Connecting state and local government leaders

Cities Will Soon Be Able Deploy Chicago’s Geographic Information System With a Simple Click

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois Pozdeyev Vitaly /


Connecting state and local government leaders

The city of Chicago plans to put OpenGrid on Amazon’s marketplace in the coming weeks, a milestone in making the city’s real-time situational awareness and business intelligence tool available to other governments.

By simply clicking “Deploy,” other cities can be running the geographic information system, along with the source code to configure and customize as needed—giving the software the App Store treatment.

In November, the City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge awarded Chicago for OpenGrid $50,000 in Amazon Web Services credits, which the city spent ensuring cloud scalability before launching the tool on Jan. 19.

“We’re going to be able reach out to a broader audience and make data useful,” Tom Schenk Jr., Chicago’s chief data officer, told Route Fifty in an interview. “They may be aware of our open data portal but didn’t care to work with data that way.”

OpenGrid evolved out of WindyGrid, an internal, grid-based street system built in 2012, ahead of NATO Summit that was hosted in the nation’s third-largest city, to see what was happening with public safety in real time. The code base is the same, but WindyGrid is paired with the MongoDB database for handling sensitive data and OpenGrid with for ingesting open data in a way that allows for spatial queries.

Developed in five months, OpenGrid doesn’t require the technical skill Chicago’s open data portal does to navigate. A search box allows users to quickly recall historical data, like business licenses for a particular ZIP code, though the real power is in advanced search.

New users would be wise to first interact with OpenGrid using the dropdown Commonly Used Queries menu. The system natively plots dots on a map, which users can draw on to show only dots in a certain area or filter by predefined neighborhoods or actual location.

There are also heat and weather map overlays, and the tool features responsive design on mobile devices.

Technology to navigate neighborhoods existed previously, Schenk said, but it was “pragmatically hard to do.”

Now users can map crime reports, 311 calls, restaurants with liquor licenses and even places permitted for TV or movie filming. Because OpenGrid is open source, Chicago’s highly engaged civic hacking community can fix bugs and improve the experience.

Chief data officers and chief information officers in other cities have approached Chicago City Hall about adopting OpenGrid, Schenk said, and users will soon be able to “interact with buildings and roads as if they were data”—clicking for summary graphs and dashboards depicting trends.

“Right now, based on feedback from the community and also internally from city employees, we need to better visualize transit data—the movements of buses and traffic on OpenGrid,” Schenk said, “given the number of ways people travel in the city.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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