A Quiet Chicago Data Revolution

By Mike Fourcher | Thursday, June 9, 2011

A bunch of random servers. Credit: Flickr/torkildr.

Until recently, if you ever wanted to know how your city worked, not the politics, but the basic machinery, how basic things get done, how much, when and were, you would pretty much get a collective blank stare from Chicago government.

And then, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Roscoe View neighbor John Tolva as his Chief Technology Officer. As CTO, Tolva has been steadily opening up city databases so that average citizens can search them and even create automatic queries. Powerful stuff.

It seems like every day a new database is added to the list. For those of us who want to dive into the mechanics of our city, it is a heady time. Some of the recently opened data includes:

  • A nightly updated list of Chicago purchases, back to 1996
  • The names, positions and salaries of every Chicago employee
  • Balance sheets and income projections for every Chicago TIF district
  • Average daily traffic counts for every arterial street in the city
  • Daily updated list of building permits
  • 311 requests for tree and sewage maintenance

The data is not perfect. For some reason much of it contains street and ZIP code locations, but not wards. But still, it’s a treasure trove.

Some things mined from the databases:

It is pretty easy to figure out, so dive in if you’re curious!

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