Our History

Smart Chicago was born in the conversations of the early to mid-2000s around closing the digital divide. As the Internet became an essential tool for citizenship, and a central place for people to gather, it became clear that uneven access to the Internet was a problem to be solved.

The culmination of these conversations was the May 2007 report titled, "The City that NetWorks: Transforming Society and Economy Through Digital Excellence".

There were eight central recommendations in this report, including this:

The city should recruit committed civic leaders to organize and launch the Partnership for a Digital Chicago, a new nonprofit entity, housed at The Chicago Community Trust and led by corporate, philanthropic, city, community and technology industry representatives. Its mission will be to ensure that all of Chicago achieves digital excellence and takes advantage of the social and economic opportunities that arise from universal use of digital technology.

This idea-- the Partnership for a Digital Chicago-- became the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

This solid planning meant that Chicago's digital excellence efforts were "shovel-ready" when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed in February 2009.

The City of Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology, with the support of partners and supporters, applied for and received grants under the Broadband Technology Opportunities program of ARRA for Sustainable Broadband Adoption and the support of Public Computer Centers. Smart Chicago helps the City administer all of the projects under this funding.

As a founding partner, the City has granted the funds for both of these federal grants to Smart Chicago. Together with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust, the City support the existing work of Smart Chicago and help guide its strategy for the future.

In July 2011, the Smart Chicago Advisory Committee hired its first Executive Director, Daniel X. O'Neil, to oversee all existing projects and guide the organization beyond the stimulus funds into a new center of gravity for civic investments. We seek more corporate and philanthropic partners to help guide our efforts.

To see what we've been up to, you can see our entire archives here.

Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

We substantially completed our work on a series of federally-funded projects in December 2013. Here's links to the project pages related to this program:

Advisory Committee

John Tolva served on the Smart Chicago Advisory Committee during the time that he was Chief Technology Officer for the City of Chicago. He was replaced on our Advisory Committee by Commissioner and Chief Technology Officer Brenna Berman in October of 2013

More thumbnail history and fallow projects

Here’s a handy timeline with key elements of Smart Chicago history.