ArcGIS Urban FAQs

10-15-2019 12:47 AM
Esri Contributor
5 5 4,900

We have been collecting all the questions that we got asked a lot about ArcGIS Urban. We hope that with this collection of frequently asked questions you will find all the answers that you are looking for. And if not, please ask us anything else you are curious about here! We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Frequently Asked Questions


What are the key capabilities of Urban?

- View a digital representation of your city in which all urban developments are visualized in one place for collaboration among stakeholder groups.

- Create and compare scenarios for Zoning and Land Use Plans (mid- to long term) as well as Projects (short- to midterm).

- Visualize zoning rules in 3D—Convert legal text into a visual representation that can be used for detailed scenario planning down to the parcel level.

- Generate plausible buildings and analyze the impact of Plans with automatically generated capacity indicators data and by comparing different design scenarios.

- Gather feedback from the public on Plans and Projects


How do ArcGIS Online and Urban work together?

Urban is built on top of ArcGIS Online. It uses Hosted Layers to display and manage data that is published in an ArcGIS Online Organization. It utilizes the ArcGIS Online’s concept of groups and user to control access to these Hosted Layers.


Can Urban be used with ArcGIS Enterprise Portal?

No, Urban is currently only available for ArcGIS Online.


How do ArcGIS Pro and Urban work together?

The Urban Databases can be opened in ArcGIS Pro when connecting to the ArcGIS Online Organization where they have been created. The hosted Feature Layers can be displayed and edited through ArcGIS Pro, however there is no dedicated Integration available.


How do CityEngine and Urban work together?

There is a dedicated integration available between CityEngine and Urban. CityEngine can automatically connect to an Urban Model and load Plans and Projects from Urban. Changes and edits made in CityEngine can by synchronized back to Urban and new scenarios can be created.


How does Urban differ from CityEngine? Do I still need CityEngine if I am using Urban?

Urban and CityEngine have a lot of things in common (e.g. they use the same procedural engine under the hood to create models) but they also differ. In CityEngine, you can write you custom CGA rules, where Urban provides a built-in rule that cannot be modified. What you can change in Urban are the parameters that drive the rule, such as the maximum height or the allowed floor area ratio. Urban is a web-based application whereas CityEngine is a Desktop tool that is installed locally. In general, Urban is a focused platform – not just a tool or web app – that supports urban planning workflows and facilitate communication between stakeholders. CityEngine supports the creation of detailed urban designs and produces sophisticated models of built-out scenarios. Read more about Urban and CityEngine.


How does Urban differ from GeoPlanner?

GeoPlanner supports creating 2D scenarios at regional scale across many industries. Urban is designed to support urban planning workflows such as re-zoning by displaying and calculating capacity indicators based on procedurally built 3D scenarios. In general, GeoPlanner supports more generic workflows whereas Urban has a strong focus on urban planning because it uses the procedural engine of CityEngine to produce plausible buildings and zoning envelopes.


Can Urban be used with CAD data (e.g. AutoCAD integration)?

There are two options to bring AutoCAD data into Urban:
1. CAD Integration through CityEngine: The Urban CityEngine integration allows to import data of different 3D formats (dxf, dae, fbx, glTF, kml/kmz, obj) into CityEngine and from there the models can be attached to an Urban scenario directly.

2. CAD Integration through ArcGIS Pro: Urban can display SceneLayers and BuildingSceneLayers that have been published through ArcGIS Pro. Those layers can be coming both from CAD or Revit BIM-Data. After publishing the layers from ArcGIS Pro, they can be linked as external sources in a scenario of a Project/Plan in Urban.


Can BIM models be added to Urban? If so, how many and what are the recommendations for best performance?

Yes, BIM models can be added to Urban, but they have to be converted to a BuildingSceneLayer before. To get the best results, it is recommended to publish a generalized version of the BIM model with a minimum number of nodes. Multiple BIM models can be attached to different scenarios, but for performance reasons they will not be loaded/displayed at the same time.


What are the possibilities to create 3D scenarios in Urban?

In Land Use or Zoning Plans you can create plausible 3D buildings and zoning envelopes based on the underlying zoning regulations. Urban supports many zoning parameters, such as maximum coverage, FAR, height or number of floors as well as allowed space uses, skyplanes, tiers and setbacks and more. These parameters affect, how the generated plausible buildings look like. You can additionally control the shape of those buildings by designing different building types.

In comparison to Plans, where buildings are automatically generated, the Plan editor allows you to design your own buildings. You can enrich the 3D scene by adding greenery, street furniture or vehicles from a large library.


How can you collaborate in Urban?

It is possible to share your design scenarios with the public and get feedback to Plans and Projects by enabling public engagement. This allows you to collaborate with the public and further refine your scenario designs.

Urban can also be used as a platform where urban planners collaborate by sharing their Urban Model, Plans and Projects on ArcGIS Online, for example with a specific group of people or within a certain organization.


Can I work offline with Urban?

No, Urban is a web-based application and needs a stable internet connection.


What browsers are supported in Urban?

Urban runs best with Chrome, however also Firefox, Safari and Edge are supported. Only Internet Explorer cannot be used with Urban because it does not support the technology behind the procedural modelling of the 3D buildings. Read more about system requirements.


How much does Urban cost and how can I buy it?

An Urban license is tied to a Creator user type in your ArcGIS Online Organization. The cost of a license depends on your local distributor. Please get in touch with our team to get more information about licenses and prices. 


How does Urban affect my ArcGIS Online credits? Does a larger city consume more credits?

A larger city does not necessarily consume more credits. The credit consumption depends on the number and size of Plans, Projects and Indicators that are stored in your Urban. The more features that are stored in the database, the more credits are consumed for storing them. Please review the credit consumption of ArcGIS Online for more information. Additional credits are consumed in Urban when using the address search and for elevation queries (when not using a custom elevation layer).


Can students use Urban on campus without purchasing a license?

Yes, Urban is part of the Education Institution Agreement. With the Educational license, universities and schools can make licenses available for students for classes. Get in touch to receive more information about this. 


Does Urban support completely new developments (greenfield development)?

Yes, greenfield development is supported in Urban. New parcels can be added and generated on-the-fly with the 3D drawing tools. You can draw new parcels in Urban, however they will not be based on a cadastre management system. Urban provides a grid tool to efficiently subdivide areas into rectangular parcels. You may also consider opening the Plan in CityEngine for automatically generating parcels based off the drawn street network.

With the parcel drawing tools in Urban, you can also outline rough lot lines. If you have a Feature Layer with proposed roads in it, you can use this to guide your scenario design. You also have the option to design a road network for the Plan area in CityEngine, and then bring it into Urban to guide scenario planning.


Besides from Urban planning, can other sectors benefit from using Urban? 

Yes, the underlying concepts of Urban can also be used to solve other problems, such as:

- Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC): How can we keep track of all our proposed, planned, and completed projects?

- Real Estate: How can we manage and display all of the on-going projects in our organization?
- Education: How can we explain urban density and trends around settlement development to students in an interactive way?
And many more… let us know if you have an idea for an application in your field/industry.


Can external data be added to Urban from different data sources?

Yes, external data can be added to Urban. We recommend using the built-in data manager tool in Urban to load data from Feature Layers or spread sheets (e.g. csv, excel). External layers such as already published base maps and existing buildings can also be attached there. In the Plan and Project configuration, external layers can be attached per scenario, and indicators support adding external WebScenes that can be styled using the smart mapping capabilities of the SceneViewer.


Are there any built-in environmental indicators in Urban?

Yes, the built-in Living Atlas Indicators include the Trust for Public Land (TPL) indicator called ParkServe®. The ParkServe® platform provides information about park systems and the associated percentage of city, town and community residents within a 10-minute walk of a park. This indicator is currently only available for the US.


Living Atlas Indicators sounds like a potential useful resource; how can we learn more about it and how to use it?

The ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World is a collection of authoritative, global geographic data curated and hosted by Esri. You can use Living Atlas content alone or in combination with your own content to create maps, scenes, and apps and perform analysis in Map Viewer or Insights for ArcGIS. In Urban, Living Atlas Indicators are provided for specific regions in the world (current only US is supported) that showcase important metrics for urban development, such as population change or housing vacancy.


Can the built-in Capacity Indicators be customized in Urban?

Yes, the built-in Capacity Indicators can be configured to fit your city’s standards. For the US you can choose a default template with pre-configured values when creating your Urban Model. The default values are an average over the whole US and can be used as a benchmark if you do not have knowledge about metrics such as average living area per capita. These assumptions are attached to the space use types in Urban and can be configured in the data manager.


Can I export data from Urban?

Yes, within Urban you can export Plan design scenarios to a Web Scene (3D) or a Web Map (2D) and Capacity Indicators to an excel sheet for further processing. Additionally, Urban lets you generate high-resolution screenshots within the application.


What type of data does Urban generate?

Urban creates so-called plausible buildings as well as zoning envelopes. The application calculates capacity indicators based on the gross floor area per space use of the plausible buildings. Capacity Indicators analyze population, number of households, jobs, parking spots, generated trips and many other metrics. The indicators are calculated based on assumptions such as average floor space consumption per capita or type of job. These assumptions can be configured by the user. The capacity indicators are displayed in Urban in a dashboard that can be filtered by the whole study area or a user-driven selection.


Does Urban use the Local Government Information Model?

No, Urban’s data model is separate from the Local Government Information Model. It is focused on the representation of Plans and Projects and is specialized to support the procedural generation of zoning envelopes and plausible building forms. You can use parcel and zoning information from the Local Government Data Model to populate the Urban data model.


Can I use Local Government Solution Templates to conduct spatial analysis on Urban Plans and Projects?

Yes. You can access the Plans and Projects in Urban from ArcGIS Pro via the appropriate Feature Layers. These can be used in various analytical processes. The results of such spatial analysis can be published back to Urban as Custom Indicators, our as Context Layers for specific Plans and Projects.


What other type of data can Urban report on besides the Capacity Indicators?

There are various analytical models (some proprietary and some are open source) that are used for planning purposes. Urban can provide inputs to these models, expanding the in-app dashboards. Many times, these models are also localized to the city in which they are used therefore Urban can provide input that may be more detailed.
If you have the model, you can use the results that urban generates, you can show the impact on various other indicators that you are interested in.


Can custom widgets be added to Urban?

No, custom widgets cannot be added to Urban. If you would like to configure your own web application, please use ArcGIS Experience Builder or the ArcGIS API for JavaScript.


Does Urban work for any city scale?

Yes, Urban is designed to work for small and large cities and to a certain extent also on a county and regional level.


How large an area can Urban cover?

There is no limit on how much content Urban can display in the Overview because the data (e.g. buildings) is streamed and loaded on different levels of details depending on your viewport and zoom level. When creating new Plans in Urban, we recommend to keeping the area to cover below 50’000 parcels (or buildings) per Plan for performance reasons and the best possible user experience. However, a city can contain any number of Plans and Plans larger than 50’000 parcels will still work, but speed will be decreased.
Additionally, the Scene Layer technology on ArcGIS Online allows you to scale up to any size as features are loaded (streamed) based on your viewport and zoom level. The level of detail of the 3D buildings are continuously adjusted based on those parameters. Our example city Boston (BPDA) covers an area of 89.63 square miles in Urban. Read more about best practices for large scenes


Do I need to have a 3D Basemap to get started with Urban?

No, you don’t need to have existing 3D content. Of course, we recommend building out a 3D basemap for a better experience and so that more accurate planning decisions can be made. A curated 3D basemap creation workflow can be found here.


How does Urban handle vegetation (e.g. trees, parks, open space)?

It is possible to load in 3D trees (as a SceneLayer) which will also be masked by new developments as it is the case with existing buildings. A 3D tree layer can be produced if you have access to lidar, or if you have a tree points layer. Floodplain and park layers (and similar), if hosted in a WebScene, can be brought into Urban as an indicator or contextual layer. Zones that relate to parks or open space can be added and color schemes can be defined accordingly. Additionally, trees and vegetation layers (2D or 3D) can be added as design context for new Plans.


Are there any professional services required for Urban? For example, do I need a Launch Kit?

No, but it is recommended you go through a launch kit for the initial setup of Urban. You can set up Urban on your own using the data manager within Urban.


Do you have any further questions? Then please get in touch & ask questions here in our GeoNet space.

New Contributor III


Thanks for the awesome resource - it is very informative and helpful.

As I research ArcGIS Urban and become more familiar with the application I have a few questions I have not been able to find much information on. I am curious to what extend the application could be utilized to model and analyze mapping of shocks and stresses (i.e. sea level rise, earthquakes, etc.). I have read about the custom indicators, but don't quite know to what extent these could be used to relate to hazard/sustainability analysis. I have not yet got my hands on the application, and therefore don't know if asking this question is applicable, but wanted to throw it out there as my research has not turned up any instances of these efforts being done within ArcGIS Urban.

Thank you!

Esri Contributor

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your comment  happy to hear that you found this helpful!

Regarding your question: we currently do not have model or analysis capabilities specifically for hazards or sustainability built into Urban. However, there are several ways to combine ArcGIS Urban with results from such an analysis done outside of Urban already today e.g., use it as design context when you do rezoning, in order to take informed decisions:

1. You can include any spatial data as design context in a zoning plan, meaning that while you are editing zones and/or parcels, you can see where hazards occur. You can find more information about design context layers here: Add design context layers—Help | Documentation 

2. Probability of hazards or other metrics can be used as a suitability score on parcels. The suitability helps to select parcels for redevelopment in the Plan Editor. The field which needs to be used for the is called SuitabilityScore in the Parcels polygon layer. This is a functionality that will be improved and extended in the future.

3. If you are looking to share results of such analysis with the public, you can use custom indicators. Custom Indicators are depicting typically data on city scale including a legend an optional charts. You can find more information here: Work with custom indicators—Help | Documentation 

We are also continuously working on improving and extending functionality in Urban when it comes to modelling and simulation. One of the things we are currently working on is extending the list of built-in capacity indicators (Add capacity indicators—Help | Documentation). Currently, we only provide three indicators calculated based on resulting floor spaces and assumptions: population, households and jobs. We will be adding more of these metrics with the next version (released mid-2020), including environmental indicators. 

I encourage you to try ArcGIS Urban already now with our 21-day trial to get a better understanding of its capabilities: Free 21-Day Trial of ArcGIS Urban. In the trail, you can choose from a set of example cities (including Melbourne) and play around with available content (e.g. zoning plans, custom indicators, etc.). 

I would also like to mention here another example that could be of interest for you: Flood Impact in 3D built with the ArcGIS API for JavaScript by Gert van Maren‌: 

Live Demo: 
Code: GitHub - gvanmaren/3D-Flood-Planning-App: 3D Flood Planning test application 

I hope this answers your questions for now  please feel free to get in touch if you have more questions or would like to schedule a demo.

Have a great day!

- Lisa

New Contributor III


Thanks for the quick response!

This is all very helpful and informative. I really do look forward to the environmental indicators being implemented as it will be a big part of what we would like to accomplish using this application in the future. 

I will most definitely try the free version, which will help me with identifying even more why our organization should adopt it moving forward. I will check out the Flood Impact in 3D too as this is something very much needed to analyze where I am

Thank you very much!!


New Contributor II


I've been digging around for samples of the data models required for ArcGIS Urban, and I was wondering if someone could provide those; we're trying to align our new zoning data with Urban requirements, and need a template.  The only way I can find them so far is if I have a licence, which our organization isn't ready for just yet.  Any help is appreciated.

(I'm looking for screen captures or tabular template downloads)

Esri Contributor

Hi @Aaron_DeBoer,

Thanks for your interest in ArcGIS Urban and your message. 

The easiest way to learn more about the data model and also to get some hands-on experience on ArcGIS Urban is probably by signing- up for a free trial on There you'll also find an option to get an Urban trial license assigned to your existing ArcGIS Online organization. 

Our ArcGIS Urban Essential Skills tutorial videos on YouTube might also be of interest to you - especially the ones about the "Data Manager".

Please feel free to reach out if you have more questions.



About the Author
I am a Software Engineer in the ArcGIS Urban Team at Esri R&D Center Zurich. My background is in Geomatics Engineering and Urban Planning and I am passionate about technical solutions that improve the quality and sustainability of urban areas all around the world. Ask me anything related to the tech behind ArcGIS Urban!