The city of Chicago released a bunch of new sets to the city data portal recently. From the city’s Chicago Digital blog:

The City of Chicago has released a handful of new datasets which pertain to several parts of daily life in Chicago. The public will be able to explore the water quality at Chicago beaches, find who and which vehicles are licensed to carry passengers, activities for Chicago’s Micro-Market Recovery Program, and the geographic areas targeted by the City’s Broadband Innovation Challenge.

The most interesting aspect of the new batch is the addition of pedicab licenses to the list of licensed Public Chauffeurs. The city started regulating the pedicab industry in June. In addition to requiring a license, pedicabs were banned from operating in the loop.

This release has the first 25 approved pedicab licenses, but also the first four denied applications and 10 more inactive ones.

Not surprisingly, the first license issued went to T.C. O’Rourke, a Chicago Pedicab Association board member. O’Rourke told Streetsblog after the ordinance passed he was in favor of the license regulations but not the geographic restrictions. He also gave his thoughts on what it all meant for his business. Go and read it.

Another interesting note: Of all the applicants, only one is female. That would be Joanne Marie Werling, who had her license approved June 11.

Switching gears (please forgive me the pun), the city’s post at Digital Chicago has a graph showing all the models of active cabs in Chicago (spoiler: cabbies love Camrys). That led to a long time sorting and filtering the makes and model of the cabs and livery vehicles.

While sorting through vehicle manufacturers I noticed Tesla listed. Indeed, there are two Teslas registered as livery vehicles, though the data portal has them coded as gasoline vehicles. Need to check in on that, but it may be an incorrect categorization.

While resources like the city of Chicago data portal have a lot of great information, it’s also good to step back and think about where the numbers came from.

The city posts all its 311 call data, including reports of abandoned vehicles. Citizens can call 311 or fill out an online form reporting a car that needs to be moved.

Like most 311 sets, the report has the date it was filed, when it was completed (if it was) and the location of the report. Abandoned vehicles also have some novel categories, such as make and model, license plate information and even the color of the car.

Those are relatively straight forward (though there are 50+ ways noting a car doesn’t have plate info). A car is a Honda or a Ford. It’s tan or red.

Less clear is the “How many days has the vehicle been reported as parked?” field. On its face it seems like we could just sum all the numbers and get an average numbers of days cars sit in every neighborhood.

The numbers range from zero (typically if a city worker finds a car without a report) to 10,000,000, which would be approximately 27,397 years.

No matter how long it may seem to someone on the block, so car has been abandoned in Chicago for 27,397 years.

While that’s likely a simple typo (or someone expressing their annoyance at said vehicle), there’s some other interesting patterns in how long people think the cars have been left.

The most common time reported is 30 days, and it’s not close. Of the nearly 60,000 completed incidents with a days parked reported, a quarter are for 30 days.

Here’s the list of all days reported with at least 1,000 mentions:

Basically that top five can be read as: one month, one week, two weeks, three weeks, two months. After that are round numbers, numbers divisible by 30 and numbers divisible by 5. When asked, people estimate time frames they know. It’s why the 3 and the zero on my microwave always wear out first.

If you’re using city data it’s important to know how the data were gathered and what the possible biases could be. In this case numbers are more like a survey with a margin of error than an actual measurement. While that shouldn’t stop someone from using it as a guide, it’s important not to draw too much from it without asking more questions first.

Some of my favorite bits of data journalism this year have come out of the MIT “You Are Here” project. Recently they took a look at Chicago transportation, calculating how long it takes to get from each spot in the city to every other. The map then tells you whether it would be faster to walk, ride, drive or take public transit. You can even start to see the L and major bus lines start to appear as you click around the map.

Here’s the statement from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on his veto of HB3796, which would have added restrictions for large FOIA requests. The bill also spelled out a fee structure for electronic requests based on the size of the file, averaging about $10/MB. After the bill passed, the Chicago Headline Club and the Citizen Advocacy Center came out and asked Quinn to veto the bill.


The map above shows the change in the 18 and younger population in the largest school districts in Illinois from 2007 to 2012. Darker red is a larger drop, darker green a larger gain.

This seemed important as Chicago Public Schools just announced around 1,000 layoffs yesterday, citing drops in attendance.
To be clear, these aren’t attendance numbers, but population figures from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. While not a direct measure, it allows for comparisons across districts.
Over the past five years Chicago has seen an 8 percent drop for those 17 and younger, compared to a 1.25 percent drop in the total population.
That ranks 10th among Illinois school districts over that time:

We embedded the interactive version of the map below, so you can check the numbers on all the Illinois school districts with at least 10,000 residents.

Used in this post:
2007 and 2012 American Community Survey, 3-year samples.
The map above shows the change in the 18 and younger population in the largest school districts in Illinois from 2007 to 2012. Darker red is a larger drop, darker green a larger gain.

This seemed important as Chicago Public Schools just announced around 1,000 layoffs yesterday, citing drops in attendance.

To be clear, these aren’t attendance numbers, but population figures from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. While not a direct measure, it allows for comparisons across districts.

Over the past five years Chicago has seen an 8 percent drop for those 17 and younger, compared to a 1.25 percent drop in the total population.

That ranks 10th among Illinois school districts over that time:

We embedded the interactive version of the map below, so you can check the numbers on all the Illinois school districts with at least 10,000 residents.

Used in this post:

2007 and 2012 American Community Survey, 3-year samples.

When we spoke to Josh Kalov in April, he was just finishing his first month as a civic data consultant with Cook County. Part of that process was creating an inventory of what data already existed in the county and where it lived. As part of that he put together this great list of tools and data for property in Cook County. Sounds like there will be more coming, as well.

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Possible design for a sensor in the Array of Things project. Source: Urban Center for Computation and Data.

Charlie Catlett has a vision of the future of Chicago where citizens can talk directly with the city itself.

Imagine walking down the street and getting a text letting you know there’s ice ahead. Or even getting help walking around at night.

“It’s 10 p.m., it’s dark, you don’t know the city very well,” said Catlett, the director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data. “You’d be able to pull up an app on your phone that shows you where there’s the most foot traffic. That’s the route I want to take.”

This summer UCCD is taking a step to make those interactions possible through its “Array of Things” project. The project will place sensors around the Loop – around 50 this year with a total of closer to 400 over the next few years – that will detect light, sound, air quality and other measures, all made available for citizens to use for free.

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Map of locations for the first Array of Things sensors. Source: Urban Center for Computation and Data.

“By making this data public, we can imagine people writing all sorts of applications taking advantage of the data, including, hopefully, ones we never would have thought of,” Catlett said.

Catlett said the project was driven by a simple question: How could you change the way people interact with the built environment if the built environment were smart?

“Could you imagine crowd-sourced infrastructure?” he said. “We’re putting these devices out into the community and it’s important to us to do that in a way that engages people to participate.”

The sensors will be placed on light poles around the Loop to start. The technology is similar to the small Raspberry Pi computers, wrapped in a weather-proof case. Around that is a shell designed by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to make the sensors more visual inviting.

“We realized early on if we were going to put a new object into the city at infrastructural scale, it would have to be understood as positive,” said Doug Pancoast, School of the Art Institute of Chicago associate professor and UCCD member.

That’s also why starting in July UCCD will hold community workshops to talk about the sensors and what citizens would like to see – or not see – from the project.

To Catlett, the platform UCCD is building now isn’t about the sensors themselves, but the trust developed between them and the public.

“The sensors we put in now will all be replaced within three years,” he said. “That accountability is the foundation. The sensors are just the things we happen to have in there at any given time.”

The conversations are made more important because all the information collected will be automatically posted online for anyone to see and use. That makes the project a great resource for civic hackers but increases the need for privacy protections.

“The fact we’re saying the data immediately goes public means that nothing we collect can have any privacy breaches to it,” Catlett said. “It means that privacy in this instrument isn’t something that’s designed in in the end, but something that’s part of its nature and part of its architecture.”

To head that off, Catlett and Pancoast said that while the devices can detect light and sound, they will never have cameras or microphones. While they can detect the presence of BlueTooth devices (like mobile phones), they won’t do anything more than count the number of responses.

In addition to the community conversations, Catlett also said the project will get approval from an independent set of experts before adding any new technology to the sensors.

“It won’t just be scientists, but people from the community,” he said. “So maybe they don’t understand the computer science or the material science that goes into it, but maybe they can get a sense of it and understand if this is preserving privacy.”

image

Example of a possible use for air quality data. Source: Urban center for Computation and Data.

As municipal sensors like the Array of Things spread – there are already smart lights and trashcans in other cities – Pancoast sees designers using it to inform how cities are actually built.

“I can anticipate that data about urban interaction will be considered another form of input, another form of material that really has to be understood and shaped and applied to the design processes,” he said. “We have to know a lot about steel and glass, and we have to know a lot about data and human interaction to make the environments and objects we think will be useful.”

Last week we posted a look at redistricting in Chicago over the years, specifically trying to quantify how much worse gerrymandering has gotten since the 1920s.

After posting that we got a question on Twitter from the Pro Bono Thinking Societyabout a map they proposed in 2012 (read more about that here).

As a reminder, we followed the same formula laid out by the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham here, where 0 is a perfect circle and 100 is the most squiggly, gerrymandered district imaginable.

The final score? The Pro Bono map beat the Chicago City Council-approved map 53 to 74.

Yeah, not so surprising that the anti-gerrymandering map scored better than the super-gerrymandered map. What’s surprising is that the best Pro Bono could do in 2012 was still more gerrymandered than the map Chicago created in the 1920s when it first split into 50 wards (that scored 49 on the gerrymandering scale).

Why? Map the scores for each of the Pro Bono wards and it becomes pretty clear:

The districts that appear most gerrymandered to our formula (darker blue on the map) are all on the fringe of the city, around natural boundaries such as Lake Michigan, and more importantly constructed ones such as O’Hare.

As we noted in the original article, Chicago itself scores 88, reflecting the contentious way the city came together. The O’Hare flagpole annexation hadn’t happened in 1927, so the base level of gerrymandering in Chicago was much lower.

That’s not an excuse for how the Chicago ward map is actually constructed, but something to keep in mind when trying to assign a score. It’s important to look at the context when using any type of metric, and in this case issues outside of redistricting change the outcome.

Whitaker said the new regional brigade will help support more Code for America cities in the Midwest, and possibly a regional summit sometime in the next year.

Inspired by a series of articles from the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingram, we decided to see just how gerrymandered Chicago’s wards have become.

The result is the gif above, where we track how the 2nd ward has shifted north and from a shape resembling a square to something a little more irregular.

You can find more in the full story, where we score Chicago gerrymandering from the 1920s to the wards that will take effect in February, and compare it to Ingram’s findings on the squiggliest congressional districts.