Big City, Big Data

big data 1

On Saturday September 27th, I headed downtown to visit the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s exhibit on Big Data. Once I checked in, we had some free time before the tour actually started to take a look at the big Chicago Model exhibit they had set up in the atrium.  The Chicago Model is an up-to-date scale model of Chicago that you are able to interact with using touch screens and lights to highlight different aspects of big data that can be found throughout the city. ‘Big Data’, as the exhibit mentiones, refers to the volume, velocity and variety of the digital information we generate today.

big data 2

As we started out on the actual tour, we were given iPads to use that had a slideshow of graphs, charts, pictures and other useful visual aides and data representations that helped up better understand what was being talked about.

It was our tour guides first tour ever, yet she did a great job! Our tour was a three-block square route that consisted of various stops to point out examples of how big data was being put to use in the city.  Our tour stops consisted of the following topics:

  • The EPA creating Energy Star tests to evaluate and rate a building based on how efficient it is based off of big data
  • The city monitoring twitter and online reviews looking for key words to target possible health and safety concerns; ex. searching for “food poisoning” for restaurants that could be a risk (I found this to be really interesting & a fantastic idea!)
  • How online reports can be filed with the city by people regarding hazards such as graffiti, rat problems, potholes, etc so the city can then use the data generated to fix these issues (Great for me, because there is nothing worse than potholes in the city & now I know where to complain!)
  • How big data is used to analyze population demographics and shifts, of the loop specifically (Found some of the most interesting facts here- college students make up a large part of the population, there are about 63,000 students from 21 institutions living in the loop, 48.7% of the population is in the 15-35 year old age range, and the population in general in the loop almost tripled in the last 20 years!)
  • How big data is used to track transportations patterns & statistics around the city; elaborated on the installation of bike lanes; large focus on Divvy bikes
  • The installation of red light cameras and speed cameras (This is something I can do without!)
  • The use of security cameras around the city
  • The new solar-powered recycling/trash bins found around the city
  • Innovative new sensors being installed around the city that monitor a variety of things such are air quality, temperature, noise levels and traffic flow using new technologies and big data

Many of the things mentioned on the tour I had already heard of or interacted with but just overlooked, it was interesting to find out more about them and how they worked. Yet, I did also find out about a lot of new things as well that were going on that I wasn’t aware of yet. These uses of big data could offer many utopian stories because they’re often implemented to promote the healthy and safety of the residents, to protect the environment and to make out city a better place. Ex. people using Divvy bikes are being more eco-conscious by biking rather than driving. Yet, the use of big data can also be dystopian if the use of the data is corrupted and manipulated, causing more harm than it does good. Ex. speed cameras being a way to just generate revenue as opposed to trying to protect it’s citizens from harm.


What do you think of these uses of big data? Which have you noticed, when and where? Can the city still do more?


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