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

Technical Support site for

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: 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.

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A Brief History of Open Data at the City of Portland


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.


  • 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 ( 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!