Chicago’s City Digital Uses Sensors to Evaluate Green Infrastructure

  • Between bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavers, and the like, there are many green infrastructure solutions, but not much data about which types work best in which situations.
  • A new pilot project by City Digital, a consortium of public, private and higher education entities in Chicago, aims to test the efficacy of different green stormwater projects using sensors and cloud computing.
  • The civic tech project is already monitoring two locations: a bioswale and a street with permeable pavements and native plants.
  • The sensors at each location measure precipitation, air pressure, soil moisture, humidity, chemical absorption and more.
  • Once installations are done in spring 2017, the pilot will include six sites transmitting over 20,000 streams of data.
  • According to Jen Kinney’s interview with Brenna Berman, Chicago’s chief information officer, the pilot is essentially testing two things: where certain types of green infrastructure can be most effective, and what’s the best data interface for the city to learn from the information being gathered.
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Dashboard showing green infrastructure monitoring data. Image by UI Labs.
  • Despite a huge investment in traditional water infrastructure, Chicago residents still face significant flooding and the property damage that follows.
  • Around 181,000 flooding-related property damage claims totaling over $735 million have been recorded in the past five years.
  • David Leopold, City Digital’s director of program management, says the data will have immediate and long-term applications.
  • The city can properly asses when or when not to release water in certain scenarios based on the collected data.
  • When planning future infrastructure installations, the information provided by the project will be able create a feedback loop that tests a design assumption.
  • Observing those kinds of higher-level trends should be possible by mid-2017.
  • By 2017, the data will become available on Chicago’s open data portal, and by mid-year, Berman expects to be able to use collected data to create new guidelines and managing principles for the water department.
An example and explanation of a bioswale. Image by Asakura Robinson.
An example and explanation of a bioswale. Image by Asakura Robinson.

Feature photo by UI Labs.

Author: Nicholas Efthimiadis

Seattle grown. Avid skier and occasional ski racer. Passionate about all things urban (particularly transportation & housing). University of Washington 2016 graduate: BA in Economics and a minor in Urban Design and Planning. Extensive experience in fictitious cartography and sand-city molding.