The county recently asked residents to participate in an online survey to gauge how user-friendly the website is. Arlington has kept its essential blue-and-white color-scheme, but changed the layout of the site to make it easier to navigate for residents and less focused on county government’s hierarchy.
The site will use the open-source content management system WordPress, and is designed to respond to frequent resident tasks — such as paying parking tickets and checking in on building construction — right from the home page.
The typeface is considerably larger than the current website, while there are distinctly fewer items on the homepage, streamlining it for the most common uses. The new design is expected to be implemented by the end of the year.
Screenshot via Arlington County
The site is being built in phases, according to county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith. The first components of the project — some interior portions of the website — should be launched in “the next couple of months.” If all goes well, the rest of the project is expected to be complete — homepage and all — by the end of the year.
The new county website will built on an enterprise version of WordPress, an open source content management system utilized by tens of millions of websites, including ARLnow.com. By building on WordPress, instead of the current proprietary code, the county should be able to reduce the cost of development and upkeep, and make it easier for employees to update web pages.
Arlington County is also trying to improve the navigation of the site.
“We’re trying to make it more resident-focused, as opposed to county hierarchy-focused,” Smith said. “We’re pretty excited. I think it’s going to be a positive change.”
County staff have proposed making the code that’s custom-developed for its new website open source — in other words, freely available for other developers to copy and tinker with. The County Board is set consider a measure that would allow open source publishing at its meeting this Saturday.
“As new functionality and features are developed by County staff, in the spirit of the open-source community and open government, staff desires to release code developed by County teams under an open-source license, so that others may use and/or improve the code,” staff wrote in a report to the Board.
County staff says developing open source code would come with the following benefits.
1) Open and transparent government
2) Enhances the County’s attractiveness as a workplace; benefits recruitment of programmers who believe in open-source
3) The possibility of even more enhancements being available for County use. Arlington’s changes may inspire others to contribute as well.
4) Lower maintenance needed for code, if County contributions are accepted into the main distribution. If Arlington’s modifications are not shared, the County will have to ensure that any updates made by others and which County staff want to incorporate do not interfere with Arlington’s customizations.
“Website code is a large part of the open-source community because websites are so versatile and have become so easy to set up,” staff wrote. “County staff has found many open-source bits of code that will help the County’s website meet the County’s customers’ needs, and in some cases, staff can easily customize the code for an even better fit. Since the County is benefitting from someone else’s open-source code, staff members want to reciprocate and release County modifications back to the open-source community.”
Although it might sound like a security risk, Smith says allowing the public to view the county’s website code shouldn’t open the site up to illicit activity.
“It shouldn’t present any security risks,” she said. “There are many, many government sites running on open source code.”
Zimride, a company that connects long-distance carpoolers through Facebook, launched its “digital ridesharing” operation in the Washington area today.
Arlington residents looking for rides to New York can pay an average of $50 round-trip for a seat in another person’s car, according to Zimride’s Nick Greenfield, who described the concept as “non-creepy hitchhiking,” and the “long-distance version of slugging.”
Users match up with drivers and potential carpoolers by listing whether they smoke, their musical preferences and other personal details. The program first gained traction on college campuses as a way for students to more easily afford travel.
Now, the company is hoping to attract users in Arlington by opening up the site for Northern Virginia to New York road trips.
At least one Arlington resident has posted a ride for this weekend to New York. For $80 round-trip, “Clinton L.” is offering to drive passengers to Manhattan in his Infiniti FX45.
“[I] drive around 90 mph on the highway [and] listen to electronic dance music,” Clinton L. wrote. “Will take a total of 4 people… to ensure the comfort of all passengers.”
Arlington County has launched a new website for residents and businesses. The site, Building Arlington, is being billed as a “one-stop shop for your Zoning, Permitting, Plan Review, Inspections and Code Enforcement needs.”
Building Arlington is an effort to simplify what the county admits “can be a confusing process.” For those looking to build a house, an addition, a store, or a new commercial building, the site offers the following features:
- “Simplified design and content in a centralized location to find all Zoning, Inspection Services and Code Enforcement information.”
- “Information uniquely relevant to our customers; whether you are a resident, business owner, contractor, developer or design professional.”
- “Accessible on mobile devices from anywhere. Browse permit requirements, schedule inspections and zoning regulations via your smartphone, tablet or other devices.”
- “Popular project content that explains the process and requirements to start and complete common building projects.”
- “Resource library & keyword search so you can quickly access forms, applications, checklists and links to topically related resources.”
- “Question & answer section for ‘commonly asked questions’ about development services.”
- “Email sign-up for latest news on changes to zoning, codes and regulations.”
OpenArlington encourages residents to give their opinions on specific topics introduced by a county moderator. The first question — “What would make it easier for you and others to engage with Arlington County Government?” — has so far drawn five responses from residents.
In addition to suggestions about having an “Arlington County Ombudsman” or finding better ways to engage with those who do not have a computer, there have also been off-topic requests to fix a specific street light, for better traffic light synchronization, and for traffic control at Kenmore Middle School after events like school concerts.
OpenArlington is part of County Board Chair Mary Hynes’ PLACE (Participation, Leadership and Civic Engagement) initiative, which she announced at the beginning of the year. Hynes says the online forum will be monitored by county government and Arlington Public Schools officials, and will help make civic involvement “easier and more effective.”
“Through PLACE, we are trying new ways of reaching out to the community, hoping to hear great ideas from people about how we can work together more effectively,” Hynes said in a press release. “OpenArlington makes it easy for people to join the conversation, share their ideas, and see what others are saying.”
General Assembly Votes to Lift Gun Purchase Limit — The Virginia General Assembly has voted to lift the state’s limit of one gun purchase per month. The limit, which has been in place since 1993, was intended to reduce gun trafficking and gun-related crimes. Sen. Janet Howell (D), who represents part of Arlington, said lifting the limit could turn Virginia into a “gun-runners’ paradise.” [Washington Post]
Arlington’s Triple-AAA Rating Reaffirmed — Arlington has once again received a top AAA rating from each of the three major bond rating agencies. “With these ratings, the County will be able to continue making critical capital investments at the lowest possible cost to residents and businesses,” said County Manager Barbara Donnellan. [Arlington County]
Library Launches New Web Site — Arlington’s library system revealed a newly-designed web site over the weekend. The new library site includes “fresher-looking pages… richer graphics… catalog browsing that might remind you of strolling the shelves… a friendlier study room reservation system… [and] a customized events calendar with more options to find what you want.” [Arlington Public Library]
New Leadership for BRAVO — The nonprofit Buyers and Renters Arlington Voice (BRAVO) has appointed a new Executive Director. Dennis Jaffe, a longtime community activist, says he’s looking forward to advocating for the rights and needs of tenants in Arlington County. “I have a personal mission… and that is to increase tenants’ connectedness to each other and to the Arlington community,” Jaffe said in a statement. Tenants make up about 57 percent of the Arlington County population, according to BRAVO.
The website offers one-stop shopping for residents seeking more information on winter weather preparations, winter weather safety tips, road condition and snow plowing updates, and answers to snow removal ordinance questions. The site also links to the county’s snow issue reporting page.
One of the new features introduced with the new portal is a “snow phase system,” which will designate how far along the county is in its snow clearing efforts after a storm. The page will indicate whether the county is in Phase 1, 2, 3, or 4.
Phase 1 is the “Alert” phase, when snow crews are pre-treating roads and residents are being encouraged to park their cars off-street, if possible.
Phase 2 is the “Primary Routes” phase, when the storm is in progress or has just concluded. In this phase, county and VDOT crews are working to clear primary and secondary roads only. Residents are encouraged to stay off the roads and help clear sidewalks during this phase.
Phase 3 is the “Residential Streets” phase, when crews are working to make residential streets passable while widening the clear path on primary roads.
Phase 4, the “Clean Up” phase, is when crews will focus on removing ice and slush from roads while using the sun as a tool for melting leftover snow.
Arlington County said it’s ready to respond should winter weather strike.
“When forecasters predict winter weather — snow, ice or freezing rain — Arlington’s plows and salt trucks are prepped and ready to go,” the county said in a press release. “Residents, at any time, can check the storm’s progress, track the County’s efforts to clear streets of snow, and learn how to best prepare for the winter weather. The current phase will be posted on the County web site and social media channels.”
GMU “Protest” Quiet, Peaceful — A protest last night against Nonie Darwish, an outspoken critic of Islam who was speaking at George Mason University’s law school, proved to be a peaceful, academic exercise. Students gathered in a classroom to hear Muslim speakers talk about the experience of practicing their faith in the United States at a time when many are suspicious about Islam. “They don’t want to see an America that’s diverse and pluralistic,” said one protest speaker. Darwish’s well-attended speech, meanwhile, focused on what she saw as the injustices of Islam, Sharia law and Jihad.
Post Looks at Favola/Merrick Race — Does Republican Caren Merrick have a chance to win in the redrawn, Democratic-leaning 31st state Senate District? The Post takes a look at the race between Merrick and Democratic Arlington County Board member Barbara Favola. [Washington Post]
New White House Chief Usher Has Local Ties — This week Angella Reid was appointed the new Chief Usher of the White House — in charge of the operation of the White House executive residence. Reid, who had been general manager of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Pentagon City, is the first woman to assume the title. [BET]
Moran Gets New Website — Rep. Jim Moran has a brand new website. “The new Moran website improves accessibility to information that can help residents navigate and expedite the federal bureaucracy,” the congressman’s office said. “[The site] offers a straightforward format for residents to provide feedback on issues, learn of Moran’s policy positions and legislation, and find information on constituent services.” [Congressman Jim Moran]
A new web site called Capital Bikeshare Tracker is providing a quick view of bike availability at CaBi stations in Rosslyn, Crystal City and the District.
The site uses pie chart-style icons on a map to represent the number of bikes available at each station compared to the number of available bike docks. Clicking on a station gives you the option of seeing historical usage data for each station.
A map on the Capital Bikeshare web site will only display bike availability data after you click on an icon for the station.
Officials are in the process of adding about 30 stations to the Capital Bikeshare system in Arlington County. They expect the expansion to be complete by the end of the year.
As we first reported in February, AOL has been planning on launching dozens of its Patch local news sites in the DC area. Then in May, we noted that the company was hiring editors for two different Patches in Arlington. A “Rosslyn-Court House-Clarendon” Patch may still be in the works, but so far it’s not listed as “coming soon” on the Patch web site.
Over here at ARLnow.com, we’re taking the competition for neighborhood news in stride. So we want to know: what sort of stories in the Ballston-Virginia Square area should we cover that we’re not already covering? What events should we be adding to the events calendar? Please let us know in the comments section.
Almost three months ago we broke the news that AOL was expanding its network of Patch local news websites into the D.C. area. Last week, the Washington Post picked up the story, noting that AOL was posting dozens of help wanted listings on jobs website Simply Hired.
A search of those listings reveals that, so far, Patch is not seeking editors for an Arlington site.
Patch is also coming to some communities around Arlington. Simply Hired lists editor positions for Patch sites in McLean, Falls Church, Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria and Georgetown.
Patch will be entering some small markets that are already covered by multiple dedicated news outlets.
Arlington is served by the Sun Gazette and the Arlington Connection weekly newspapers and this website. Falls Church is served by the Falls Church News Press weekly newspaper and the Falls Church Times website. Georgetown is served by The Georgetowner biweekly newspaper and The Georgetown Dish website.
Group buying websites (Groupon, Living Social, etc.) are all the rage right now. For good reason: it’s a beautiful blend of economics and serendipity. Businesses get free promotion, drive sales and foot traffic, and pay no cash out of hand. The websites, in turn, pocket a healthy percentage of each sale as almost pure profit. And customers discover new businesses for cheap.
It’s such an attractive business segment that at least a dozen copy-cat sites have popped up in recent months. Some are blatant knock-offs. Others strive to find a niche.
For Arlington resident Harrison Miller, that niche is charitable giving.
Miller is launching his new website, Deals for Deeds, this coming Wednesday, April 28.
Not only will users be able to get half off or more from a variety of D.C.-area merchants, they’ll also be able to choose one of three charities to receive 5 percent of the sales price (but no, it’s not tax deductable).
Deals for Deeds will also act as a community bulletin board of sorts, publicizing dates for upcoming community events and such. A “shout-out for good causes,” as Miller puts it.
Miller and business partner Josh Hoffman have lined up deals with a number of local merchants. Among the Arlington-based businesses to be featured on the site are fitness instructor Body by Ginny, Rosslyn beauty salon Miracles in the City and Clarendon sunless tanning salon Fit To Be Tan.
At least initially, the charities that buyers may direct their donation to are the Washington Animal Rescue League, Food & Friends and Habitat for Humanity of Washington.
To celebrate its launch, Deals for Deeds is holding a party at ACKC (1529C 14th St. NW, in D.C.) on Tuesday from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. The public is invited to attend and mingle with local business owners and representatives from the site’s non-profit beneficiaries.