastral maps that indicate land ownership and, for instance, property boundaries, can form the basis for new town planning maps.

Land surveying drawings and building surveys that include floor plans are also used in addition to satellite imagery as part of the mapping processes.

Types of maps include, but are not limited to:

  • Geographical
  • Road
  • Topography
  • Climate
  • Economic
  • Political
  • Population (density)
  • Cadastral
  • Navigational

Accurate mapping is essential for town planning. Individual properties are mapped (cadastral) and the information of all the properties linked together can be used for town planning purposes. Whether contouring is depicted or road infrastructure, without the graphical display of the information, storage thereof and rendering in a useful format, it would be extremely difficult to apply land use management policies, ensure organised land use and optimal development of a particular area. Reach out to The Practice Group for help with mapping projects relevant to urban planning.