Making a Smart City a Fairer City: Chicago’s Technologists Address Issues of Privacy, Ethics, and Equity, 2011-2018


In 2011, voters in Chicago elected Rahm Emanuel, a 51-year-old former Chicago congressman, as their new mayor. Emanuel inherited a city on the upswing after years of decline but still marked by high rates of crime and poverty, racial segregation, and public distrust in government. The Emanuel administration hoped to harness the city’s trove of digital data to improve Chicagoans’ health, safety, and quality of life. During the next several years, Chief Data Officer Brett Goldstein and his successor Tom Schenk led innovative uses of city data, ranging from crisis management to the statistical targeting of restaurant inspections and pest extermination. As their teams took on more-sophisticated projects that predicted lead-poisoning risks and Escherichia coli outbreaks and created a citywide network of ambient sensors, the two faced new concerns about normative issues like privacy, ethics, and equity. By 2018, Chicago had won acclaim as a smarter city, but was it a fairer city? This case study discusses some of the approaches the city developed to address those challenges and manage the societal implications of cutting-edge technologies.

Gabriel Kuris drafted this case study based on interviews he and Steven S. Strauss, Lecturer and John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor at Princeton University, conducted in Chicago in July 2018. Case published September 2018.


new technology
data collection
smart cities
predictive policing
civic technology
data security
technology officer
university collaboration
Focus Area(s)
City Management
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Making services accessible
Technology & innovation initiatives
Core Challenge
Capacity (capability traps)
Credibility (trust)
Norm coordination
Country of Reform
United States
Case Studies
Gabriel Kuris