Chicago's flawed technology plan: better than nothing, but a long ways to go

Wed, 2013-09-25 06:10 -- Jesse Berst

Chicago skylineMayor Rahm Emmanuel gave his CTO John Tolva a mission when he took office. "[He] told me, 'I want Chicago to be the Seoul, Korea of North America,'" said Tolva as quoted in a story in Crain's Chicago Business. And now Tolva has a roadmap to get him there -- Chicago's first-ever technology plan.

Although terribly incomplete, the plan does check off all the boxes in terms of important goals. You can read about the plan's five pillars at the end of the press release shown below. Better yet, read the full Chicago Technology plan in PDF format by clicking the link.

When you do, you'll see that it is long on noble aspirations but short on guidance and short on economic incentives. When I say guidance, I mean a technical framework so that each city department doesn't have to reinvent the wheel. As the Smart Cities Council emphasizes in its forthcoming Readiness Guide, communities need citywide policies for things such as cybersecurity, data privacy, data architecture, use of open standards, and more. Without such guidelines, Chicago will end up with a patchwork of incomplete and incompatible technology projects.

For a better approach, read about Glasgow, Scotland, which won a competition (and $38 million) to become the UK's "Future Cities Demonstrator." It is establishing a citywide technology platform.

-- Jesse Berst


Comprehensive Plan Lays Out Digital Roadmap that will Allow Chicago to Expand Cutting-Edge Approach to Technology, Creating Jobs and Improving Quality of Life for Residents

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today released the city of Chicago’s first ever technology plan, a framework that will allow the city to maintain its leadership in technology and build on a commitment to modern infrastructure, smart communities, and technological innovation.

Chicago tech plan“Technology is critical for both job creation and improving quality of life for our residents,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Both of these areas are top priorities in the city of Chicago and this framework will help us realize our collective potential. I see the development of technology in Chicago as a key area of focus for the future.”

The Tech plan starts from a position of strength in technology —including a robust data-science program, world-renowned research centers and universities, and a fast- growing data center industry — and highlights 28 initiatives within five broad strategies that together will enable Chicago to realize its vision of becoming the city where technology fuels opportunity, inclusion, engagement, and innovation. The plan is focused on:

(A) Next-Generation Infrastructure

Establish next-generation infrastructure that enables residents and businesses to become more digitally-engaged.

(B) Every Community a Smart Community

Bridge the digital divide to ensure the full participation of all Chicago residents and businesses in the digital economy through training and engagement programs that make technology relevant, useful, and productive.

(C ) Efficient, Effective and Open Government

Leverage data and new technology to make government more efficient, effective, and open.

(D) Civic Innovation

Work with civic technology innovators to develop creative solutions to city challenges.

(E) Technology Sector Growth

Encourage the vibrancy of Chicago’s Technology Sector by attracting and retaining STEM professionals and supporting the creation and expansion of technology companies.

“This Technology Plan lays out a vision for a Chicago which is more effective, more efficient — in a word, smarter,” said John Tolva, the city’s Chief Technology Officer. “In Chicago, we believe that the power of technology is driven by the power of the people who use and benefit from that technology, and we are seeking to empower people to use the technology.”


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.