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.
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.