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I'm a new user of Quantum GIS (1.7.3) and I need to repeat a task multiple times, so I'm wondering if there is a quicker way to do the following (with three or more polygon layers - each layer has a single polygon):

  1. Union
  2. Dissolve
  3. Buffer

The effect will be to have three separate single-polygons shapefiles merged into one (larger) single polygon shapefile, with a buffer around it.

Answers in PostGIS would be useful too as my data is stored there. Thanks!

Edit: Adding PostGIS information

The multiple polygons I want to Union-Dissolve-Buffer are the result of a catchment basin point table that I've created in PostGIS, converted (in R) to an alpha-hull (i.e. concave hull) polygon shapefile using the CRAN alphahull package. To create the original catchment table in PostGIS, for example, I do this:

CREATE TABLE catchment_10304 as
    (select sum(cost) from (
       SELECT * FROM shortest_path('
       SELECT gid AS id,
          start_id::int4 AS source,
          end_id::int4 AS target,
          newcost::float8 AS cost
       FROM network',
       false)) as foo ) as cost
from node;

CREATE TABLE catchment1_10304 AS 
SELECT * FROM catchment_10304 WHERE cost < 1364;

Then I do it for three different nodes (representing the boundaries of a region). To create the total catchment area for the region, I want to Union-dissolve-buffer with the three or more individual catchment area tables.

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Pretty similar to this question… – Francisco Puga Mar 6 '12 at 9:51
If you post your create table statements, we can work on a PostGIS answer. – underdark Mar 6 '12 at 17:26
I posted the PostGIS table creation, but I convert them to a polygon alphahull before combining. If I could do the alphahull-polygon conversion in PostGIS that would simplify things. – baha-kev Mar 6 '12 at 19:10
You can do alpha shapes in PostGIS if you install pgRouting:… – underdark Mar 6 '12 at 21:10
Great, thanks. That will save me a step in R. – baha-kev Mar 7 '12 at 1:05

You can try something like this:

WITH unioned AS
SELECT id, ST_Union(geom_4269) AS geom, cost FROM catchment_10304
    GROUP BY id, cost
SELECT id, ST_ConcaveHull(geom, 0.8), cost FROM unioned

First we union the shapes each into a single multipoint (the group by allows us to keep the original fields), then we use ST_ConcaveHull ( to create a concave hull.

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