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.

Moving Civic Tech from Code to Products: AWS Marketplace is the New Github

Smart Chicago has been in civic tech since our inception. No other civic tech outfit in the country has done more to support the Chicago ecosystem, (funds, meeting space, contracts, hackathons, office space, server space) influence the field nationally (CUTGroup, support for the Code for America Brigade, a focus on justice and economic development for all) and produce our own tech (Chicago Works For You, Chicago Health AtlasFoodborne Chicago, and more).

A focus on all, not just the most technical people

As we’ve grown, we’ve moved away from a focus on the highest-capacity tech people in the space. That move was pretty well-covered here in Civicist: The Real Heart of Civic Tech Isn’t Code. We simply think there is more good to be had by focusing on minting new tech workers in programs like Smart Health Centers, Documenters, and Youth-Led Tech.

An unprecedented technical infrastructure program

Yet we continue to quietly serve the needs of developers— in the footer, without fanfare, for free. Again, no other organization— local or national— has anything like this program. Some of the best developers in the city—Chris Gansen and Scott Robbin— have run it for us over the years, and we’ve been helpful to dozens of local developers.

Uturn Data Solutions has been maintaining the Developer Resources program for the last year or so. Amazon introduced us to Uturn because we were the largest customer in their government division— that’s no small measure of impact. Uturn continues to help us grow the program, as the Illinois Sunshine project from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is coming on board this month, adding more tech to our infrastructure.

We can’t ignore the lack of impact for civic tech tools

15335045039_c4477de0c0_kBut I have watched with growing concern the lack of impact of pure tech. The tools we’ve made in civic tech have, frankly, not amounted to much. There are no break-out successes with millions of users. There is very slow uptake and re-use of new tools. And yet we still code.

I think there are a number of modes of operation that preclude big impact— holding our events on the high floors of expensive downtown real estate, for instance. This keeps us far away from people in need.

Another reason is the way we propagate our work product.

Civic tech people love code. They love making code, they love talking about code amongst themselves, and they love publishing code on Github. The culture, since the inception of our movement, has been focused on code and tech rather than functionality and need.

This means that in order for a non-technical person to duplicate the functionality they see in a new “fork our code!” website, they have to hire a developer to do so. There’s just too much friction here— we have to fix it.

Amazon’s AWS Marketplace is better than Github for deploying civic tech websites

At Smart Chicago, we think we have a part of the answer: create and deploy Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) of civic tech functionality and sell it in Amazon’s AWS Marketplace. Here’s how Amazon describes an AMI:

An Amazon Machine Image (AMI) contains all the information necessary to boot an Amazon EC2 instance with your software. An AMI is like a template of a computer’s root volume. For example, an AMI might contain the software to act as a web server (Linux, Apache, and your web site) or it might contain the software to act as a Hadoop node (Linux, Hadoop, and a custom application)

From our perspective, an AMI is just a Github bucket that delivers on the promise of the raw code. We can conflate the two separate tasks we’ve been supporting for years (helping developers create code and helping organizations host their sites) into one simple experience.

AWS Marketplace is an online store that helps customers find, buy, and immediately start using the software and services they need. To date, it has been used mainly for pieces of functionality that corporations need to run an IT infrastructure— security, business processes, Sharepoint, whatever.

But when I look at the AWS Marketplace, I see a new way to get the great work we’ve done in civic tech in the hands of the people who need it most. With a software product listed in the AWS Marketplace, anyone can set up their own site by providing a credit card and filling out a form.

This week, Uturn Data Solutions, in partnership with Smart Chicago, will be launching their first civic tech AMI in the AWS marketplace. It will be the first, but hopefully not last, civic tech product of this kind to be packaged and distributed this way. A change for the better, stay tuned for more!”

Civic Tech Hero: Scott Robbin

Scott RobbinSince October 2013, civic tech pioneer, Chicago web developer, and good friend Scott Robbin has been working with Smart Chicago as our lead developer. If you have worked at all with us since then, you have benefitted from his work. Let’s take a look:

This is a ton of work. But at Smart Chicago, we’re not all about the technology. Scott has been a patient mentor for developers, teaching them how to use our resources, advising them on how to build their sites. He’s helped us work with non-technical consultants to keep them on the path to being bona-fide Web project managers. And he’s generally shared his vast knowledge in a patented, gentle, learned way. Scott Robbin is a treasure.

On a personal note, I’ve known Scott for many years, and we’ve worked on a volunteer basis on all sorts of projects. Most recently, we worked together to scrape, display, and make available for download every Comment on FCC Filing 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. We work. All we care about is work.

All hail Scott Robbin.

Metropolitan Planning Council Uses Textizen for Planning out Logan Square Corridor

When the Metropolitan Planning Council needed feedback on their planning initiative for the Logan Square Corridor, they turned to Textizen. Textizen is a text based survey tool that delivers real time results for government agencies seeking to get citizen feedback.

Smart Chicago provided access to our Textizen account, allowing them to use their services for free under our Civic Works Project.

Logan Square, photo by Steve Vance

Logan Square, photo by Steve Vance

For this survey, MPC asked several questions regarding development near the Logan Square CTA stop. About 200 people filled out the survey, with public results being posted here. According to MPC, about 60 percent of text respondents consistently responded that they had not attended the most recent meeting. This suggests that the text polling reached a different audience than the meetings themselves. Seventy five percent of respondents found the text polling valuable for this public input experience.

You can read the entire report here.

If you’re interested in using Textizen take a look at our Developer Resource program.