El Paso County recently joined a growing number of municipalities throughout the world to create what are being called “smart cities,” in which data is used to make cities operate more efficiently.
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal (“The Rise of the Smart City” by Michael Totty) described the trend thusly: “In just the past few years, mayors and other officials in cities across the country have begun to draw on the reams of data at their disposal — about income, burglaries, traffic, fires, illnesses, parking citations and more — to tackle many of the problems of urban life. Whether it’s making it easier for residents to find parking places, or guiding health inspectors to high-risk restaurants or giving smoke alarms to the households that are most likely to suffer fatal fires, big-data technologies are beginning to transform the way cities work.”
In Colorado Springs, the movement has been spearheaded by the office of El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker, who launched a revamped website earlier this year to offer area residents a streamlined database of property-specific information in unprecedented detail.
The “El Paso County Community” webpage — which is most easily accessed from land.elpasoco.com — aggregates and organizes information from a number of different local databases (Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, U.S. Census records, the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office and the El Paso County Assessor’s Office) and presents it via a searchable and mappable online interface.
With the website, El Paso County residents can make more informed decisions about where and when to purchase real estate — based on construction activity, property values, tax districts, education data and even whether the area tends to vote Democrat or Republican.
“One of the biggest reason I wanted to push it out there is to educate our property owners,” Schleiker said. “They can go out and see what’s going on in particular neighborhoods, and so it allows people to make an informed and educated decision about where they want to live.”
But the new system promises to be just as beneficial for companies looking to do business in El Paso County. Schleiker said businesses can make better decisions related to potential commercial real estate purchases based on the demographic makeup, property values and whether one neighborhood poses more financial benefit over another.
“I think this is great from an economic development standpoint, because companies looking to do business in El Paso County can get a detailed look at the customer base,” he said. “They can also now look at the mill levy in the tax district their looking at — whether they’re planning to buy a commercial property or do new construction — and make a better decision based on that.”
The new website got its start in late 2015, after Schleiker determined there was a demand from the community for such data-driven technologies.
“When I was running for office, I listened to what the citizens and the companies wanted,” Schleiker said. “The one thing that everyone wanted was to be able to put all of this information on one platform.”
After initial talks began, Schleiker studied how cities such as Raleigh, N.C., and Seattle were using map-based visualization platforms to provide their citizens with more detailed information and came across New York-based tech firm Spacialist, a software company that creates such platforms.
The county paid Spacialist a one-time $9,000 setup fee to create the enhancement — Schleiker prefers not to call it an independent website, since it currently must be accessed through his office’s main website — and will pay $24,000 annually for licensing and maintenance.
“They essentially just take all of our data and put it into a visual, map-based platform,” he said. “And all of that information is updated nightly, because there are things like real estate transactions and new construction happening every day.”
Schleiker said the site has been well received, and that he considered the cost a small price to pay for improvements to a website that has historically garnered around 37 million hits annually.
“I launched it about a month ago and, according to our IT department, it has increased usage on my website in the first month by about 5 percent — that added about 125,000 hits,” he said. “I think it’s got a lot of potential.”
Schleiker said his office is looking to fully integrate the assessor’s website into the new page, which he hopes will be done this year, and that he is also in talks with other county offices interested in joining the movement. The county is also currently discussing the development of a mobile app.
“This is exactly the direction we need to be moving in, and I see this going much further,” he said. “I believe that government-citizen engagement is extremely important. But the citizens no longer want to call up their government offices; they want to go online to submit property value appeals or to notify the city of a pothole … and to see that it has been taken care of.”
Schleiker said the new technology will allow county offices and agencies to run more efficiently and will offer professionals working in real estate, marketing and a variety of other industries to conduct research more efficiently and stay ahead of the curve.
“It’s just a great economic tool,” he said.