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Local governments have always struggled to convince people to come to a town meeting — and especially night meetings in the rain!
In Portland, while we have a culture of vibrant civic engagement, it’s still hard to convince people to leave their home and show up for a public discussion. In response, we have created a new, technically-responsive and fun community engagement tool.
The new tool is the online Map App. It is one of the first planning tools of its kind in the nation. This interactive map was created entirely in-house by our geographic information system (GIS) team. As BPS staff share this dynamic and engaging web-based mapping platform with the community, I am happy to see the level of discussion and the new ideas that are being proposed.
Four years ago, the newly formed Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) embarked on a strategic planning process, including a goal to find new ways to engage and inspire the community. The Map App is one way we are delivering on that goal and walking our talk.
The interactive series of maps show the geography and location of various policy proposals. Visitors to the Map App can view a variety of maps, overlay information layers, see areas of concern or change, make comments and view comments from others.
With our vision for a prosperous, healthy and equitable city, and our in-house expertise, BPS has created an opportunity within the Comprehensive Plan Update process for our work to be more accessible and relevant to all members of the community. For example, in mid-October we brought together about 50 members from the Comprehensive Plan Policy Expert Groups (PEGs) to discuss issues that overlap in order to align potential solutions. For example, they could discuss such integrated trends and issues as the overlap among: (1) park development, transportation needs, and income, or (2) housing projections, population growth and transit.
The Map App can be used in group settings, or from the comfort of your own home anytime of the day or night. The Map App has been picked up by some of Portland’s most active blogs, while local journalists have been immersing themselves in the maps, revealing an appetite for the data-rich content.
Within the Map App, you can make comments and leave them for staff and others to review. You can also share your comments via email, Facebook and Twitter (@PortlandBPS), including the specific maps where you have left comments. This is really an unprecedented opportunity for all members of the public to express their ideas clearly and offer feedback from home, or at their neighborhood or community meetings, and at whatever time and place is convenient for them.
Of course, the Map App doesn’t mean an end to community meetings. We will still be available to meet with your neighborhood or group. (See the Comprehensive Plan story to learn about upcoming Map App conversations in your area.) I hope you will engage with the Map App soon. Play with the various layers; combine content and geography and demographic characteristics; and then use the commenting “pins” to tell us what you think. Thousands of people have taken a look so far, we hope you will join the conversation soon.
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability