Boston; Richmond, Va.; and Pueblo and Castle Rock, Colo., were named the top-ranked municipalities in the 2010 Digital Cities Survey on Thursday, Nov. 18.

The 10th annual survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology, measures and assesses the use of information technology by local governments.

Not so long ago, governments could justify spending on e-government if it made lives easier and more convenient, or if it allowed a new service that was previously impossible. Now it’s not so simple, thanks to the struggling economy.

Today, showing that a project delivers“hard-dollar” returns has become more important. Consequently this year’s survey focused on measurable achievements.

The cities that did it best rose to the top of the Digital Cities rankings, which are categorized by population size.

Many of the jurisdictions that scored well could quantify their improvements, and some took advantage of data analytics for those calculations. “I think we’ll see more of that going forward, because the economy is going to remain tight,” said Todd Sander, the director of the Digital Communities program.

Flat or decreasing budgets are the norm now, and there’s little feeling that the bottom line will improve anytime soon. “Cities will have to continue to find ways to drive improvement with the money that they have today — or even less,” Sander said.

Cities are turning more frequently to collaborative projects as one way to stretch their dollars. Shared networks have become commoner the past few years, and Sander believes that 2011 will become the year of shared applications. It’s a natural progression, he said, because networks are the backbone that supports financial management systems, enterprise resource planning, timekeeping and 311. With more shared networks and the beginnings of shared applications, cities are closer than ever to sharing a platform.

What cities are farthest along on that path? “I think the best area has been and continues to be Colorado,” Sander said. “The local governments in Colorado have been working together for quite a while, and it’s starting to pay off in a variety of areas — including on their public safety network and broadband network. They’re probably out ahead of the rest of the country, even in developing an application sharing process.”

The winning cities will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Denver next month.

In the 2009 survey, Corpus Christi, Texas; Norfolk, Va.; Santa Monica, Calif., and Flower Mound, Texas took first-place honors.

The 2010 Digital Cities Rankings (by population classification):

250,000 or more population

1    Boston

2    Louisville, Ky.

3    Aurora, Colo.

4    Charlotte, N.C.

5    Chicago

5    Corpus Christi, Texas

6    New York City

7    Plano, Texas

7    Riverside, Calif.

8    San Antonio

9    Tucson, Ariz.

10    Fort Worth, Texas

125,000-249,999 population

1    Richmond, Va.

2    Salt Lake City, Utah

3    Norfolk, Va.

4    Irving, Texas

5    Hampton, Va.

5    Winston-Salem, N.C.

6    Alexandria, Va.

7    Augusta, Ga.

8    Lakewood, Colo.

8    Modesto, Calif.

9    Hollywood, Fla.

10    Des Moines, Iowa

10    Santa Clarita, Calif.

75,000-124,999 population

1    Pueblo, Colo.

2    Olathe, Kan.

3    Lee's Summit, Mo.

4    Roseville, Calif.

5    High Point, N.C.

5    Independence, Mo.

5    Simi Valley, Calif.

6    Ann Arbor, Mich.

6    West Palm Beach, Fla.

7    Arvada, Colo.

8    Roanoke, Va.

9    Schaumburg, Ill.

10    Berkeley, Calif.

30,000-74,999 population

1    Castle Rock, Colo.

2    Lynchburg, Va.

3    Danville, Va.

4    Annapolis, Md.

5    Dublin, Ohio

6    Manchester, Conn.

7    Carson City, Nev.

8    Medford, Ore.

9    North Port, Fla.

10    Flower Mound, Texas

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.