Don’t make your citizens hunt for info. Chicago is giving its (and yours) a map

Fri, 2016-02-05 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

In a lot of cities, open data isn’t very open. The data may be available, but those who want to use it have to poke around what are often complicated websites to identify exactly the right data set and find their analytical tools that can make sense of them.

A new effort in Chicago, however, is opening the use of open data by making it much easier to use. Citizens won’t have to navigate a complicated maze to find the right data and generate their own answers. The city — figuratively and literally — is drawing them a map.

But the effort doesn’t just help residents of Chicago. They can help your city too. Chicago is giving its source code away.

See the answers you’re looking for
Chicago has launched OpenGrid, which turns open data into maps. For instance, citizens can visualize various databases to see how many potholes are around them, what new restaurants have passed their initial inspections, and the status of the city’s response to a 311 request.

Meanwhile, people who are thinking about starting a new business can visualize company records on the map to see what is already located around them.

The maps run on virtually any device that citizens may be using — from desktop PCs to tablets and smartphones.

Effort grows out of long mapping history
Open Grid is growing out from its internal WindyGrid mapping tool, first launched four years ago. That tool allows staff to visualize the city’s assets and where they are deployed, helping them to better direct and coordinate responses to storms, among other things.

But Chicago CIO Brenna Berman says the city needed to do more, emphasizing that the businesses and the citizens are the true clients of its Department of Innovation and Technology.

Your city can benefit from Chicago’s work
But OpenGrid isn’t just for Chicago. It can help your city too. OpenGrid is open source, meaning others can take the code and build upon it.

OpenGrid can be configured to run off of a variety of sources, including, which can intake data from Socrata and CKAN open data portals.

The city relied on a number of key partnerships to develop the tool, including a partnership with the University of Chicago’s Urban Center for Computation and Data. A local civic organization, Smart Chicago Collaborative, also provided vital support.