Whoa, check out Trulia Local - A visual way to explore crime, schools, home prices, and local data.
The map above was generated to display the areas within a 30 minute commute of Rhode Island College in Providence. This site generates commuting maps and other layers that are especially pertinent for home buyers---schools, crime stats, property values and local amenities. This is GIS data brought to the real estate shopping community, but consider this a project in the making. One of the best exercises to get to know a place holistically is to shop for housing and make some locational analysis decisions.