Smart City Initiatives

Leading examples of smart cities across the globe

Chicago Smart City: Shaping the Future With Data

Chicago is ranked eighth in the world smartest city rankings, behind other smart city initiatives like London, New York City, and Barcelona. However, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, aims to surpass all other cities and make Chicago “the most data-driven government in the world”.

Chicago is implementing a data-focused strategy to create smarter infrastructure and resources for both government and residents to make Chicago a world leader in smart cities. Chicago is using initiatives like World Business Chicago, Array of Things, and smart mobility, which will make Chicago smarter and greener and will provide a better quality of life for its residents.  

In this article you'll learn about:

How Chicago Is Becoming a Smart City

The city of Chicago is ranked Alpha on the smart city world ranking and found to be the eighth smartest city worldwide and third in the US according to a recent study

Chicago is focusing most of its efforts on smarter and highly available data. ‘Smart Cities’ AT&T, the company behind Chicago’s smart city initiative, is planning a massive data-driven infrastructure overhaul. The overhaul will see Internet of Things (IoT) sensors placed in a city-wide system. The sensors will provide large amounts of information, which will be used to create smarter solutions for improved quality of life. 

These solutions include:

Smarter Infrastructure 

Smart sensors, embedded within infrastructure, can detect faulty equipment like leaky pipes and damaged street lights. The system can also notify the city maintenance office, and let them know where the broken equipment is located so they can send out a repair crew. This method is not only smarter but also cost-efficient because the office does not need to send patrol teams out to look for light bulbs that need to be replaced. 

Smarter Resources for Governments 

Chicago is already using predictive analytics to address challenges and improve services. City workers can use this data to detect lake pollution and rodent outbreaks so they can predict hazards in restaurants and environmental areas and, for example, prioritize inspections. 

Smarter Resources for Residents

Smart Cities AT&T also plans to give the residents of Chicago free access to data. Residents can use the data to find information about the city’s neighborhoods and create maps and graphs about the city. Smart apps can also use the data gathered by the sensors. For example, an app can track air quality and notify residents, in specific neighborhoods, about the poor air quality in their area.

Learn more about smart city initiatives in our guide: Los Angeles Smart City: Data And Sustainability

Array of Things

In 2016, Chicago partnered with the “Array of Things” (AoT) initiative to install a network of smart sensor boxes mounted on light posts around the city. The sensors collect and track real-time environmental data and urban activities around Chicago. 

What sets Chicago’s AoT initiative apart from smart sensor network solutions in other smart cities is the scale of the project. AoT plans to scale up the project, which began in 2016 and included a small number of boxes in midtown Chicago, by installing 500 sensor boxes across the city. Each AoT box is protected from theft and damages and contains up to 15 sensors, a computer, two cameras, a microphone, and a cooling solution.

Array of Things Applications

Currently, AoT collects large amounts of data and measurements including light, air, sound, temperature, vibration levels, and traffic. In the near future, when AoT is fully operational in Chicago, it will also collect data on, for example, standing water, flooding, precipitation, and wind. 

All the data collected by AoT is open so anyone can access and use it. The data collected by the Chicago AoT project can be used to measure environmental factors, such as climate, air quality, and noise.

Learn more about smart city initiatives in our guide: Smart City New York: Cooperation To Innovation

Chicago’s Smart City Initiatives

While some may consider the Array of Things initiative the city’s key initiative, Chicago has a detailed tech plan that includes 28 initiatives.  

Smart Lighting

Chicago Smart Lighting Project is a major initiative that aims to replace 270,000 outdated street light posts with new energy-saving LED streetlights equipped with sensors. Adopting smart and energy-efficient LED bulbs provides better lighting which increases night visibility and safety while reducing costs.

Smarter Internet: Fiber Optic Cable and Chicago Cloud 

Chicago plans to implement a city-wide fiber optic cable capable of gigabit-speed broadband over an open network to attract tech companies. The city is also building the “Chicago Cloud” to consolidate its data centers with advanced hardware and data management software. 

Smart Mobility

With Smart Mobility, people can use the smart and highly available data with apps and services to find local establishments like restaurants and stores. They can also map safer walking routes and biking trails. Chicago can use smart city technology to adjust the price of parking according to demand and to guide people to the best available parking spots.

With Transit Signal Priority (TSP), Chicago Transit Authority can adjust traffic light when, for example, a bus approaches an intersection. The TSP can switch the traffic light to green and keep the light green longer so the bus has time to clear the intersection. Smart mobility initiatives like vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-vehicle technology also prepare Chicago for the future of mobility. Autonomous cars and shuttles can be dynamically routed by software so they can move safely and quickly through the city. 

Chicago’s Open Data Portal

Chicago’s Open Data Portal, signed under an executive order in 2012, is a database of information about the City of Chicago. The open data portal updates frequently to improve the quality of life for residents of Chicago. With the open data portal, you can find facts about your neighborhood, and create and download maps and graphs to analyze information about the city.

World Business Chicago

World Business Chicago (WBC) is a public-private organization that drives economic growth while also focusing on the principle of inclusion. This non-profit partnership aims to promote Chicago as a leading global city by creating jobs and supporting local businesses. WBC is part of many of the civic engagement initiatives that aim to make Chicago a smarter city.

Civic Engagement

To make its smart city plans more relevant, Chicago plans to use training and engagement programs to increase the participation of its residents and businesses in the digital economy. This initiative is based on a plan established by multiple partners including the WBC.

First, with the help of its partners, Chicago plans to create a connected community profile that will be used as a benchmark to create a best practices toolkit. This toolkit will be used by other communities to achieve similar levels of access and use. Second, after the success of the initial benchmark, Chicago plans to scale up the project and use the best practices toolkit to create more smart communities.

Chicago will partner with its educational institutions like Chicago Public Schools (CPS), City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), Chicago Public Library (CPL) to engage and educate younger people in STEM and provide them with hands-on experience so they are prepared for jobs of the future.

Looking Forward

Chicago is already an Alpha City according to smart cities rankings and it has a detailed, data-driven plan composed of 28 initiatives to become even smarter.  Chicago’s smart city strategy not only has the largest AoT project in the world, but it also covers many other topics like savings, services, and access. The City also aims to benefit all residents by providing more opportunities and promoting inclusion and engagement. 

Backed by an active and ambitious mayor and with many partners like the WBC, Chicago has all the right tools to become a world leader in smart cities.