Creating Municipal Land Use Maps With ArcGIS Pro

Despite the ubiquity and utility of the interactive maps commonly used by cities to distribute geospatial information to residents, there are still situations in municipal government where traditional static maps need to be incorprated into documents both for printing to paper and for archival preservation.

One notable example is land use maps used in city and county comprehensive urban planning documents. Comprehensive plans are official documents periodically created by city urban planning departments to encode a vision for the future of the city and serve as a policy guide to help lawmakers achieve that vision (Conglose 2021). While such plans are often highly contested, and are routinely ignored by decision-makers, they can be useful, detailed records of the condition of city infrastructure and form at the time they were created, as well as a useful historical record of the aspirations of city leaders.

Comprehensive plans contain a wide variety of geospatial information, often in the form of maps. Accordingly, they are rich source of examples for students of cartography who aspire to work in city agencies.

This tutorial will provide an example of the creation of such a map using data from the City of Spokane. The final product will be similar to this revised map that originally appeared in their 2017 comprehensive plan.

Spokane Land Use (City of Spokane 2021)

Acquire the Data

Open data is "data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike" (Open Knowledge Foundation 2018).

A fundamental value of open data is interoperability, which is "the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together" and intermix different datasets (Open Knowledge Foundation 2018). When people can work together with a minimum of restrictions, this results greater individual productivity that, ideally, benefits society as a whole.

Many planning departments in large and medium-sized cities make their data freely available to the public via open data portals. These portals often use Socrata or ESRI's ArcGIS Hub software.

You can usually find open data portals for a city by Googling the city name and "open data."

Download options commonly include shapefiles, file geodatabases, and GeoJSON files. Although all three formats can be imported into ArcGIS Pro, the shapefile is usually the safest and easiest option to work with.

Note that a shapefile is actually a collections of files that is distributed in a .zip archive, which can be opened in the Windows file explorer. On Mac computers, you can extract the file by double-clicking the .zip file on the desktop or in the Mac Finder.

The minimum set of files for this assignment would include: streets, railroads, water bodies, land use types, and municipal boundaries.

The following video uses the City of Spokane (WA) Open GIS Data portal as an example of how to download city GIS data.

Downloading data for Spokane, WA

Create the Project

Create a new project in ArcGIS Pro and give it a meaningful name.

Creating a new project

State Plane Projection

In the US, local areas like cities are commonly mapped with a projection from the State Plane Coordinate System (SPCS), which was developed in the 1930s by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey to enable surveyors, mappers, and engineers to connect their land or engineering surveys to a common reference system (Stem 1990).

Finding and setting a state plane projection

Street Layer

A base map is a collection of geographic features that provide geographic context for the thematic symbols that are the focus of the map. Base maps need to provide enough information for readers to understand what is where, but the base map features need to be unobtrusive enough so that they do not clutter or obscure the thematic features.

For maps of urban areas, either street center lines or parcel boundary polygons (which effectively outline streets) are commonly used as the primary base map features. For this example with the complete area of a medium-sided US city, parcels would be too detailed, so we will use a layer of streets provided by the city.

Exploring the Fields

There is a hierarchy of street importance and capacity that needs to be reflected in the map. Interstate highways usually are the most prominent, with decreasing visual intensity down through state highways, arterial roads, and local streets.

Finding the road class field

Grouped Values

A road class variable may have more detailed class divisions than you may need for a base map, and keeping all those clasees will clutter your legend.

For this example variable, we will group the values into the four different types specified above in order to reduce the different line colors and thicknesses to more easily readable number.

Grouping road classes

Symbol Layer Drawing Order

Because larger roads are generally considered more significant than smaller roads, the larger roads should generally be drawn so that they are on top at intersections. This is especially true with limited access roads like interstates that have overpasses over local roads.

Setting the road drawing order

Remove Base Map

Once you have a clear street grid, if you haven't already, you should remove the default base map.

Base maps in ArcGIS Pro are the same base maps used in the ArcGIS Online web app. While these are adequate for low-resolution web maps, paper has a higher resolution than computer screens, and those base maps will likely be fuzzy. The base maps may also contain additional details (like labels or environmental features) that will clutter the map and make it harder to read.

Remove the base map

Street Labels

Because this will be a land use map rather than a street map, we will limit the number of street name labels only to the major arterial roads.

This will require creating a label class.

Street labels

Interstate Shields

Interstate highways (and some state highways) have numbers that are placed in shield graphics.

One issue with interstates is that street data may not contain just the interstate number. If you have multiple interstates, you may need to create multiple label classes.

Interstate highway shields

TIGER Road Shapefiles

In some cases, the fields in street data available from cities may be inadequate for clearly classifying or labeling roads. In such cases, you may wish to use the US Census Bureau's TIGER shapefile of roads in your county.

There are two classification fields you can use, although neither will likely be perfect for your area: RTTYP (route type codes) and MTFCC (feature class codes).

With RTTYP, I is used for interstates, M for municipal roads, and C, S, and U for highways. Municipal roads include arterials, which will limit your middle class to highways.

USCB TIGER road shapefile

Other Base Map Layers

Bodies of Water

Lakes, rivers, and streams are notable landmarks (and, sometimes, obstacles) that will often add meaningful context and contrast to a base map.

Bodies of water

Rail Lines

Similarly, rail lines are often useful on a base map, although care should be used so that maps of areas with extensive rail infrastructure are not too cluttered.

Rail lines

Political Boundaries

You will commonly want to add lines for political boundaries to delineate the jurisdiction of the authorities regulating land use. In this case, we use the municipal boundary of the City of Spokane.

City boundary

Land Use Polygons

Explore the Fields

Add the land use layer to the map.

As with the street layer, you will want to explore the different fields with View Attributes to find the appropriate land use class variable. In this data, the field is LandUse.

These land use classes may be cryptic abbreviations. The definitions of those abbreviations may be defined in the metadata. In this case, the metadata is useless, and we consult the printed map to get some better idea what the abbreviations mean.

Finding and symbolizing the land use class field

Generalized Categories

As with road classes, a large number of land use classes may make a map difficult to read, and grouping them into generalized classes may keep the general point of the map prominent.

Grouping land use categories

Color Palette

Double-click on the color patches to change the colors to contrasting colors.

Setting land use colors


New Layout

Once you have designed your map, you need to create a layout for how that map will be displayed on the printed page.

Creating a new layout

Map Frame

Adding a map frame

Scale Bar and North Arrow

Because the spatial relationships of areas in cities are often unfamiliar, even to long-time residents, a scale bar gives context for knowing distances between locations on the map.

While maps generally place north on the top edge of the map, this is not always the case, and a north arrow helps viewers understand direction on the map.

Adding a scale bar and north arrow


Adding a title


Add a legend to the layout Right click on the legend and under the Options tab and Legend Items, select Show Properties. For Arrangement, select Keep in single column so grouped values stay together. Drag legend items in the table of contents into the order desired. For each item in the legend, turn off heading names and rename the layers if the original names are abbreviations.
Adding a title


Adding metadata

Neat Lines

Finally you should add neat lines that separate map elements from each other and give the map a clean, contained look.

You can add neat lines with rectangles. Even though the fill is transparent, you may need to Send to Back in the drawing Order so you can drag the map elements into appropriate locations.

Adding neat lines

Save Your Project

When you are done with a project, you should save it as a project package on ArcGIS Online so that you can reopen it later on any computer if you need to use your base map.

  1. Go to the Share tab and select Project.

  2. Provide a name to save the project under. The default is the name of the current project.
  3. Copy the name into the Tags and Summary fields.
  4. Click the Share outside of organization box so your project database containing all of your layers is included in your project package.
  5. Unclick the Include Toolboxes and Include History Items check boxes so that history or toolbox errors to not cause your upload to fail.
  6. Analyze the project to find any problems.
  7. Package the project to upload it to ArcGIS Online. This may take a minute or two.
Saving a Project Package to ArcGIS Online