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In Chicago, The Snow Day as Civic Experiment

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, January 4 2012

Chicago in Feb. 2011. Photo: Brendan Riley / Flickr

The City of Chicago on Tuesday unveiled Chicago Shovels, a suite of web applications designed to keep Chicagoans in the know when the snow banks start to pile up.

The suite includes links to third-party applications built on top of data released by the City of Chicago, like one that users can turn to in order to find out if their car was towed; "Snow Corps," a program to connect people who can't shovel out their own driveways with volunteers who can; and this, a map — which city officials will turn on during snow events — to track each of the city's plows, in real time, as they move about the city.

Another element, Adopt-a-Sidewalk, builds on code repurposed from an earlier project Code for America fellows built for the City of Boston. Called Adopt-a-Hydrant, that tool allows users to claim a fire hydrant to dig out of the snow; here, it extends the same principle to stretches of sidewalk.

Chicago Shovels goes live about a year after many New Yorkers were cloistered in their homes for days thanks to an ineffectual response from city government here. In the wake of what was by their own admission a colossal failure, the city government of New York recommended, among other things, making sure each snowplow had a GPS-enabled mobile phone on board for supervisors to use to track progress, and setting up video streaming so that officials could get a live video feed from any trouble spots.

Chicago's chief technology officer, John Tolva, will be talking tomorrow with our Micah Sifry about how the Windy City is using data to try and make life better — expect this to come up. The conference call is free, so you could sign up and ask your own questions, too, if you'd like.