Chicago: City of Big Data Exhibit

When the word “Big Data” is used in a conversation, I think of individuals who take information from bank accounts, social media sites or anything from the internet and selling personal information to companies in order to try to sell consumers more products. Once I entered the Chicago Architectural Foundation Exhibit on Big Data, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my bias was inaccurate.  Chicago: City of Big Data was absolutely astounding. When you enter the building you are first encountered with an

Scale Model of Chicago

Scale Model of Chicago

amazing scale model of the entire city of Chicago. Around the scale model are boards which state when certain buildings where built and by which company. One interesting fact I learned was that initially everything east of Michigan Ave was declared a public park. That’s why you’ll notice that buildings only line up on the west side of the street!  There were also interactive screens that displayed how big data was used to determine how many people ride bikes around Millennium Park in certain months and even down to each hour!

Screen displaying data of bikeriders in October

Screen displaying data of bike riders in October

Once I stepped away from the scale model, I walked over to large placards explaining facts regarding how data fits into the design process. I learned that there were seven steps that make data meaningful for citizens and create solutions.  The seven steps were: define the problem, collect the data, process the data, visualize the data (onto maps or into charts), analyze the results (finding patterns or trends in the data), reflect on solutions and share your ideas. These steps seem very simple but are the foundations in order to use the data effectively in order to change laws and make cities more advanced. It was fascinating to discover that in the past, data was hidden and behind the scenes in corporate servers. Now data is entering our everyday lives. It’s not purely based on tangible items you buy, but based on our behaviors, minds and even our body.

Interactive display of data points using a “point cloud”

I never knew that big data could be used to determine which schools need to be closed down or used to determine which construction logistics are most effective for safety in the area. I also never knew personal data only costs $0.0005 per person and that companies buy data in bulk which comes out to about $0.50 per 1,000 people. I believe that Big Data is used to create a utopian society, but selling personal information of others creates dystopian. This exhibit made me view information in an entirely different manner. There’s a big business obtaining data which I was not entirely aware of. Do you believe Big Data creates a dystopian or utopian reality? What would have to change in order for Big Data to make Chicago a utopian reality?



  1. I think that if there is transparency with data (as well with information, knowledge, etc.), we are moving towards a more utopian society, because I believe that equal access to knowledge would be beneficial to our society. I wish I was able to visit the exhibit but I’m too swamped with work and school to be able to make it out there :/

  2. I agree with you that big data has its benefits but selling personal information is dystopian. I didn’t know that everything east of Michigan Ave was declared a public park. The open parks and grassy areas are one of my favorite things about the city and I never knew the history behind it. Thanks for sharing!

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