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Tampa FL Delivering Up-To-Date Community Information to All Citizens

Melissa Alvarez
November 2007
Alliance for Innovation

The City of Tampa’s (pop. 334,550) Technology and Innovation Department, along with the Neighborhood and Community Relations Division, recently developed and implemented an innovative interactive service featuring information on Tampa’s organized neighborhoods via the City of Tampa’s website - www.tampagov.net/neighborhoods.

Prior to developing Tampa’s new service, city personnel recognized that community-specific information was very limited on Tampa’s existing website. City staff members researched other known best of breed municipal websites and their offerings, but were disappointed with the level of comprehensive information available at the detailed neighborhood level.

As a result, the City of Tampa refocused its efforts on reviewing the types of inquiries citizens were making, and reviewing the variety of data resources available that could be collated under a single facility for easy access. This became the basis for creating an integrated set of information resources.

The city was determined to provide an innovative online service, capable of providing users with up-to-date information on Tampa’s neighborhoods along with city-wide issues of interest. The finished product is an extraordinarily useful tool allowing web visitors to select a specific neighborhood by clicking on a map, entering an address, selecting a name from a list of organized associations, or merely entering a neighborhood name.

The online service provides comprehensive coverage of the nearly 100 organized neighborhoods within the City of Tampa. Accessible community information includes neighborhood association contacts, neighborhood and city-wide news postings, neighborhood meeting calendars and schedules, photographs covering all neighborhoods, area demographics (household characteristics, per capita income, population, racial and ethnic diversity, etc.), land use (residential, commercial, industrial, recreational, wetlands, etc.), and printable maps.

The facility provides access to unique neighborhood characteristics such as Tampa City Council districts, evacuation and flood zones, hospitals, libraries, parks and schools. The information delivered to the public incorporates data sources (via mash-ups) from various city departments along with external agencies including Hillsborough County and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Printer-ready renderings are provided for personal use (i.e. letter size), small meeting/committee use (i.e. ledger size), and large public forum use (i.e. plotter size). Tampa’s own Technology and Innovation Department Web Programming Section managed the project, and no outside vendors were used. It took on the systems design and programming development responsibilities from both functional and technical perspectives; and the staff identified all external information sources for integration.

The Neighborhood and Community Relations staff provided all the mandatory functional requirements, along with the collection of the initial neighborhood data. The project, known as the neighborhoods facility initiative, embodies the vision of delivering citizen-oriented services. One of the biggest technical challenges involved creating data mash-ups from multiple government agencies. It contains information resources directly from the Neighborhood and Community Relations Division, neighborhood leaders, city departments, Hillsborough County, Southwest Florida Water Management District, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Another significant technical feat was ensuring a suitable method was created to produce colored polygons (i.e. neighborhoods) for presentation via a Google map interface. Prior to Tampa’s efforts, little work had been done successfully in this area with respect to the number of areas/regions mapped that retained reasonable performance characteristics.

The project can serve as a comprehensive model to illustrate that typical community information and maps can be shared. Data can be consolidated from different agencies and shared effectively.

Tampa reports that citizens are using the new facility extensively, and that it immediately became one of the most popular City of Tampa website services. The Neighborhood and Community Relations staff has reported a positive response from citizens to the service. Using WebTrends to follow utilization, the city reports that the facility had nearly 6,500 visits and over 23,000 page views in July 2007.

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