Metro provides a wide range of services for greater Portland, including overseeing the garbage and recycling system, affordable housing, regional parks, planning for the future of transportation and land use, and cultural amenities like the Oregon Convention Center, the Portland Expo Center, performing arts venues and the Oregon Zoo. Data helps drive decisions for and implementation of all of that work. To meet those data needs, Metro’s Data Resource Center collects, manages and distributes data through a program called the Regional Land Information System, or RLIS.
Since the inception of the RLIS in the late 1980s, Metro has worked with local partners to collect and combine geographic information system (GIS) data into a seamless dataset for use in decision-making across greater Portland. The work of Metro’s partners and data contributors ensures that the nearly 200 GIS data layers in RLIS remain current and accurate.
History of RLIS as the data resource for greater Portland
RLIS began with 10 data layers that Metro needed to develop the 2040 Growth Concept, a 50-year plan for the growth of greater Portland adopted in 1995. Metro staff collected and organized the data, which took thousands of hours spanning two years. Due to this extensive effort, when Metro decided to make the data available to external users in 1996, it was priced at $15,000 (roughly $35,000 in 2023 dollars), not including future updates.
Technological advances over the years allowed Metro to streamline the data update processes and perform the work on more accessible and better hardware, meaning the cost of creating and maintaining RLIS data was greatly reduced. In order to better serve the needs of local partners, the price of a data subscription has been reduced multiple times over the years, from the original $15,000 to most recently $480 per year, with most of the data in the catalog available at no cost.
Because of the growing importance of geospatial technology – as well as the decrease in cost of RLIS data collection and maintenance – RLIS has grown in scope and reach. Today it serves as the spatial data infrastructure for greater Portland, supporting the work of local and state governments, private companies, non-profits, students and community organizations.
Web browser access through RLIS Discovery and moving to open data
In 2021, the Metro took another step towards increasing access to the data by rebuilding its data platform, RLIS Discovery, using the ArcGIS Hub platform. The new website allows people to explore our data in a web browser without any special GIS software or experience.
This improvement meant that the largest barrier to accessing RLIS data was no longer the technology, but the $480 price of the subscription, which was still too high for many individuals and small organizations.
Across greater Portland, there is racial disparity in household income: Black, Native American, Latine, Pacific Islander and multiracial households, on average, earn less than the median household income. To address the financial barrier to this ever expanding tool – especially one that disproportionately impacts people of color – Metro has decided to eliminate the annual subscription entirely.
"Removing a cost-related barrier to accessing RLIS data improves Metro’s ability to serve a diverse range of users by ensuring that the financial impacts of systemic racism do not prevent individuals from accessing our data," said Madeline Steele, Metro data stewardship manager.
Now, almost all the data that was available via subscription is now available as open data. This means that users can look at historical aerial imagery in their browser and see how their neighborhood has changed over the years. They can perform simple analysis on our tax lot data, such as mapping residential tax lots that have market values above the median home price for the region or examining where properties have sold in the last year. And property owners can review taxing districts, like water districts, to see boundaries and details of annexations, which allows them to better understand their property taxes.
Business and governments can easily display RLIS data in their public-facing web applications, with many local governments’ using RLIS data in their web maps, such as the Explorer app from the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning Services.
Still a cost and restrictions for owner/taxpayer information
The one piece of the RLIS catalog that still requires an access fee is tax lot owner and/or taxpayer names and addresses. A public version of the tax lot data without owner/taxpayer information is available for free, but due to privacy concerns from the counties that supply Metro with this information, tax lots with owner/taxpayer information are available only for business or organizational activity and require payment of a one-time access fee. This fee will be waived for users that had active RLIS subscriptions as of April 2022, and governments and non-profits are eligible for a discounted rate. If you are conducting work on behalf of an organization and require access to the full tax lot data, contact the Metro’s Data Resource Center at [email protected].
Additionally, the raw photos and three most recent years of aerial imagery services collected through the Regional Aerial Photo Consortium have never been included in the RLIS subscription and separate fees still apply to that data. More information is available on Metro’s aerial photography page.
Get notices on RLIS data updates
If you would like to join the mailing list for quarterly notifications about data updates, sign up here.
To learn more about the history of the RLIS program, you can watch a recording of Metro staff’s customer keynote presentation at the Esri Developer Summit earlier this spring.