Planning and zoning: Those who can best understand these mind-numbing, bureaucratic odysseys will be those who shape the way our communities look. A ruthless developer’s best friend is a process as arcane and hidden as possible, thus disempowering ordinary citizens who do not have time, patience or legal acumen to influence what’s happening until the strip mall shows up in their back yard.
But with the Internet, citizens don’t have to necessarily wade through paperwork at City Hall to figure out what’s going on. And a good example of bringing power to the people is right here in Washington, where the D.C. Office of Zoning (DCOZ) Website shows what every city and county can do—unless they actually WANT to shut citizens out of the process.
I’m not saying this is the best, or only site of its kind. But it produces a lot of info easily. Loud and clear on the right side of the screen are links to documents, on-demand video of hearings, live Webcasts and high-resolution maps.
Still not convinced? Even the frequently critical smart-development Website Greater Greater Washington was impressed.
“Another technology gold star goes to the Office of Zoning, which supports the Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment,” the site said recently. “They’ve offered live video streams of their meetings since at least last year, but they now also offer on-demand video for all of their past meetings as well since about September 2008. They’ve rolled out some impressive new features as well; now, while watching a hearing, you can see the agenda, and click on an individual agenda item to jump right to the discussion of that item.”
Greater Greater Washington goes on:
“Many agencies often have snazzy Web sites but don’t keep them updated very well. Not the Office of Zoning. I wanted to watch tonight’s meeting shortly after it concluded. To my surprise, the Office of Zoning already had the video online. Nearly real-time access to government information is extremely important for public participation. Too many agencies have weeks or months of delay before information becomes available. Now if they could just finish the online system for viewing zoning variance and PUD submissions that they’re working on.”
Contrast that with GGW’s assessment of the D.C. City Council’s site:
“The DC Council also has a nice on-demand video system, though hearings don’t usually show up until a day or two after they happen. Bills newly introduced often take around a week to appear in the LIMS database. … Most frustratingly, the Council Web site has an interactive calendar that shows meetings but doesn’t list the subjects of any of the hearings; neither does the list of hearing notices. You have to click on and read each of the PDF notices to see what a committee is discussing. And knowing that there’s a meeting of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation on September 16th without knowing the subject isn’t particularly useful.”
So, for showing the world that the District’s government can get it done when it puts its mind to it, The D.C. Office of Zoning Website, dcoz.dc.gov, is the Government Video Website of the Week.
And, take a look at last week’s Website of the Week, Utah.gov, where the state of Utah shows it’s been busy.
Got a great government Website? Tell us at email@example.com.