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Chicago's New CTO Is a 'Smarter Cities' Alpha Geek

BY Nick Judd | Friday, April 22 2011

John Tolva, the former director of citizenship and technology at IBM, will be the next chief technology officer for the City of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Tolva has some pretty specific ideas about how to use city data and why data should be open, which is something Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has spoken about at length, to be sure. At IBM, some of his attention was devoted to the company's City Forward platform, for analyzing and visualizing with city data. IBM is known for its "Smarter Cities" program, managed by one of Tolva's colleagues, in which the company grants consulting expertise cities around the world around how to improve cities' use of technology. But at Personal Democracy Forum Europe last year and elsewhere, he's also outlined a theory about the way cities should be built. Tolva thinks that urban design in the classical sense — the design of your interactions with trash cans, city buses and public parks, for instance — and interaction design in the modern sense — the way you check in to a location on Foursquare or use Google Maps to figure out where you should go when you get off the subway — should be part of the same process.

In short, this is not someone whose priorities as CTO are likely to be constrained to data centers and procurement processes. Tolva has a mind for theory — which, to me, makes what he does in Chicago well worth watching.

Here's Tolva at PdF EU 2010, and here he is again at an event we held in summer 2010.