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Bureau of Technology Services

BTS HelpDesk: 503-823-5199

1120 SW 5th Avenue, Suite 450, Portland, OR 97204

Browse our collection of updates, tutorials, and lessons we've learned in the pursuit of a more open government.


New PDX Reporter web app is launched

The BTS eGovernment team announces the launch of a new web-based version of the popular PDX Reporter mobile app. The new app (www.pdxreporter.org) was released on April 27, 2017, as a public beta and is currently available to all residents of Portland. It provides all the features of the native iOS and Android apps that it replaces, promises more streamlined maintenance, and sets the stage for the addition of new features and report types.

Image of new PDX Reporter

 

A Brief History

 In 2010, the City released the first versions of the PDX Reporter mobile app for iOS and Android devices, originally named Citizen Reports. They provided residents a convenient way to report and request service calls to City assets and publicly maintained infrastructure, including parks, traffic signs, street lights, parking, potholes, plugged storm drains, and graffiti. The app was hailed by Mayor Sam Adams as a way to “increase communication between Portlanders and the City, ensuring greater transparency, efficiency and accountability in government.”

From a February 9, 2010, press release issued by the Office of Mayor Sam Adams:

“Using their iPhone, citizens can select the type of issue to report, take a photo, geo-locate the issue via GPS or map, add comments, and send their report directly to the appropriate bureau for resolution. Once submitted, citizens will receive updates directly to their iPhone regarding the status of their issue(s).”

 The first version of PDX Reporter was downloaded by over 3,000 users in its first month and gained an avid following. It received favorable press and generated calls from government officials in other states hoping to follow Portland’s lead.

But native apps have higher development costs, typically requiring different programming languages and development tools for each operating system, and needing a wide array of emulators for testing. As a result, it became difficult for the City to maintain the native versions of PDX Reporter, respond to changes in the mobile platforms, and keep up with requests for new features by stakeholders and the general public.

          Image of old PDX Reporter               Image of new PDX Reporter

                      Original PDX Reporter app                             New web-based PDX Reporter app
                                    

Leveling the Playing Field

The release of HTML5 in 2014, and the adoption of those standards by the major web browsers, changed the mobile app development landscape. Now it was possible to create dynamic web pages that supported many of the features previously only available to native apps. Even better, since HTML5 support is standard across mobile device platforms (and ostensibly across browsers), developers can create one universal version that is instantly deployed to all users, without having to go through the the review and approval process of the app stores, and without users having to manually download updates. It was in this new world of HTML5 that the new PDX Reporter web app was born.

 

The beta version of the web app was soft launched to the general public on April 27, 2017, after just a few months of development and testing. It was created by Greg Clapp and Brittany Smart, members of the BTS eGov team, and can be found at: www.pdxreporter.org.

Now that the new web version is live, the iOS and Android apps will be removed from the app stores in the very near future and will be officially retired in October, 2017. However, they will continue to operate until the retirement date for users who still have them installed. Messaging in the native apps currently directs users to the URL of the new web app version.

Benefits of the new web app version:

  • One codebase and consistent user experience across all platforms and browsers

  • Responsive design scales to fit any screen size for use on any mobile or desktop screen

  • Lower development and support overhead

  • Updates can be deployed instantly, no need for app store review and approval

  • Updates are automatically delivered to users, no need to download new version from app store

  • HTML5 allows functionality to match native app features

How it works:

  • Users register on PortlandOregon.gov, then access the app using their POG account.

  • Users select a report type (Abandoned Auto, Campsite Reporting, Debris in Roadway, etc.), then provide a geographic location, photo, and descriptive text.

  • Reports are submitted to TrackIT for triage and handling by various City bureaus.

  • Users receive email confirmation of new reports, and may view the status of reports from within the app.

Technologies used:

  • HTML5/CSS

  • Javascript/AngularJS

  • Leaflet.js for mapping functionality

  • Base maps from PortlandMaps.com

  • PHP scripts for interacting with the PortlandMaps.com APIs

Looking Ahead

The objective of the first phase of development was to migrate the existing PDX Reporter functionality to the new platform, with minor improvements in design and usability. It will remain a beta product until the next phase of development, when lessons learned and feedback from users will be incorporated and new features added. Lower development overhead and a universal platform opens many doors for future development of PDX Reporter. Future phases will include the addition of new features and more reporting categories based on City and end user priorities.

The new PDX Reporter is here!

PDXReporterThe PDX Reporter app is a convenient way to interact with city bureaus and report problems and maintenance issues within Portland city limits. This app was previously released for iPhone and Android mobile devices, but now it’s available as a web app that can be used on any web-enabled smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. The previous mobile-only version of the app will be retired in late 2017.
 
Not only does the new web app offer a better user experience, but it also provides more frequent bug fixes and updates without having to download a new version. The update process is simpler for our developers and transparent to you. It allows us to more easily implement new features and ensures it will be a useful tool for years to come.
 
To use the new app, visit www.pdxreporter.org and log in using your PortlandOregon.gov account, or the account you used with the previous version of the app. Login is required, but registration is free and open to the public--just use the “sign up” link on the login page. If you save the app to your home screen, you can use it just like any other app on your smartphone or tablet. See the in-app help page for more information.

Technical Support site for PortlandOregon.gov

Announcing the technical support site for employees responsible for their bureau or office websites. This site is intended to convey best practices, how-to information, helpfiles, and the latest updates to the City's content management system (CMS). Please visit the site at: www.portlandoregon.gov/support if you are a content editor or content manager supporting your bureau or office website.

Please also familiarize yourself with the latest new features and changes to the CMS by visiting our support blog CMS Tool Updates.

image of photo cropping

A Brief History of Open Data at the City of Portland

Overview

The City of Portland has been a leader in eGovernment and open data. This post provides a brief look at past, present, and future efforts to show how the City's commitment to open data has evolved, from the original resolution passed by City Council in 2009 to today.

Timeline

  • 2009    City Council adopts resolution no. 36735 in the fall of 2009, formally committing the City of Portland to meeting the challenges of open data.

  • 2010    CivicApps is launched -- a first-of-its-kind data portal, containing over 120 datasets from the City of Portland and regional partners.
    The CivicApps app contest garners great publicity for the project, and receives over 40 submissions of applications built on open data, many of which are still in use today.

  • 2011     PDX CitySync is created as a way to take open data to the next level, positioning government as a platform, by not only providing developers a new platform to build civic apps on, but to provide data in context to non-technical users, through personalization and data visualization.

  • 2012    The CivicApps API is launched to give developers more easier access to open data releases to facilitate and encourage application development.


Current Efforts

Leading by Example
By building applications and widgets for various bureaus using open data, we hope to show the possibilities, utility, and value of providing datasets for public use. Some examples include:

  • Police / Fire Incident mapping
  • PBOT street maintenance dashboard
  • Water district lookup tool and drinking water advisory mapping
  • 'Jobs in the City' found on the Mayor and BHR homepages

CivicApps 2.0
A refresh of the CivicApps platform is currently under development with the following objectives:

  • Facilitate collaboration between developers and non-developers
  • Increase participation through release of high-value or compelling datasets
  • Provide developers with full-featured API access to a majority of data catalog

How We Do It: Making Shapefiles More Accessible with Open Source Tools

The CivicApps data catalog has a ton of great resources, many of which are shapefiles, a proprietary format from the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). While these formats are familiar to those who work in GIS and other mapping areas, they often present challenges to developers looking to use them for data visualization or other applications.

This article gives an overview on taking ESRI shapefiles and converting them to easy-to-use GeoJSON, while translating the state plane x & y coordinates to the more familiar lat/long combinations.

What you'll need:

  • A shapefile encoded with state plane coordinates
  • An installation of QGIS, an open-source GIS environment

Step 1: Find a dataset

Browse the CivicApps catalog (www.civicapps.org/datasets) and find a shapefile you’d like to use. For this example we’ll use the Portland metro area zip codes dataset, found here.


Step 2: Extract the archive

The ZIP file you’ll download will contain a number of files related to the ESRI format. One file of interest here is the metadata XML file, which contains a number of interesting details about the shape file.

Zipcodes_PDX Data Directory

Step 3: Open the shape file in QGIS

When you open QGIS, you’ll get a blank workspace. To open our shapefile, go to: Layer > Add Vector Layer in the toolbar.

 

Layer Options in QGIS

 

Click “Browse” and select the zipcode_metro.shp file. This will open the shape file in QGIS.

Selecting the shapefile from the data directory

Step 4: Convert to GeoJSON

Once you’ve got the shape file open, go to Layer > Save As... in the toolbar. Under “Format”, select “GeoJSON”. To convert the state plane coordinates to lat/long, click the “Layer CRS” drop down under “Encoding” and choose “Selected CRS”.

Saving the vector layer

The CRS, or “coordinate reference system”, will be used to transform our state plane coordinates into lat/long pairs. To filter the options, type in “NAD83” (more info here) and select NAD83 under the Geographic Coordinates Systems group at the top of the “Coordinate Systems of the world” list.

Setting the coordinates for transformation

Once all your selections have been made, hit ‘OK’ and your geoJSON will be saved!

Hopefully this short guide will help make government data more accessible to you, if you're unfamiliar with the world of GIS. Take a look at the CivicApps data catalog to see what's available, and enjoy your new access to geographical data!