Top Picks: Big Cities

Based on the just-mentioned criteria, of the 10 largest cities in the nation (ranked by 2000 population), the following sites stand out among their peers.

Los Angeles Front and center on the home page is “311″, the City Services Directory. Its key word-search user-friendliness sets the tone for the entire site. “Free Cash For College” link is an eye-grabber, and underscores this classy site’s service orientation. Online buffs will enjoy the public access to web site statistics that detail traffic to various portions of the site.

New York City Want to know where you can get a flu shot? Have a beef with a parking ticket? Wondering why Mayor Michael Bloomberg is opposed to smoking in the workplace? Since the arrival of the communications-savvy mayor a year ago, this site has gone from stellar to superlative in its service to visitors. If it’s not on the “favorites” list for some Big Apple dwellers, then they don’t know what they’re missing.

Philadelphia With links like “Find a Job” and “My Recreation Center”, the City of Brotherly Love caters to the full gamut of individuals’ needs. Like any noteworthy municipal site, Philadelphia provides an array of information to make its constituents’ lives simpler, including step-by-step details on how to obtain a building permit, information on cars available for auction, and a way to pay parking tickets online, The site also provides bold splashes of color and photographic portraits of historic sites that create a classy, momentous feel to each visit.

San Diego This sunny site places a premium on orderliness. Everything is in its place, and there’s a place for (seemingly) everything, from weekly special events, the 11 city beaches and a check on construction plans to a file cabinet-like structure to departments, services and other attractions. This organized effort is no surprise considering the earnest tag line that runs across the upper left hand corner of the home page: “The Most Efficiently Run Big City in California.”

Top Picks: Cities

(in alphabethical order)

Anchorage, AK

Great online services (property tax payments, account info, set up like Yahoo’s main page (by category), featured links highlight unique or notable pages within the site – like the interactive Bus Route Generator

Austin, TX

Austin City Connections remains a winner in our book for a web site that continues to grow and evolve. Combing style with substance, the site offers more content, links and service delivery options than ever before; its new look includes a clean layout and handy navigation tools that make it easy to locate specific information.

Des Plaines, IL

“Your City Services” clearly illustrates customer-service type approach throughout this web site. “Your Local Government” section invites citizen participation/awareness. Email list serv has been essential in alerting motorists to detours around railroad repairs. Powerful search engine takes visitors to specific information easily. Insertion of a calendar of upcoming events is an outgrowth of listening to residents calling with questions like, “What is going on this weekend?”

Lufkin, TX

The government leaders in Lufkin, Texas represent a rich illustration of this service mentality with a blend of high-mindedness and high-tech features. Read a full description of this website in the Top Pick 2002 article archived here.

Minneapolis, MN

Tons of information, well-organized in portal style. One highlight is its providing government accountability through a citizen survey. An impressive City Hall section contains lots of useful information.

Overland Park, KS

Home to the NCAA headquarters until 1999, Overland Park has it all, with a clean, consistent style and unique features like How to File for Office, local neighborhood database, related “Did You Know?” and calendar features on top page of each main section (resident, visitor, business, government).

Pembroke Pines, FL

Comprehensive information buoyed by great aesthetics, and streamlined, clean, and stylish appearance. Commitment to service illustrated by prominent placement of Request for Public Information/Comments, coupled by a tracking system designed to keep residents in the loop on the impact of their comments.

Portsmouth, NH

Small city with impressive web presence. Meeting calendar has links to agendas in either pdf or html format. Other strong suits are webcast archives of council, planning board, and school board meetings, and an interactive citywide project map.

Seattle, WA

A continued Top Pick, Seattle’s web site provides a vast amount of content, online forms and services, and links – all in a manageable format. From live webcasts of Council meetings to interactive maps, citizen advisory board vacancy notices, CAFRs and revenue updates, the amount and variety of information presented in this web portal is extraordinary.

Tampa, FL

Gazing at the cityscape atop the main page makes the visit immediately worthwhile. The site is more than just a pretty face: you can request police reports, make business tax inquiries, and easily navigate a directory of personnel and departments.

Tucson, AZ

Content, more forms than any other site we’ve seen, good financial information, great Top 10 lists. Did you know that among cities with populations between 200,000 and 500,000, Tucson is the third-best place to bicycle? We didn’t either, until we took an enjoyable tour of the site.

Weymouth, MA

The combination of strong content and a wide breadth of materials – presented in an aesthetic, user-friendly format – make this site a winner. But we’re not the only ones that like it; town residents sum it up best. See accompanying article entitled “Local Web Site Wins Praises of Community.”

Wichita, KS

A wealth of information is here, and this site is a good example of a “perfect portal” that provides great, intuitive links to other agencies and resources. A visit to the finance section can lead you to the Government Finance Officers Association, the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, and others.

Honorable Mentions

Cambridge, MA

A graceful, elegant front door greets visitors to the community that is home to Harvard University. With that style is ample substance, including “settling in” tips for newcomers and a Quick Links feature that keeps the home page uncluttered, but guides visitors as they seek to solve their nitty-gritty needs.

Oak Park, IL

Succinct yet complete information is presented in an intuitive, handy format, with thoughtfully placed links that make it easy to locate a wide range of materials.

Spokane, WA

City council meetings can be viewed live online, and service orientation is evident in links to state and local media on home page.

Sterling Heights, MI

Quick Find box in center of home page provides an easy link to rest of the site. Minutes of city council meetings archived back to 1998 reveal an extraordinary commitment to public discourse.

Virginia Beach, VA

Online surveys, drop-down menus atop the home page, and a calendar that allows you to click on a date to see what’s going on at a given time are among the elements that combine to maximize efficiency of visits. Top Picks: Counties

Cuyahoga County, OH

An economical layout that is fun to surf. Maybe it’s the polar bear on the home page, or the wagging tongue of the Dalmatian on a dog license link. Creative art helps usher the visitor through what otherwise might seem mundane or unapproachable, such as Sheriff’s foreclosure sales.

Miami-Dade County, FL

Vertical layout is the municipal version of a laundry list of items that spell out an array of choices for online visitors. Laudable is a “one-minute survey” that solicits feedback to improve site, even though it appears that it might take closer to two minutes.

Montgomery County, MD

New site debuted at the end of 2002, combining two existing portals, including one that was introduced in the early 1990s, during the infant stages of municipal web sites. Also, great financial information, including budget, CAFR, and section on performance measures. Does a good job of keeping residents informed through various online news services. Terrific collection of online services, many innovative (e.g., ball-park search, radon test kit request) and well organized (four subportals: Citizens, Government Businesses, Culture and Leisure allow users to find information quickly).