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

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.”