A better way to read Chi’s data
By Simone Alicea | @svalicea
📈 DATA PROBLEMS
From the COVID-19 pandemic to environmental reviews, city leaders like to say evidence and data drive their decisions. But how do Chicagoans know if the numbers are accurate?
The city’s data portal is one way to check. Anyone can search for permits, COVID cases, and numerous other databases.
Seems pretty transparent, right?
“You can have a lot of data that doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” said Anthony Moser, who runs Better Data Portal, an alternative way to search through city data.
The software developer told City Cast there are three main problems with Chicago’s data:
- Lack of context makes it hard to find patterns.
Example: CPS makes demographic data available, but Moser said these numbers often don’t answer actual questions, like how does race break down by school type?
- The data is most transparent “in the past tense,” Moser said.
Example: A controversial asphalt plant in McKinley Park recently put in a bid for more than $500 million in city work. While it’s easy to track contracts that have already been awarded, Moser said it took an anonymous tip to flag this bid currently under consideration.
- “Chicago doesn’t collect data that it knows would require it to take action,” Moser said.
Example: A large fire in Albany Park last month has renewed calls for the city to track and crack down on landlords whose buildings have a history of violations.
But you don’t have to be a spreadsheet wizard to make the city’s data better. You can do it by reporting your problems.
In the case of MAT Asphalt in McKinley Park, Moser said training neighbors how to file complaints about air pollution — and tracking them — led to more public health investigations, which led to citations.
👉 Meet the other everyday Chicagoans working to make public data more public. We talk with Jakob Ondrey, a CPS parent whose school COVID tracker revealed discrepancies in the district’s data, and Cait Guerra, who made a map of businesses keeping mask and vax requirements.
💒 COVID THEN & NOW
Two years ago today, Haley Tanzman was at a friend’s wedding in New York.
The Lincoln Park resident said the event was “joyful despite an ominous feeling hanging over us.” Her flights were nearly empty, and cancellations caused a scramble to get back home to sparse Mariano’s shelves.
A few days later — on Tanzman’s 30th birthday — Gov. JB Pritzker issued the stay-home order.
“I keep saying I’m still 29!” Tanzman said.
Addison resident Kimberly Van Wyk was also in the wedding spirit around this time two years ago.
She and her fiancé were looking at hotel rooms for guests in Indianapolis when the March Madness college basketball tournament was canceled. A hotel staffer walked into the lobby and took down a bracket poster.
The next day, March 13, was the last day the teacher saw her students in person.
“My wedding was postponed a year,” Van Wyk said.
📲 Tell us about the last normal thing you did before COVID shutdowns in 2020 — and if you’re back at it. Email email@example.com or text/call (773) 780-0246.
▪️ Mayor Lori Lightfoot said any eligible city workers, including Chicago police officers, who had yet to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sunday would be placed on nondisciplinary, no-pay status. [Chicago Tribune]
▪️ Former President Barack Obama tweeted Sunday that he tested positive for COVID-19, using it as an opportunity to remind people to get vaccinated. [Twitter]
▪️ The White Sox and Cubs will kick off spring training in Arizona with a St. Patrick’s Day double header! [NBC Chicago]
▪️ The injury-riddled Bulls have slipped to 4th in the Eastern Conference with 15 games left. This week they play the Kings, Jazz, and Suns. [Bleacher Nation]
▪️ Did you know the Underground Railroad ran through the south suburbs? [South Side Weekly]
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🎉 CITY CAST CHI B-DAY
Hard to believe that City Cast Chicago launched a year ago Thursday! To celebrate, a member of our team will share their favorite episode each day this week — and what they’ve learned about the city in the past year.
First up is producer Lizzie Goldsmith, based in Denver:
“I know it just aired last month, but I have to give a shoutout to ‘Cute Couples, Roller Skating, and Other Chi Love Stories’ for being just the perfect collection of feel-good Valentine’s Day stories from listeners, podcasters, and the couple behind the popular TikTok Black People Outside. And they aren’t all romantic stories: I adored Jacoby’s beautiful and heartbreaking ode to his family’s roller skating rink, Rich City Skate.
I haven’t been in Chicago in at least 10 years, but hearing him and other Chicagoans talk about the places they loved made me hanker for a return trip to see the sights…and, you know, hang out with the amazing City Cast Chicago team.”
🥧 HAPPY PI DAY
In all this talk about data and math, we can’t forget to celebrate the most popular irrational number — or at least use it as an excuse to eat some baked goods.
🤤 Justice of the Pies is hosting a bake sale at Muse Coffee on the Near West Side from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. featuring flavors like strawberry basil key lime and salted caramel peach. You can also make your own award-winning cherry pie with this recipe.
🍕 Pizza pies more your thing? Some national chains have deals.
🏃 If it’s the number you really want to celebrate — and maybe get a workout after that pie — join the Illinois Science Council’s “Pi K” fun run this evening. Doughnuts and coffee to follow the 3.14-mile trek in South Loop.