Written by Reed Jackson in Daily Journal of Commerce, February 9, 2012
Tourists and Portlanders alike now have the opportunity to tour the city’s architectural history through their cell phones.
The Bosco-Milligan Foundation, one of Oregon’s most active non-profit historic preservation organizations, has teamed up with Tagwhat, a Colorado-based software development company, to create an application that allows users to get information on the history and location – through an interactive mapping system – on over 80 of the city’s most historic buildings.
“We are a repository for architecture and preservation information, and we wanted a way to get some of that information out to new and younger audiences,” said Val Ballestrem, education manager for the foundation. “Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, you can stand on a street corner, turn on the application and have your own little adventure around town.”
Ballestrem said the foundation drew inspiration for the project from a survey they set up in conjunction with Oregon’s 150th anniversary in 2009. That year, members of the public were asked which buildings in the city were their favorites and why. Using the information gathered, the foundation was able to decide what to insert into the application’s database.
After four months of figuring out how to best integrate the information with the Tagwhat system, Ballestrem put the program in the Android and Apple application stores, where users can now download it for free.
“My primary goal was to get us a presence in the world of smartphone tour applications without spending thousands of dollars on app development,” Ballestrem said. “We have the ability to provide content, and Tagwhat presented an affordable, fun and easy way to get that content out there for thousands of people to enjoy.”
Tagwhat works like a content-based GPS navigating system, using satellite-generated maps to showcase information about a user’s current surroundings. Organizations create channels in the Tagwhat network, so content can be added.
For Bosco-Milligan’s channel, a map of Portland is given with icons representing the nearest architectural landmarks. When a user clicks on one of the icons, images and information are given. Users can learn when a building was constructed, who was behind its design and what it served as originally.
Using the application in certain areas of the city can reveal treasure troves of information regarding how the area’s buildings have changed over the past century, as well as what design techniques were popular at the time. If you were to use the application in the Hawthorne District, for example, you would find that the area use to be home to a number of lavishly built homes and theater venues, including the Bagdad Theater, which was originally built in 1927.
“It basically tells you the hidden story of a structure,” said Dave Elchoness, co-founder and CEO of Tagwhat. “It might talk about the history of the location, but it’s not just limited to who designed it. It could be a site where a famous chief once worked, or where a movie scene was filmed.”
The Bosco-Milligan Foundation heard about Tagwhat through the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has been encouraging its members to experiment with new ways to develop interactive tour applications. Elchoness said that a number of historic preservation organizations around the country have got in touch with Tagwhat to create applications, but none are as sophisticated yet as Bosco-Miligan’s.
There is still more work to be done, though. Eventually, Ballestrem wants to have over 150 interactive landmarks in the system. And, even with images and written descriptions, Ballestrem said the potential of what can be done through Tagwhat (mainly video and audio) is not close to being reached. But, even without video content, the application still serves as a new way to discover the old.
“Instead of using the tried and true old methods, we wanted to go through new technologies that would allow us to broaden our reach,” Ballestrem said.
The American Planning Association (APA) announced today that Ladd’s Addition has been designated one of 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2009 by APA's Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value.
APA singled out Ladd’s Addition for its radial street pattern, village green, extensive community gardens, and on-going commitment to planning and civic engagement. Developed as a Victorian-era residence park, Ladd’s Addition is Portland’s most heavily forested, inner-city neighborhood. It serves as an exemplary national model for other communities wanting to create compact, pedestrian-friendly places.