Reinventing Chicago – Kicking Off Future Innovation with The Center for Neighborhood Technology, E.A.T. and The Chicago Design & Development Community

Last evening, I was happy to be able to attend the “Reinventing Chicago” kick-off event produced by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and sponsored by a variety of groups, including E.A.T (Education, Agriculture, Technology).  Since it’s inception, I’ve been pretty heavily involved in E.A.T, serving as the primary adviser on matters of experience and technology.

The event last night included individual talks and a panel discussion that included Scott Bernstein (CNT President), Andres Duany (Duany Plater-Zybeck & Co, noted architect and co-founder of Congress of the New Urbanism) and John Tolva (CTO for the City of Chicago). Laura Washington, from the Sun Times, moderated the panel.

It was interesting to hear the vision of John Tolva. With his team, he has undertaken a monumental effort of exposing all sorts of data related to the City of Chicago’s operations. This strategy has led to the availability of The Chicago Data Portal an online collection of data sources that cover just about everything related to the operations of the City. The data is vast – from every city employee name and the city budget to the location of bike racks.

The purpose, as explained by John Tolva, is to empower developers and designers in the city to create applications on top of the data – apps targeted at helping citizens to navigate life as a resident of the city of Chicago. Aside from the product of hack-a-thons, including one taking place this weekend as part of the Reinventing Chicago event, Web and mobile applications are springing up left and right all thanks to this effort by the city. This initiative is enabling a full ecosystem of digital experiences.

Another push by the city is related to the Open 311 system. As described by the city, “Open311 brings unprecedented new levels of openness, innovation and accountability to the delivery of City services. We’ve reinvented and reinvigorated City service delivery with the latest in digital technologies. Open311 provides the technology to submit photos with service requests, allowing for more accurate and detailed reporting of issues to City departments. The new 311 Service Tracker lets you track service requests from submission to resolution of issue and status email sent to requester.”

This PDF gives a pretty nice overview of Open 311.

It is a very interesting time for local, state and even the federal government. Similarly to what we see taking place in large corporate enterprises, the concept of “consumerization” is also happening in government. Municipalities are scrambling to find ways to be transparent in the way they operate, and what Chicago is doing is a model for others to follow.

I plan to share a lot more information in the coming months about E.A.T For the sake of this post, there is similarly to what the City is doing with exposing data.

The short version: E.A.T is working with educational institutions, those involved with urban agriculture and others who would benefit from having accurate, easy to use, and updated data to power experiences that will contribute to a healthier and more well informed community. For more information on E.A.T Check out the preliminary Web site. It isn’t just about technology, however. We see technology as the enabler for widespread information and curriculum and other programs that relate to both urban agriculture and healthy eating.