Forking your City

Published October 06, 2013 by Tom Schenk, City of Chicago

Providing accurate, up-to-date data on a frequent basis is always a challenge for large organizations. It takes a combination of executive leadership, technical infrastructure, and hard work, which are all on display in the City of Chicago’s Open Data Portal. Each day, bike routes are widened, roads are made, and buildings are erected. As the city’s shape changes, so does the data. Sometimes, changes in Chicago are recognized by residents before city-updated records.

Enter GitHub.

Chicago has begun releasing select datasets on GitHub in a GeoJSON format and inviting pull requests. So far, Chicago has released the files for bike routes, bike racks, pedway routes, street locations, and building footprints. Like any other repository, users can fork, customize, and submit a pull request.

Since the release, a community of open source developers and enthusiasts have adopted and improved the data. The open source data has been forked nearly 100 times and dozens of issues were opened by users. Chicago’s building footprints were recently added to OpenStreetMap, in which users can explore the streets in relation to surrounding buildings. Users have since found various errors and have submitted them to the city for correction. The datasets have, collectively, been forked over 70 times.

GitHub’s recent venture into displaying GeoJSON maps and CSV files makes it easier to interact with this data—a map of Chicago’s pedway routes can be found in this fork.

While releasing data will continue to be challenging work, tools like GitHub help City Hall support and interact with its enthusiastic open government community to make the city better for everyone.


See an error or have a story of your own to tell? This page is open source, so submit a pull request!