Cook County Forest Preserves Map

Where can I bring my dog? How do I access that trail? Where can I go cross country skiing? Where can I have that big party? The Forest Preserves of Cook County in partnership with Smart Chicago has developed the Forest Preserves of Cook County interactive map. The Cook County Forest Preserves Map shows location and information about trails, points of interest, activities, and groves.

Some special features of interest:

  • Uses GPS to find trails, points of interest, and activities near you and get directions.
  • Users can search by activity, location name, city, and zip code.
  • The page URL updates as you search or view location details. You can bookmark all the best places to fly model airplanes or share with friends that the picnic is at Schiller Woods-East. Because the page URL updates, the browser back and forward buttons can be used to go to the last search or view.
  • Mobile friendly: The map is designed for both desktop and mobile use. On a mobile device, a user can toggle between list and map views.
  • Search and filtering is local making it more reliable out in the field with an inconsistent mobile connection.

On 10/30/17,  we rolled out the alerts functionality. The map will now show any alerts on the map detail panel. There is also a list version that is embedded on the Forest Preserves website under “Construction, Closures & Other Work“.

The web application is built on two pieces of source code: Trailsy and Trailsy Server, both pioneered by Code for America. All of the data used to power the site is open for all and can be followed on the project’s GitHub page. I am a long-time Smart Chicago Consultant and the main developer on the project who is also working closing with Cook County’s Department of Technology to tackle open data processes and policies countywide. This project was made possible with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Healthy Hotspot initiative led by the Cook County Department of Public Health. Learn more at

So what can you do at the Cook County Forest Preserves? Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. Did you know that you can play Disc Golf at Cook County Forest Preserves Rolling Knolls Disc Golf Course in Elgin?
  2. Hike 16 miles through the North Branch Trail System Red Paved Trail.
  3. Check out the Kid’s Corner and Butterfly Garden at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland.
  4. Go on a Treetop Adventure and Zip Line at Bemis Woods.
  5. Rent a boat at the Busse Lake Boating Center and explore Busse Lake.

Let us know what you think! Tweet to us @smartchicago and to me @joshkalov.

Kyla Williams Co-Presents Today at Philanthropy Ohio’s Annual Conference

Today, Leon Wilson, CIO of the Cleveland Foundation, and I will co-present at the Philanthropy Ohio’s annual conference with a theme this year of “Philanthropy Forward” and a concentrated discussion on Digital Civic Engagement & Community-Centered Design. Philanthropy Forward ’17 is set to inform practices, strategies and goals and connect peers in the field of philanthropy. The conference will also focus on the future of philanthropy with insight into the current state of the sector – fueled by recent research – addressing transitions, change and the leadership pipeline. With several networking and roundtable discussions, attendees will discover how to shift failures to successes, effectively fund advocacy and civic engagement and hear from  exceptional leaders across the state and country.

Leon and I also presented in April 2017 at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference “Leading Together” as part of a panel discussion with: Aaron Deacon, Managing Director, Kansas City Digital Drive; Elizabeth Reynoso, Assistant Director of Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities; and Lilly Weinberg, Program Director/Community Foundations, John S. & James L. Knight Foundation on “Supporting Civic Engagement through Technology and Community-Centered Design”. After finishing that presentation we decided more collaborative sharing between cities was necessary and lead to this opportunity at Philanthropy Ohio.

Community building in the digital era requires providing a space for the public sector and local communities to interact. Building solutions with peoplenot just for them – by using community-centered design can have profound social impact. This has been central to Smart Chicago’s work and has lead to the building of processes, products, services, and other lightweight tech solutions that have been helpful.

Our presentation today has the learning objectives:

  • To introduce different models developed in communities to address civic engagement digitally
  • To encourage the consideration of embedding support for digital civic engagement into existing grantmaking & advancement efforts

You can follow the happenings of the conference on Twitter @PhilanthropyOH and @SmartChgoKyla or by using the hashtag #PhilFWD17.


Good News!!! The Smart Chicago team is moving and now will be co-located with the City Digital Team at UI Labs. As such, our individual emails will be changing to:

Kyla Williams 

Sonja Marziano

Denise Linn     

Leslie Durr       

Our new mailing address is 1415 N. Cherry Avenue Chicago, IL 60642 and general phone number is 312.281.6900.

Please check our website at or follow us on twitter @smartchicago for more updates.

We appreciate your patience during this time of transition.

Exploring the Chicago Works for You Dataset

Editor’s note: there is a massive set of data behind the Smart Chicago Chicago Works for You (CWFY) product– a citywide dashboard with three million requests, across fourteen services, all drawn from Chicago’s Open311 system.  I asked Q. Ethan McCallum, a Chicago-based consultant focused on helping businesses to succeed and improve through practical use of data analysis, to review the data and see what we could learn. Here’s his take. –DXO

Drafting a game plan

Our first order of business was a brainstorming session, in order to establish a plan of action and narrow the scope of our efforts.

CWFY data includes temporal and spatial elements, in addition to the service request counts. That makes for a very rich dataset and an open-ended analysis effort. At the same time, we wanted to this to be a reasonably simple, lighthearted exercise and we were under time constraints.

After some brainstorming, we chose to limit our exploration to the daily counts of service requests, and we would search for interesting and non-obvious connections.  Specifically, we wanted to look for unexpected correlations in the data: would two services experience similar movement in request volume? and if so, would we be surprised by the connection?

Statistically speaking, correlation is expressed as a numeric measure called the Pearson correlation coefficient.  Often written as as r, it can take on values from -1 through 1.  A value of 1 means the two series of numbers — in our case, daily counts of service requests — move in perfect unison.  (Movement in one series doesn’t necessarily cause movement in the other, mind you; it just means that they walk in lock-step.)  A score of -1 means that the two series move in opposite ways: if one value increases, the other decreases.  When R is 0, the two series’ movements have no clear relation.

Interpretation of r is somewhat subjective: we can say that values “close to” 1 or -1 indicate a strong relationship and values “near” 0 do not indicate a relationship; but there is no clear-cut definition of “close” in this case.  People often say that r greater than 0.7 or less than -0.7 indicates reasonable positive or negative correlation, respectively.  Then again, you may want something closer to 0.9 or -0.9 if you’re trying to make a strong case or working on sensitive matters.

In search of the non-obvious

Once we had established our game plan, we fired up some R and Python and got to work.  (Note that this is a rarity in the world of data analysis.  Data prep and cleanup often account for most of the work in an analysis effort. Because of how we’d built CWFY, the data was already clean and in the format we needed.)

We found a number of reasonably-strong correlations among the request types — with r values ranging from 0.60 to 0.76 — but we were disappointed that none struck us as particularly out of line or surprising. For example:

  • There are three request types related to broken street lights (street_light_1_out, alley_light_out, street_lights_all_out, if you’re looking at the raw data) and they exhibit similar shape in call volume. One plausible explanation is that several people call to report the same issue, which gets filed under different categories.
  • Building and sanitation violations move in similar fashion. In this case, callers may express different concerns about the same issue, so 311 puts those in different buckets.
  • Rodent complaints sometimes pair up with broken street lights. Perhaps the rats felt more free to move about under cover of darkness?

These are just hypotheses, therefore deserving of additional research. That said, we were looking for correlations that did not make immediate sense. None of these fit the bill, so we decided to look elsewhere.

Blame it on the rain?

When you don’t find anything of interest in one dataset, you can sometimes mash it up with another. Our data had a temporal element — number of service requests over time — so it made sense to pair it up with other time-based data related to Chicago. That led us to everyone’s favorite small-talk topic, the weather.

Our goal was to see whether 311 service request volume would match up with temperature patterns or rain storms. In particular, we asked ourselves:

  • If the temperature rises above 90 degrees, do people report more cases of abandoned vehicles?
  • Do 311 calls for tree debris coincide with rain storms?

Acquiring weather data is surprisingly painless. The National Climatic Data Center provides an API for storm events, and downloads for daily temperature reports.

While this data was very clean and easy to work with, it did not provide strong support for our new hypotheses: in both cases, r fell between 0 and 0.08.  While many people will debate what is “reasonably close” to 0, we decided that 0.08 was close enough for us.   (We readily admit that the first question was a lark, but the second one seemed quite reasonable.)

What next?

We took a very quick, cursory glance at the CWFY data to poke at a couple of fun questions. This was hardly a thorough data analysis on which we would base decisions, but instead a whimsical trip across a new dataset. Our data excursion left us empty-handed, but it was fun nonetheless.

In most data analysis exercises, this is when we would have returned to the proverbial drawing board to formulate new questions, but we had reached our time limit.

Now, it’s your turn: you probably have your own ideas, and the opportunity to perform more in-depth research. We make the CWFY data available via our API, which means you are free to build on it and explore it to at your leisure. Where will your experiments take you?

If you’re eager to work the data, but aren’t sure where to begin, we’ve included a short list of starter ideas below.

Have you found an interesting perspective on the CWFY data? Please let us know. We encourage people who anaylze or build apps on the data to contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

The Chicago Works for You Data: starter ideas for analysis projects

Short on ideas? Please try these:

  • deduplication: try to identify when the same issue was reported under different names (e.g., the various street light incidents)
  • take a deeper look at the correlations we found: hypothesize as to why those correlations may exist, then find evidence to test that hypothesis
  • geospatial analysis: break down the requests by ward, and see whether the correlations remain. (For example: what if it was sheer coincidence that rat complaints moved in tandem with graffiti removal? What if those calls were on opposite sides of town?) Also, see what new correlations arise.
  • time series analysis: shift the data forward and backward in search of lagged correlations (for example, “a rise in calls for Request Type X often predate a similar rise in calls for Request Type Y”)
  • blend with other data sets: for example, pair up the CWFY data with something from the Chicago Data Portal.

New to data analysis?   You may find the following books helpful:

  • R in Action (Kabacoff) – how to use the R statistical toolkit to explore data
  • Bad Data Handbook (McCallum) – a series of contributed tales on working through data problems
  • Python for Data Analysis (McKinney) – use the popular Python programming language to analyze your data

CUTGroup #5:

For our fifth Civic User Testing session, we tested, a Smart Chicago project. This was our first remote CUTGroup test and it took place on November 25, 2013.

ChicagoWorksforYou provides citywide information about city service requests.  Users are able to get a ward-by-ward view of service delivery in Chicago, learn about the top service requests made on a given day, view photos of requests, and learn more about the process of submitting service requests.

This Web site uses data directly from the City of Chicago’s Open311 API, and shows the days with the most service requests going back to January 1, 2008.

Through this test, we wanted to find answers to these key questions:

  • How do users use the site? What do they have difficulties with?
  • Are users interested in the Web site’s content?
  • Do users want to share information from the Web site through social media/e-mail?
  • Will regular Chicago residents find this Web site interesting?


On November 23, 2013, we sent out an e-mail to all 565 CUTGroup participants asking them if they would be available to provide feedback through a remote test. We asked some screening questions to gather extra information, but the responses did not influence their participation.

We received 116 responses in one day and asked 90 random respondents to do the test. In addition, we asked 5 willing testers to do a test via screen share. We randomly chose our respondents, and compiled a group of testers from all areas of Chicago, and had a variety of responses to our questions.

Why 95 testers?

  • We see this as a broadly useful tool that we want everyone to use, and therefore, wanted to get as big of a response as possible
  • We saw this as an opportunity to tell a large group of Chicago residents about this Web site
  • We had a large amount of gift cards that were about to expire, and instead of them going to waste, we wanted to reach a large group of people while gaining valuable feedback

Test Format

We ask participants to visit the Web site for 20 uninterrupted minutes on one day (November 25, 2013) and answer questions about the Web site through an online form. We asked “yes” or “no” questions to gather quantitative results, open-ended questions to see what users were interested in when visiting the site, and finally asked users to click on specific links of the Web site, and discuss their experience.

We wanted to conduct a screen share 5 people through Google Hangouts to monitor their actions, but due to technical problems, we were unable to do the screen share. In the future, we would like to provide more technical instructions on how to screen share and give extra time.

Since this was our first remote test, we were interested in seeing how many people would be interested in doing this type of test, and see how thorough and clear the responses were without a proctor. We were pleasantly surprised at the thoroughness of tester’s responses without a proctor being present.

We still value in-person tests, and believe they are an opportunity to convene participants from all areas of Chicago. We gain valuable responses in person and are able to record a tester’s actions and reactions.

Here are a couple of responses we heard from our testers specifically about the remote test:

“An online test is a better form of testing a website or app. It is done within the comfort of one’s home, with flexible times. It allows more people to participate and allows for a more natural environment.” –Tester #77, Elizabeth07

“I do like the remote survey better than the one I had to go to the library for. The particular public library I had to go to was in a very dangerous area and I didn’t know before I went…Other than that it has been a pretty good experience being a part of the CUTGroup thus far and I’m definitely willing to give my input on multiple websites.” – Tester #46, 3rd Year Student


At the end of the day, 84 users tested the Web site and gave us feedback. We learned that most testers were interested in learning about service requests in their own ward, and see how their Alderman is doing. When visiting their ward’s page, testers responded positively to having their Alderman’s contact information in one place. 82% of testers said they would use this Web site again.

How do users use the site? What do they have difficulties with?

  • The most common difficulty testers had was finding their own ward. A lot of testers do not know their ward, and relied on other Web sites to find or double-check their ward number. Testers want to search by their address or neighborhood. In response, we want to add a link to this Tribune Apps Boundary Look-up Tool.
    Github issue

Are users interested in the Web site’s content (city services)?

  • Testers are interested in submitting 311 requests directly from the site.  While there are links to submitting requests on each of the “Services” pages, this needs to be a bigger feature and one of the first things people see when they visit a service type.

A lot of testers are interested in the Photos page. However, only 1 person clicked on “Photos” first when they visited the site. When directed to the “Photos” link, 89% of people said “Yes” they liked the “Photos” page. Below is a screenshot of the “Photos” page.

Here are some steps to make the “Photos” page more prominent:

  • Make the “Photos” page the first thing people see on the header: Github
  • Take advantage of social media sharing features, and tweet about photos on a regular basis
  • Give users the option to organize the photos by ward: Github
  • Create a call to action to allow users to submit 311 requests from “Photos” page

Do users want to share information from the Web site through social media/e-mail?

  • 48% of testers said “Yes” they would share pages on Twitter, Facebook or E-mail. We learned that sharing information through social media is based a lot on a user’s general use of social media. Some testers do not use social media, or do not like the “Share” feature on any Web site. Testers were more likely to share this Web site with people in their own ward

Will regular Chicago residents find this Web site interesting?

  • 82% of testers said “Yes,” they would use this Web site again on their own. The other 18% (15 testers) said they would not use the site again, but 6 of those testers responded and told us they like the Web site. Here is a responses from two of these testers:

“I like the website, but I don’t know if I’ll use it again. I’ve never reported any of these things before. That being said, I never knew how to or really thought about it. I might be more likely to know that I know this exists. Especially because I could actually see if my request was followed up on and taken care of. That would be worth the effort. I do wish there was a submit request button more prominently located. though. Those are kind of buried and I didn’t initially realize I could do that.” – Tester #63, Aspiring Batgirl

“I like the website, but it doesn’t have much of a purpose for me, unfortunately. It’s collecting and displaying data, but as a resident, I am most interested in submitting issues or seeing if an issue has already been submitted.” – Tester#56, Ketchup Ketchup

  • Most testers were not interested in specific data points, and some testers even found the data and graphs difficult to understand. Even so, most testers were able to access information about requests and equate that to how their ward and Alderman is doing
  • We learned that testers want more  discrepancy in the graphs and gradients of the map, and generally how the data is displayed
  • Some testers mentioned that they were concerned with recent requests that were open or closed and thought those requests were more relevant than  past requests

Final Report

Here is a final report of the results with the key highlights from our CUTGroup test, followed by each tester’s responses, and copies of our e-mail campaigns and the questions we asked:

The raw test data can be found below with the complete answers from every tester.

The Launch of Chicago Works For You

Today we’re launching a new project, Chicago Works For You, a citywide dashboard with ward-by-ward views of service delivery in Chicago.

Chicago Works For You   The citywide dashboard with ward by ward views of service delivery in Chicago on Launch Day, September 19, 2013This site is going to be a central tool for Smart Chicago as we continue our work around internet access, digital skills, and civic apps. It allows us to engage residents, government, and developers around shared data so that we can all work together to make Chicago work better for all.

We’re conducting CUTGroup tests with residents, offering training and outreach to Alderman, and maintaining a full API of the data that drives our site.

This site is a result of years of work by many. It would not be possible without the vision of the MacArthur Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust to fund the Open311 project and the determination of the City of Chicago to make that implementation the largest and most comprehensive one in the world.

Much more to come. Write me at doneil@cct.og with questions or comments.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at what this site does, taken from the About page:


The homepage is a citywide map with a daily summary of all service requests submitted, by service type and ward.

Dark lines under and up-arrows next to a request type means there were more requests of that type on that date than average. The longer the line, the higher above average. Highest above average is highlighted on the map as default.

Click any service request type to see the raw numbers and averages. The legend in the lake shows you the number ranges for each type in each ward. Click any service type to see those numbers for any day.

Go back and forth in time, it will show numbers for that service request, updating the web address so that you can share any view via Twitter, Facebook, or email.

For advanced users who like to hack URLs, you can type in any date you want, going back to January 1, 2008, the first day for which we have data from the City.


Choose any service request type from the Services menu to see weekly views of service delivery by ward.

The bars show all requests opened in each ward, displayed by the day of the week it was opened. Hover over any bar to see exact numbers of opened requests. The check mark is how many requests of that type were closed in each ward.

Click any day to see that service type on a map.

Move backward and forward in time to see the weeks go by.

Each service has details on the work it takes to close requests. Again, you can share any view and click links to view raw data or submit requests of this type.


Choose any ward to see the week in review– all open and closed requests. You can choose any request or view all of them at the same time.

The Time-to-close ranking shows the average time from open to close, per request, in context with all other wards.

The Days with the most requests is a raw count for each service type for this ward, going back to January 1, 2008.

The alderman name links to their ward website, and the Chicago start links to their contact information on the City website. See also Facebook account, Twitter stream, and legislative history (as compiled by Councilmatic) links.


See the last 500 photos submits with service requests. You can sort by service request and see raw counts. Clicking any image takes you to the detail page on the City’s Service Tracker website to see details and current status.


All of the data, maps, and charts on this site are just mute representations of a 14-type portion of the services delivered by the city for the city. We use our Tumblr blog to make observations and solicit yours.