ULI Chicago News

Interest High in Urban Data and its Implications for Real Estate Development

ULI Chicago had an incredible turnout for its monthly breakfast meeting, September 18, at the Union League Club of Chicago with over 300 participants.  “Chicago’s Emerging Neighborhoods: How to find them, How to track them, How to develop in them” focused on the City of Chicago’s Data Portal, which provides detailed information on a particular neighborhood’s demographics, including data on transportation, public safety, building, and other statistics.  The breakfast meeting was appropriately moderated by Terri Haymaker, Director of Planning, Public Building Commission of Chicago and included three panelists who were able to provide a range of perspectives on the matter.  The panelists included Benjamin Ranney, Principal, Terra Firma Co., James Dispensa, Senior Manager – Business Optimization, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Steven Vance, Deputy Editor, Streetsblog Chicago & Creator, Chicago Cityscape.

Each of the three panelists offered a unique perspective regarding the value of the “tsunami of data” that the Data Portal offers.  These benefits range from economic development to city and school planning to neighborhood revitalization.  The benefits of having this data available in an open format are clear and profound:

  • Provides transparency for city activities
  • Can provide credibility to governmental approvals and financing for a developer’s intuition on a potential project
  • The increased transparency could attract more investment and, in turn, economic development for the city, specifically in neighborhoods that need development the most
  • Allows city planners and developers to make more informed decisions leading to increasingly successful projects

Mr. Ranney of Terra Firma Co. referred to the Data Portal as a “public asset” that “will change the real estate industry in Chicago.”  He reasons that the availability of data provides information for successful smaller developments and developers that together creates synergy that will ultimately lead to urban revitalization.  He believes that the data could lead to increased development located in underdeveloped neighborhoods in the west and south sides of Chicago.

Mr. Dispensa of CPS uses the Data Portal to track the populations of CPS schools, where students live, how far they travel to get to school, what modes of transportation are available to them, etc.  The information also helps CPS to determine whether a particular school is being underutilized or where a new school should be located.  Moreover, the data also helps promote diversity throughout the school system, which is said to lead to higher overall student performance.

Mr. Vance, founder of Chicago Cityscape, created an application program that takes the Chicago Data Portal’s information, which is provided in an open format, one step further in order to provide more specific and more useful information to its users.  Initially, the application was designed to track the development and demolition of buildings in Chicago by tracking the permits reported on the portal.  Through the application, one can track over 12,000 companies that are pulling permits throughout the city.

Read full Meeting Summary

Related Links:
Chicago Cityscape
City of Chicago’s Data Portal

The Chicago Architectural Foundation is featuring an interesting exhibit related to this topic called Chicago: City of Big Data, which explores “the potential of urban data and offers a new perspective on Chicago and cities everywhere.”

Authored by Mark Hahn, Kensington Realty Advisors, Inc., and Chair, ULI Chicago Communications Committee
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