Charlie Catlett sits on the front lines of the smart city movement. As director of the Urban Center for Computation and Data (CCD), Catlett is at the nexus of the University of Chicago, the Argonne National Laboratory and the city of Chicago, and his goal is to bring together the resources of all three to solve problems. The Urban CCD has launched a number of projects involving Chicago and other cities. The overarching theme of all of them, though, is big data.
A champion of the movement to create partnerships between cities and research institutions, Catlett believes that researchers can take the massive amounts of data that government generates and put it to use.
“Most of that data goes unused because they don’t have the [resources] to analyze it,” he said.
Take, for example, Plenario. The tool allows users to pull together public data sets and map them, side by side, to make more informed decisions. The website describes it as providing “an infrastructure for working with open data.” Data sets include crimes, food inspections, business licenses, building permits and more. And the inventory should keep growing — anybody can add public data into it.
Then there’s the Array of Things, which has drawn the attention of cities around the world that all hope to emulate it in some way. The project involves creating a network of sensors across Chicago that take climate and environmental measurements, count pedestrians and bicyclists, and more. Potential applications include showing pedestrians which routes they can take to avoid smoggy air and creating better traffic information for city planners, but that’s just the beginning. Catlett and the Urban CCD want to open the array to innovators who have other original ideas. So while some applications of the project are as yet unconceived, its potential has the world watching.
Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.