Remember when the Internet was going to make our lives easier? Everything was going to be available anytime, anywhere. Sometimes it feels like the web has just made everything more difficult, more complicated. Yet sometimes, when we look up from our iPhones for a minute, some folks are trying to make the business of civic life easier.
The wizards at Planetizen recently released a study of how city planning departments are using (or not using) the internet. They benchmarked 12 indicators for over 500 cities’ efforts online, reporting analysis in three categories of Small (<100,000 population), Medium (100k-199,999) and Large (>200k). Their idea:
Emerging technologies are fundamentally changing how we plan, develop, and manage our urban areas. Planning professionals are increasingly being called on to adopt new technologies to plan, communicate planning concepts, and engage citizens in the planning process.
The short version of what they found:
- The web is going mobile—now about 25% of all web traffic—but not many city planners have figured that out yet. Only 15% of city planning department websites were considered “mobile-friendly” design.
- We haven’t figured out social media either. Only 7% of the sample are on Facebook, and 6% on Twitter. Then again, many cities still block social media from their own networks.
- Off-the-shelf content management systems will help us keep our websites up-to-date.
- They like HTML over PDF. I’m not convinced, but I’m somewhat of an old fart from the desktop publishing era. I expect we’ll be designing more documents in dual (dueling?) format, PDF at 8-1/2 x 11 (or larger) and HTML for responsive design, which would also help for those with disabilities.
- Online permitting systems have been slow to catch on, with 21% of the sample “online” (although there is a continuum of “online” the report doesn’t get into). My own experience with such as system was not pleasant; the technology that’s affordable is kludgy, sort of like programing in COBAL. We’re still a long way from plug-n-play.