Productivity Tools for ArcGIS
by Richard Powers, ASLA

Ever since Ian McHarg first successfully demonstrated in his book Design with Nature the multi-disciplinary approach of polygon overlay to identify and quantify viable sustainable alternatives to large scale site development, landscape architects have strived to follow this holistic approach to design. McHarg’s philosophy went beyond the idea that “form must follow function” by demonstrating that sustainable design must also include the recognition and understanding of the natural environment within which it is placed. His method of analyzing social, economic, ecological, and geographical data was the foundation for what is now known collectively as the Geographical Information System (GIS).

Following in McHarg’s foots steps was Jack Dangermond, a landscape architect who founded the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) in 1969, which was then a privately-held consulting firm that specialized in land use analysis projects. Influenced by the work of Ian McHarg, Dangermond and his team developed a computer-based, core set of application processes and tools that are now used worldwide to display and analyze geographic features (points, lines, and polygons) with an associated database management tool for assigning attributes to these features. The once laborious task of using Mylar overlays, complicated statistical and spatial analysis, and presentation graphics is now accomplished efficiently through an effective suite of powerful programs and tools.

As GIS technology has progressed, so has its complexity and functionality. These complexities fostered interest in the ESRI user community to develop tools that streamlined the more complex tasks, and enhanced the ease of use and efficiency of the everyday tasks. Known as ArcGIS, these tools are an integrated collection of GIS software products that provides a standards-based platform for spatial analysis, data management, and mapping. ArcGIS is scalable and can be integrated with other enterprise systems such as work order management, business intelligence, and executive dashboards. The ArcScripts database was developed as an online venue for sharing scripts designed to work with ESRI software. This database is a repository of tools developed by everyday users and programmers who saw the need to streamline or augment a particular process that they used frequently .These scripts are too numerous to describe here but are available to all users at the ESRI Arcsripts webpage. It is safe to say that there are tools found here that will help any ArcGIS user.

Over the years, others have developed programs and tools that expanded many of the most useful ArcGIS scripts and are available as freeware, shareware, or for a user fee.

Typically, we all become more specialized in one area or another of GIS functionality and project experience. However, for day-to-day use, I have found several tools that stand out in the crowd and have worked especially well for me under for broad range of applications. Each of these toolsets provides a wide range of vector spatial analysis, shape conversion, and table management capabilities.
One excellent suite of editing tools has been developed by ET Spatial Techniques. The GeoWizard and GeoTools toolsets enable ArcGIS users to analyze and manipulate spatial data efficiently, as well as enabling the users to create and maintain topographically correct databases. The available free version will accommodate most day-to-day needs, while the registered version includes new tools and expands the capabilities of the tools found in the non-registered version.

Another very useful toolset is Hawth’s Analysis Tools, which was developed by Hawthorne Beyer and is designed to perform spatial analysis and functions that cannot be conveniently accomplished with an out-of-the-box ArcGIS. While most of these tools were written within the context of ecological applications, many functions are applicable to other disciplines.

One of the first and most popular toolsets available early on to ESRI GIS users was the XTools extension. XTools was originally developed for Arcview 3.x and was distributed via the ESRI Arcsripts webpage as a free tool. This extension provides the user with a set of useful and powerful vector, spatial analysis, shape conversion, and table management tools. XTools has since been replaced by XTools Pro developed by Data East LLC specifically for the new ArcGIS environment. The latest version, XTools Pro 6.0 has been re-designed, enhanced, and extended to provide an exceptional level of functionality and performance. XTools Pro is available for a fee from Data East LLC.

For the manipulation of raster images, particularly the need to compress large images to JPG format without significant loss of image detail, JPEG Imager is a very useful tool. JPEG Imager will convert over 28 image types to JPEG format. This can be especially useful when converting large orthographic images which typically can be over 1gigbyte in size. One valuable feature of JPEG Imager is that the geospatial reference of the original image is not lost during the compression process. As an example, I recently converted a 500MB .TIFF file to a 50MG .JPG file by simply renaming the .TIFF world file (TFW) to the JPEG world file extension (JPW). The projection of the image was preserved. Compression parameters are interactive and results can be observed on the fly using a side-by-side comparison to the original. JPEG Imager includes a basic set of image manipulation and enhancing operations such as resample, crop, rotation, gamma correction, and others. For managing multiple images at once JPEG Imager also has a built in batch processor.

The last tool that I would like to mention is the OmniFormat suite of tools, which is a free document conversion utility that allows dynamic conversion and image manipulation of over 75 file formats including .PDFs to multiple image types. The free version does display a sponsor page but it is a small price to pay for the functionality of the software. PDF995 which is part of the OmniFormat suite allows users to create .PDF files by simply selecting the "print" command from any application, including GIS and CAD. I have found that the .PDF file sizes have typically been much smaller than when using other .PDF convertors in the market (including Adobe products), while still maintaining resolution. While these “productivity” tools are by no means all that are available, I have found them to be very useful and reliable on a day-to-day basis. If you find these tools or any other tools to be useful, either in the GIS or Cad platforms, let other Computing PPN members know on the e-Network.

Richard Powers, ASLA, is a Senior Project Manager at S&ME, Inc. and Vice Chair of the Computing PPN. He can be reached at: 

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