Through its Web portal, Tampa, Fla., has been providing users with information about city neighborhoods for a year. Now the city is overhauling the site to better mold it to user needs.

The Neighborhood Information Page, part of the TampaGov portal, allows users to access statistical information about neighborhoods, such as land use percentages, population, ethnic diversity, resident income, housing type, resident education level and which council districts are in the neighborhood, by selecting the neighborhood on the map.

The site was developed by the Urban Planning Division of the city's Strategic Planning and Technology Department. The concept emerged from the five-year Florida Sustainable Communities Demonstration Project, which intended to test a new approach to community planning, in which Tampa was a participant.

As part of that project, the city began testing GIS software called INDEX, which allowed them to generate indicators, or statistics that can be used for comparison.

"The software was a little too bulky for us to use in terms of its requirements of data detail," said Urban Planning Manager Randy Goers. "But we were still interested in the concept of being able to display information geographically and have indicators."

The division was also interested in making the data available on the Internet, so citizens could easily access it. Goers said constituents would call with questions about their neighborhood or general area.

"We would end up having to go and respond to just one request, and generate a report or send back an e-mail, or generate a map and send it out," he said. "We use most of our Web page now in responding to requests for information. People call our department and ask for information or a report, and we guide them to a particular spot on the Web page."

Michelle Dugliss uses the site to research real estate developments for the architectural firm where she works, but she said she has found other uses as well. "Since my husband opened a business in Tampa, I compare community demographic information for marketing uses," she said. "If you've never been to Tampa, the neighborhoods are very blurred going through the streets. One might miss the economic make-up of the resident based solely on facades." Dugliss said she also used the site to research neighborhoods where she might buy a home.

Goers said nearly all data his division produces is now available on the Web. The site also allows users to view more in-depth indicators, select indicators by type, compare neighborhood indicators, or view the neighborhood rankings by indicator. The citywide average for that indicator and an "EKG," which shows in a glance how the neighborhood measures up to the citywide average, are displayed along with the neighborhood indicators.

Good Data, Bad Data

An ongoing challenge Tampa's team has encountered in this project was finding reliable sources of information, Goers said, because the division must pay close attention to the quality of data it uses, or the page could produce indicators and comparisons that don't make sense or aren't realistic.

"If it turns out it's because the data is bad," he said, "then we're misleading people and putting them at risk to make bad decisions."

Statistical data, collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Florida Department of Transportation, Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission and various departments within the city government, are stored in Excel spreadsheets or a Microsoft Access database, Goers said. Some information must be entered manually, but some data, such as data from the Census Bureau is automatically downloaded, he said, and Microsoft FrontPage displays the information on the site.

The EKG and charts are automatically created by Microsoft Excel, he

Emily Montandon  |  Staff Writer/Copy Editor