Portland, Ore.: Seeking common ground

The government of Portland, Ore., is set up in silos, with a mayor and four commissioners individually overseeing bureaus, so it's not surprising that the city Web site has followed the same pattern. Each of the government bureaus has its own Web page, designed internally and with only the loosest of connections through the city site.

That will change. A much more integrated, interactive site "is in formulation now internally," according to Art Alexander, a member of the Portland Bureau of Information Technology's strategic technology planning team, and some of that functionality could start appearing on a newly designed site by the end of this year.

But there's a problem when there's no clear strategy from the beginning for building a Web site, according to Tim Liszt, research coordinator for the Portland Development Commission (PDC), who thinks the current city site (www.ci.portland.or.us) is "weak." Trying to impose order retroactively is a difficult way to develop a Web site, he said.

The PDC — somewhat exceptional in being charged with both economic development and housing redevelopment for Portland — has its own extensive site (www.portlanddev.org), which is largely designed around providing documents on a round-the-clock basis to businesses and others about the Portland economy. Officials plan to launch in April a Web site specifically tailored to small businesses, which Liszt said is an underserved population online.

Theoretically, as a major element of the Portland government, the PDC should have a close connection to the main city Web site, but it has "not paid that much attention [to it], to be frank," said Martha Richmond, the PDC's public affairs manager.

"We have just worked to make sure our site is competitive with the economic development sites of other cities. The hope is that businesses with come straight to us, rather than go through the city site first," she said.

Because Portland is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the United States, it's perhaps inevitable that job inquiries are far and away the most popular subject of the 65,000 hits a day that the Portland city site receives, followed by requests about population, hotels, events and maps of the area.

The future, interactive site will have a particular Portland flavor, however. It will focus on providing online forms where residents can pose questions to its government and receive answers, Alexander said. The city will use the site to provide a forum for online debate and discussion and to increase neighborhood involvement in the city government.

"That kind of e-democracy is a big thing for a place like Portland," he said.

Next: Manchester, N.H.: Help from the outside

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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