Open Government and Civic Innovation on Display at Portland’s CivicApps Awards

What does the innovation on display at the Civic Apps contest by developers in Portland, Oregon mean to the city’s mayor?

“It’s bringing to the world knowledge of what exists in the real world but is so often unknown,” said Mayor Sam Adams in an interview at the awards ceremony for the winners of the contest.

“In Portland, like I think most cities, when people are armed with knowledge, they make wiser choices,” he said, pointing to applications like PDX Bus as examples of innovation that actually help citizens to navigate the city better.

Does open data lead to more economic value creation in the private sector and metropolitan areas alike?

“We are seeing folks that are sole proprietorships hire folks to help them build their business, their app business, their online business with our data sets.” he said. “For us, data has always been there, in some cases for decades. Putting it to use for the public and help people make money while they do it – we intend to be the open source capitol of the nation – and this is one contribution we can make, with our data sets.”

What’s next? “What CivicApps is about in part, providing the data, is sparking relationships, relationships which lead to economic opportunities,” he said. “Webtrends, Microsoft meets the local hacker or coder tonight at this event, who knows what will happen. Our job is to provide the data, provide the opportunity for relationships to occur, provide what in comparison is a tiny litte bit of money, a little incentive for people to keep going. And it’s also fun. It make the city more fun to live in, because you know what’s there.”

That incentive, incidentally, amounted to $1000 for each of the winners of the second round of Civic Apps awards, with another $3000 going to the Best of Show winner, This afternoon, Skip Newberry, economic development policy advisor to Mayor Adams, congratulated the winners of CivicApps on Twitter.

Congrats to @caseorganic @elsewisemedia @pdxmele @maxogden & John Mosser for their award-winning @civicapps! #opensource #gov20 #teamadamsless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Most Useful App and Best of Show

Amber Case for

As Mayor Adams mentioned later in the program, this Web app could be useful in a snowstorm in Oregon or, if adapted more broadly, for crisis response around the country or world.

App description: “This application is a resource for citizens, medical teams and governments before, during and after disasters. allows mobile users to send an emergency GPS beacon to a real-time map. Crises responders can view all of the help requests on the webpage, along with hospitals and fire stations, real-time 911 calls related to natural disasters. Ground teams can easily use on their mobile phones to send notices of supplies and terrain reports in real time. Remote helpers can easily see the whole picture on the website’s real-time map, handle help and information requests, and send messages to the network. supports subscription to group messages via SMS, AIM, Jabber and Twitter. No application installation is required. Location beacons can be sent simply by going to on a mobile phone.”

Most Appealing

Matt Blair for PDX Trees.

App description: “PDX Trees is an app for iPhone and iPod Touch devices that makes it easy to find and and enjoy them. With this app, you can:

  • Search for nearby trees and see them on a map.
  • Tap a pin to see the name and view details for that particular tree.
  • Take and upload a photo of a Heritage Tree you’re visiting.
  • View photos of the tree taken by other tree enthusiasts.
  • Email a friend about the tree (includes tree name and location where available)
  • Read more about a type of tree from Wikipedia, without leaving the app.”

Most Original

Melelani Sax-Barnett for Portland Bike to Transit.

App Description: “This is a simple, handy web map that helps you figure out how to ride your bike to transit. It lets you choose from a variety of base layers, and toggle transit stops, routes, and current bike routes. You can also query transit stops and routes for basic information. I made this for a Web GIS class at PSU and I’m a total beginner (with some code thanks to Professor Percy and OpenLayers).”

Best Use of Data

Max Ogden for Civic Apps Data Previewer

“This helped make our data useful to a lot of other developers and the general public,” said Mayor Adams. “Why take it on?”

“I saw all of this great data at the core when civic apps launched,” said Ogden. “When you get data into the Web format, you get Web developers who are really used to making human interfaces for things make them.”

App Description: “A web application to preview any of the public geo data on CivicApps from your web browser. You can choose a dataset and view that data on a map. Individual objects are clickable and can provide details (metadata).”

Civic Choice

Joseph Mosser for PDXTrian

App Description: “Pdxtrian is a simple utility for riders of Portland’s excellent mass transit system, TriMet.

  • Uses GPS to find nearby transit stops
  • Displays a map of the stop location
  • Displays a list upcoming arrivals
  • Allows you to save stops and look them up anytime”

The livestream of the awards ceremony is embedded below:

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.


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