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Meet the makers of the Map App: BPS’s skilled GIS team brings technical maps to life

BPS E-News July 2014

The interactive Map App is an essential tool for sharing, learning about and commenting on the proposed Comprehensive Plan maps. Under the leadership of Kevin Martin, BPS Technical Services Manager, Carmen Piekarski and Derek Miller have been working to collect, organize and visualize data, while developing a user-friendly web interface.

Data can be complex and messy, and Carmen says it’s her job to “keep it clean.” Working with geographic databases in Esri ArcGIS and SQL Server software, she coordinates with BPS District Liaisons and staff in other City bureaus to collect, maintain and track changes to the data for the Comprehensive Plan. With this information she creates maps on themes like land use changes, transportation and infrastructure projects, urban design concepts and environmental issues.

Carmen studied geography at Portland State University, then joined Washington County’s planning department before a career detour working at an Alaskan fishing lodge. Lured back to Portland by an offer at BPS, she has been with the bureau since 1997. She says the work is "always interesting” and enjoys that her job involves finding creative ways to solve problems. Outside the office, she stays busy training Gracie, her 4-year-old thoroughbred horse.

Derek built the front-end user interface of the Map App, which lets users access and display the data and maps. JavaScript code “does the heavy lifting” of making the app run, say Derek. It’s a customized blend of Esri software components combined with JavaScript and HTML/CSS. Together they coordinate the back-end databases with the interface users see on their desktop browser or mobile device.

Originally from Kentucky, Derek joined BPS after a stint in Nashville with the Tennessee Department of Transportation. He studied cartography and data analysis with University of Oregon’s Infographics Lab while getting his master’s in geography. His hobbies take him outdoors, where he bikes, plays soccer and hikes the Columbia Gorge with his wife.

Learn about repair, reuse, reducing waste and more at a community event this summer

BPS E-News July 2014

BPS staff and our partners are hitting the streets this summer to talk with residents and answer questions about the programs and services we offer at these upcoming summer events.

Be Cart Smart – Provides garbage, recycling and composting service to Portland residents.

Be Resourceful – Offers tips and ideas for making simple changes in everyday choices to save more and live more

Your Sustainable City – Brings together City of Portland bureaus that bring information and resources to Portland residents to help conserve and protect our natural resources.

July 27 – Northeast Sunday Parkways: Be Cart Smart and Your Sustainable City

July 29 – Urban Nest Realty Repair Café (N Portland)

August 7 – Glenfair National Night Out (E Portland): Be Resourceful

August 14 – Rosewood Initiative Repair Café: Co-sponsored by BPS, City of Gresham, Repair PDX and The Rosewood Initiative

August 16 – Multnomah Days Street Festival: Be Resourceful and Your Sustainable City

August 24 – Southeast Sunday Parkways: Be Resourceful

Improving the Zoning Code, one small project at a time

BPS E-News July 2014

City Council approved most of the code amendments in RICAP 6 on June 11, and those updated regulations are already in effect.

Council spent additional time deliberating on and refining the proposed rules for accessory short-term rentals. Following a work session and two subsequent hearings, Council unanimously adopted the new rules for Airbnb-type overnight rentals. The new regulations will allow Portland residents to rent one to two bedrooms in a single-dwelling unit, such as a house or duplex, to overnight guests. A low-cost permit and streamlined system will make it possible — and now legal — for Portlanders who want to take advantage of this new type of home business.

These new short-term rental rules will go into effect on August 29. The Bureau of Development Services website will soon offer more information about the process and how to sign up for a permit. 

Such rentals, however, are not allowed in multi-dwelling structures, such as apartments and condos. Mayor Charlie Hales convened a task force of multi-family, affordable housing, renter and design/build stakeholders to assess the impact of including these types of dwellings on housing affordability and availability in a tight rental market. Council will consider their findings and recommendations later this year.

RICAP 7 to address 44 more items

With RICAP 6 completed, the bureau can turn its attention to a proposed work plan for RICAP 7, which includes seven minor policy items and 37 technical corrections and clarifications. As with previous RICAPs, the items are diverse and touch various sections of the City’s Zoning Code, such as:

  • Processes for minor changes following design review approval.
  • Restricting concurrent pre-application with land use submittals.
  • Clarifying the definition of household living uses as related to disabled individuals.
  • Evaluating height measurement methodology.
  • Clarifying the Ladd’s Addition District Street Tree Guidelines. 

The Planning and Sustainability Commission will review the RICAP 7 work plan at their public hearing at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 26.

Accessory structures to be addressed through a separate regulatory improvement “midcap” project

Concurrently, the Code Development Team will tackle issues related to accessory structures, including distinctions between the regulations that cover garages, sheds, guest houses and accessory dwelling units. This “midcap” project (i.e., larger than RICAP, but smaller than a large-scale project) is slated to take up to 18 months, which gives staff more time to solicit stakeholder input and involvement. It will also examine the distinctions between regulations in residential and non-residential zones, and the requirements for “attached” versus “detached” accessory structures. The scope and detailed timeline for this project are still being finalized. Sign up to stay informed about RICAP7 and the Accessory Structure Midcap.

Portlanders can zoom in to their neighborhoods with the interactive Map App

BPS E-News July 2014

Built entirely in-house by the geographic information system (GIS) team at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the new Map App is intended to engage more Portlanders in the planning process. It gives people more options to learn about and comment on the Proposed Draft without having to attend a meeting or read long documents, because you can view the maps online anytime, anywhere, on your desktop, tablet or smart phone.

With a built-in translation function, powered by Google Translate, it even provides text in many languages. For people who don’t have access to computers (or don’t like to use them), printed copies of the maps are available as PDF files and as large format district-wide maps displayed at Neighborhood Coalition offices.

Reasons for and benefits of the Map App

This isn’t the first Map App the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has created. Version 1 was created for the Comprehensive Plan Working Draft. Showing some 80-plus map layers of background information, it is being updated and will be available to the public again in August, as an additional resource/tool.

Some 22,000 people visited the Map App v1, enough to overflow the Moda Center. The new Map App for the Proposed Draft (v2) is an attempt to “grow that table of decision-makers even more,” said BPS Technical Services Manager Kevin Martin.

Martin notes that feedback received on the first Map App indicated that users wanted to learn how these proposed changes would affect them. “They also want good design, more manageable bits of information, and they want to have a conversation — to see what other people are saying about the proposals.”

In addition to addressing those requests, Martin and others on the Tech Services team wanted to ensure the new Map App was completely mobile-friendly, “so we had to hone our messages way down to fit a very small screen.”

Online mapping tools like these are “just another tool in the public engagement toolbox,” said Martin. “We learned from the last app that we can reach a lot more people whose attention is being pulled in many different directions.”

Building the Map App took about three months of development time for GIS staff, all while working on several other projects (see story below). And that doesn’t count the data wrangling, mapping and content creation that was also required. “If I had to guess, I'd say it cost roughly $10,000,” Martin speculated. “If we paid a consultant to do the same thing, we'd be looking at $100,000 minimum.”

Response rates

A week after the launch of the Proposed Draft, the Map App has had roughly 6,600 views and received about 170 comments. “That’s well above the traffic of the first version,” commented Martin. “It took three to four weeks to get to that number with v1. That’s pretty excellent.”

Problem Solved 2014: Businesses from around Portland shared successes and challenges at Sustainability at Work's third Problem Solved event on July 22

BPS E-News July 2014

We captured the top tips from attendees, as well as success stories that you may be able to replicate at your own organization.

Top tips


Start small

  • Small changes are easier to make, and it’s easier to capitalize on successes.
  • Pilot new practices – with a small group, or for a short amount of time – before implementing on a large scale.


  • Focus on employee education at each step of a new initiative.
  • Share information in multiple ways and places: meetings, emails and web content.

Know your culture

  • Find messaging, actions, and activities that will resonate with your coworkers.
  • Know what motivates your coworkers – like recognition, prizes, or food – to take action.

Get support

  • Strategically engage management to make sure they have your back.
  • Use Sustainability at Work staff for guidance – that’s why we’re here!


  • Make your achievements known, and have fun with it!
  • Celebrate within your Green Team, or involve all staff in a celebration.


Success stories


Integral Consulting

  • Replaced parking subsidies with subsidized transit passes and bike incentives.
  • Reduced their car miles traveled by 20,000 miles.
  • Increased transit participation by 44 percent.


Fortis Construction

  • Removed desk-side trash cans and made sure everyone had a desk-side recycling bin.
  • Set up extra recycling – Styrofoam, odd plastics - to be taken to a recycling depot.
  • Some staff have started collecting “beyond the curb” at home, now that they’ve learned how at work.


Ready to make your organization more sustainable?

Contact Sustainability at Work to connect with an advisor.

The next Problem Solved event will take place in early 2015. Sign up for Sustainability at Work’s e-newsletter to stay informed about Problem Solved and other sustainability tips for businesses in Portland.