In 2002 I got an idea that came out of a passion for helping people understand the maze of land use regulations in Tulsa. Our systems and processes are confusing and the available resources are not as accessible as they should be. After years of watching the frustration of many people muddling through real estate projects, I felt inspired to try and create a better way.
I started dabbling with a website concept and gave it a working title of “LandRules”. After 7 years, I still feel passionate and the need still continues to show itself. But while I keep a full time job, a marriage, engage in community activities, and have no money to bring in rock star web developers, it remains a visionary concept. The following mission statement reminds me of the original idea and purpose:
MISSION: Create an online community education resource that gives clarity to land use regulations, directions to navigate through public planning processes, and assistance with individual site development challenges.
To support the idea and lend some credence, I wrote a “Proof of Concept” that I’ve shared with a few influential people with strong interest in Tulsa development. They’ve always given me positive feedback.
My first idea was to create an independent website to directly serve the public while setting an example of excellence in online service delivery for municipalities. It would have a teaching focus and use plain language to try to demystify land use regulations.
High standards of usability and accessibility were essential to accommodate all members of the public. Web development tools would be from the open-source community where open collaboration is king. Good visual design and cutting edge tools would be employed to help make a satisfying and engaging user experience.
These were lofty goals that quickly became a daunting task as I rambled around trying to learn advanced web technologies and pondered how to get there while continuing to hold a full time job.
It might still be a viable idea, but since 2002 technologies have advanced further beyond my skills or available time. So, I’ve decided to simply start blogging on the subject and see where it leads rather than standing around thinking.
I still keep an eye out for opportunities to engage an audience that could help turn it from concept to reality. But, with time I’ve come to think my effort might be better spent trying to influence positive changes to Tulsa’s online presence rather than thinking of it as an independent website with the possibility of creating a package for sale to other municipalities.
At it’s core, LandRules is about usability and accessibility. Those subjects are well studied and documented but their principles and methods are often glossed over or incorporated on the fly because of budget and time constraints. It takes time, thoughtfulness, and skill to bring excellent usability features into a website project. Add the fact that technology changes at warp speed and developers can barely keep up with advances in the tools of their trade. There’s rarely enough time to focus on the art and science of usability, and yet it is essential to a successful website.
One of the areas I believe deserves distinct attention is government website usability. A municipal website has an important purpose in serving a wide community of people with diverse levels of understanding and many reasons for visiting. It has an education focus, a marketing focus, and an essential public information focus. It should maintain standards of accessibility to insure it can be used by all members of the community. It should follow worldwide web design standards to insure it can be successfully used on all browsers and platforms.
The municipal website is often the critical first impression. How it’s presented tells a lot about a city’s image. Important economic decisions affecting real property are made with information from municipal websites.
For years I’ve visited many of these sites across the country in search of due diligence information for my real estate developer clients. Depending on the experience navigating their sites and how easy or hard they make my job, I form an impression about the city as either eager to be open and helpful or lazy and unsophisticated. Fair? Probably not. But that’s what happens and I know of a number of others doing work similar to mine who have about the same reaction.
Besides having a lot of diverse experience as a consultant to land developers, I’ve become fairly adept as a web design hobbyist. I’ve studied usability and some advanced technologies. I’ve found, studied and communicated with a few top web developers who get it right. But I’ve seen too few municipal websites that come close.
Nearly all municipal governments present information about their land development processes on a website. Rarely does the quality of those sites provide a rewarding, useful experience. Tulsa is just barely average. We have the capacity to be so much better.
As for this blog, maybe there’s something here you’ll find useful. Maybe you’ll learn something to help you get your project approved or allow you to help someone else. Maybe something here will help you be a better participant in the development of your community. Maybe this effort will help illuminate all sides of the local development process and lead to greater mutual understanding of all the player’s interests.
As for the original concept, the need is clearly still there and the public continues to get louder in its demands. I’m patiently waiting for the right mix of people to help form it and execute it. I’d love to lead that effort, but I don’t mind being simply part of a group of like-minded people working toward a better end. Either way, it’s Tulsa’s time to show it’s best face to the world.
Here’s that “Proof of Concept” again if you missed it earlier. Give me some feedback in the comments section.