Presenting big data about Chicago

The Chicago Architecture Foundation has a new exhibit highlighting the use of big data in Chicago:

Architects, planners, engineers and citizens, it contends, are increasingly using massive amounts of data to analyze urban issues and shape innovative designs…

But data, the show argues, is useful as well as ubiquitous. We see some classically gritty Chicago stuff to back this up, though it’s not quite powerful or precise enough to be fully persuasive…

More convincing are the show’s examples of “digital visualization,” which is geekspeak for using digital technology to present and analyze urban planning data.

Take a monumental, crowd-pleasing map of Chicago, 15 feet high and 30 feet wide, which presents the footprints of thousands of buildings, even individual houses, and color-codes them by the era in which they were built. We see the impact of the city’s three great building booms, from Chicago’s earliest days to 1899, from 1900 to 1945, and from 1946 to 1979. The recent surges that filled downtown with new skyscrapers look puny by comparison.

Also worth seeing: Video monitors which display data for Divvy, the city’s bike-sharing program. They offer neat tidbits: Divvy’s most popular station, for example, is at Millennium Park.

Sounds interesting. Big cities are complex social entities who could benefit from large-scale and real-time data collection and analysis. Of course, as Kamin notes at the end, there still is a human side to cities that cannot be ignored but getting a handle through data on what is happening could go a long way.

Another dimension to this is how to best present big data. While the online presentation of maps has grown popular, how can this be done best in person? I look forward to seeing this exhibit in person as I already like what the Chicago Architecture Foundation has done with this space. Here is part of the gallery a few years ago:

CAFChicagoAug11This is a great free place to learn more about Chicago and then choose among the cool offerings in the gift shop or sign up for one of the architecture tours that cover all different aspects of Chicago.