I’m currently going through the preliminary stages of looking to move house, this means that I seem to be coming across an awful lot of pushpin maps and Google mashups on a variety of property web sites. Most of these sites are very good at aggregating data into a simple map view displaying a number of data sources.  Typically you choose an area to search, a bunch of parameters, and all properties are displayed on a map. Some sites will go a little further and add in demographic data, showing what the area you are looking at is like.

London house prices aside, none of these sites seem to do what i need by letting you search for areas in general.  What I’d like is to ask;

 find me all the areas within an hours drive  (at rush hour) from my office and 30 min’s public transport from my wife’s work, with a demographic of people I’d like to live near (I’m not so bothered if they want to live near me!). 

 This is actually a pretty difficult problem to answer, and certainly not one that can be quickly solved by a combination of Pushpin maps and a tiled streetmap.  To answer this question you need both data (multimodal transport network demographics, historic traffic density) and some geoprocessing capability to generate service areas and combine these with demographics. 

 ArcGIS Server would be the perfect answer to this when combined with the right data.  Geoprocessing functionality based either on road networks or travel time grids can be used to generate areas that meet the criteria.

You can’t pre-generate data as you can in the tiled map model, as everyone’s query is different, perhaps I’d rather calculate my travel area based on CO2 emissions or to different locations.

Solutions to parts of this problem are available on the web but not combined together.  Transport direct does a great job of giving driving and public transport travel times based on single journeys rather than a service area (which is harder to calculate).  Chris Lightfoot did some fantastic work turning this data into travel time maps

There don’t seem to be many sites that actually do on-demand processing of data to generate custom service areas.  One example that does is the Business Analyst online service.  Which among other things, will create drive times from a business location, and also generate a demographic or business report.  Its a good example of what can be done with geoprocessing capability in the background.  The ArcGIS server development blog also has a nice demo of building geoprocessing into a web application.

None of the above sites is any closer to finding me the perfect location to live in though, I definately need more than just pushpins.