Tuesday, March 20, 2007

City frustrations

Some cities are apparently well run.

And then there is the Houston website.

I will leave the complaints about potholes, random road closures, and other such infrastructure troubles (as well as overall cluttered unsightliness, pollution and socioeconomic problems) aside for now. I want to discuss the website, the portal through which people connect to the city.

Houston's website is here. Note something about the drop-down menus on the front page. Yes, they go behind the pictures. They've been doing that for a while now.

I had a car accident today (got rear-ended by a guy on the interstate while stopped in traffic). Apparently, here the police don't come out... you go to a substation with the info to file the report. I don't know if that's common in larger cities so I have no comment on it. I went to the website to search for a station close to me (actually, I googled "Houston Police Department" and wound up at the police website, which is part of the main website). Note first that the police website uses a rather unattractive older template (only the front page of the website has really been changed). The left sidebar scrolls even though it doesn't take up the entire page, and it is unclear whether it refers to the police or the entire city (I'm pretty sure it's the latter).

I then spent a long time trying to find the listings of police stations. You'd think one of the top choices would be to know this. But no... although you can view crime statistics, there's no link for "find a station." At length I did find it (through the "Contact HPD" button--here it is). Note that the listings state that the storefront in Neartown is open 24 hours. So, of course, I drove there, and it is open 6 am to 10 pm. I arrived around 10:08 and will have a return trip early tomorrow morning.


For reference, here are some other cities which seem to have decent web designers... Seattle, New York, Chicago...

In this day and age, if you're a U.S. city and you don't have a good website, what are the odds of things being better once you actually get there? This complaint might seem petty, but as you might guess it's part of a pattern of rather greater frustration.

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