By Rob Mitchum // January 19, 2016
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology announced today the launch of OpenGrid, a website and mobile app that uses open data to let residents search for unique information and events happening around them. Using OpenGrid, residents can access data that is tailored to their location and needs, such as which city services are delivered on their block, nearby street closures, city activities happening in their communities, and more.
“Chicago is a leader in using open data to better serve its residents,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “OpenGrid is the next step in making open data accessible to Chicagoans, and it is part of our ongoing commitment to transparency and innovation in city government.”
Over the past four years, Chicago has led in the publishing of data, leveraging the City of Chicago’s Data Portal to make city data available to all residents. With OpenGrid, the City is making that data even more user-friendly. It allows residents to learn more about their communities, and encourages communities to add their own data and civic developers to enhance the capabilities of the app, all to to engage and serve the city’s diverse neighborhoods. For example, a community group can use OpenGrid to determine when and where best to organize an event based on OpenGrid’s ability to show active building permits, street closures, and more.
OpenGrid is built atop Plenario, a platform for discovering, mapping, and accessing open city data developed by researchers at the Urban Center for Computation and Data, Chicago Harris, and DataMade. The open source design of Plenario was intended to inspire and enable governments and third parties to design user-friendly applications like OpenGrid, said UrbanCCD Director Charlie Catlett.
“The majority of cities do not have the resources to support their own data analytics team, and they are eager to use their data to make better decisions,” said Catlett, who is also senior computer scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and a senior fellow at the Computation Institute. “This is a reusable platform that builds a proper foundation for all of the spatially-enabled data that cities possess, but have yet to start using to their fullest.”
OpenGrid is part of the Emanuel Administration’s commitment to leveraging open data. Since Mayor Emanuel took office, the City has overhauled the City’s data portal — resulting in substantial growth in content and traffic, including:
The number of datasets on the portal has more than doubled. Today the portal contains more than 560 datasets compared to 271 datasets in 2011. Total downloads of datasets from the portal has also grown. In December 2015, 2.7 terabytes of data were accessed on the portal. In May 2011, only 25 gigabytes of data were accessed.
Chicago’s investment in open data, and through strategic partnerships with civic tech volunteers and pro bono corporations, has also helped improve city services. By making data accessible, the City’s significant expansion of content and growth in traffic has facilitated the development of numerous innovative civic applications by independent developers, such as:
- Chicago Works, which allows residents to make service requests to 311 and track issues as they are addressed
- Wasmycartowed.com, which lets users look up their car by license plate, make, or model and find out if it has been towed or relocated
- MindMyBusiness, is an iOS and Android app that provides alerts to small business on construction, traffic, 311, inspections, and other data so they can make more informed decisions to save money and create opportunities.
- SweepAround.us, which allows users to input their address and find out when their street will be swept next. It also provides the option to register for text, e-mail and calendar alerts.
- ChicagoLobbyists.org, which provides users with information about lobbying in Chicago.
The City of Chicago has also pioneered the use of predictive analytics with open data to streamline the city’s approach to food safety. By leveraging advanced research methods and open data, increasing the rate of finding the critical violations that cause foodborne illnesses by 25 percent.
“OpenGrid builds on City’s commitment to use innovative tools to improve the lives of all residents,” said Brenna M. Berman, Commissioner & CIO of the Chicago Department of Innovation & Technology. “We will continue to make more data available to the public and enhance tools that make that data usable, and in doing so, put the power of data into the hands of Chicago’s communities.”
OpenGrid is made possible by the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, an ideas competition that encourages cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life – and that have the potential to spread to other cities. According to James Anderson, head of Government Innovation at Bloomberg Philanthropies, “One of the biggest challenges cities face with opening up data is making it usable, accessible, and relevant in the lives of their citizens. OpenGrid represents an exciting step forward for Chicago and the field – very much embodying the type of innovation we hope emerges from the Mayors Challenge.” As an open source project, OpenGrid code and documentation is available to other cities, allowing them to replicate with their own data.
OpenGrid is hosted by the Smart Chicago Collaborative, an organization housed at the Chicago Community Trust dedicated to making technology available to all Chicago communities. The website and app are available today at opengrid.io.