Since an increasingly large percentage of Bristol's population is using the internet daily to work, play and gather information -- something that's true for all of my blog readers -- it's crucial that a city government tries to keep up with the times.
I thought I'd start a weekly review of how various Bristol government websites are handling the task. I'll even grade them, from F to A.
Today, because I don't want to sound too harsh, I'll begin with a section I know is doing a good job: the land use division of public works.
Now the first thing you'll note is that this is about as far from flashy and hip as a website can be. City Planner Alan Weiner is not going to get hired away by the Disney Channel.
But the site is clear and simple.
There are links to the various boards - zoning, planning, wetlands, etc. - as well as to major studies such as the Route 72 Corridor Study and the city's master plan. The land use regulations are also right there.
The board links are up to date with the current agendas, minutes, and hearing notices.
The membership lists of each board are up to date, too, which is nice. They don't include email addresses or phone numbers for board members, but perhaps with land use, that wouldn't be such a great idea anyhow.
So with a minimum of effort, someone can easily find out an awful lot about land use in Bristol and what's going on.
What isn't there? Details about current applications, which could be submitted in electronic format so they'd be freely available online, too. But that's probably not going to happen for awhile yet. I don't even know if the city could require it.
Anyway, the land use office's website gets a solid A, particularly if you stack it up against what other municipal divisions are doing. We'll get to them in future weeks.
Grades to date:
Public works land use division - A
Update: Well, it turns out that the land use office website is even better than I thought.
In fact, I'm told by the city planner, "each application included on the pre-meeting legal notice and agenda of each land use board's upcoming meeting is linked (via its application number) to an electronic copy of the application, along with a "locater" map that highlights the subject property."
The office scans the applications as they come, then prepares and scans in the accompanying locater map.
That's terrific. This is absolutely top notch.
Here's what City Planner Alan Weiner wrote to me in full:
Thanks for the kind words on your blog about the Land Use Office's website; your acknowledgment of our efforts is greatly appreciated. Largely through Kacie's [Kacie Costello, the assistant planner] hard work (and Web savvy), we strive to keep the site comprehensive, timely, informative, and user-friendly to everyone who uses it. At the same time, we're constantly on the lookout for ways in which to improve the site, looking to add features that will make it even more useful to the public.
One point of clarification: near the end of your article, you observe, "What isn't there? Details about current applications, which could be submitted in electronic format so they'd be freely available online, too." In fact, each application included on the pre-meeting legal notice and agenda of each land use board's upcoming meeting is linked (via its application number) to an electronic copy of the application, along with a "locater" map that highlights the subject property. (We scan in each application as it's received, then prepare and scan in the accompanying "locater" map.)
As to the design of the website itself, I agree completely that it's pretty unspectacular, but unfortunately we're bound by the limitations of the master template that the city uses. Believe me, I wish we could improve its looks!
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org