July 2014

Making Renting Property in Chicago Easier With Windows

Affordable Rental Properties App

Looking for housing can be tough — and keeping a tight budget can be even tougher. Enter the Affordable Rental Properties in Chicago app, developed for Windows by Microsoft Chicago Fellow Mel Rush.

Available for Windows, Affordable Rental Properties in Chicago searches and filters through rental properties to help find properties that are not only affordable, but offer a safe and exciting environment. The app takes into consideration various factors, including local crime rate and local grocery stores with real time results. The affordable rental housing developments that it provides are supported by the City of Chicago to maintain affordability standards.

Rush has been working with Microsoft Chicago on plenty of fields, including working with open data, being a voice at user groups and hackathons citywide, and supporting tech events. She says the idea for the app came to her during an Open Gov Hack Night, which she attended with Adam Hecktman, where the topic of discussion was issues Chicago residents experience with housing.

“I looked around the data portal and saw there was a data set for rental properties in Chicago,” Rush explained. “I thought it would be interesting to combine data sets to make it more useful for people.”

Crime and grocery store data were already an established hit on the city’s data portal, Rush says. It was a natural fit to combine this data with affordable housing so that people can make good choices informed by the crime profile of their neighborhood, as well as ability of fresh food. She would like to expand on filters and highlights in the app.

“Right now I’m working on a feature that adds which schools are in the area of each rental property,” she told us. “I also want to start taking recreation into account: what parks are in the area, what movies play in the parks in Chicago, and focus on entertainment in these neighborhoods.”

What works in Chicago can work outside of Chicago. Hopefully Rush’s updates will allow her to develop affordable housing apps outside of Chicago in other cities that are committed to open data.

“Right now I want to get all the data in the Chicago app,” she says. “If it turns out really well and people like it, I would like to expand it to other cities.”

Connecting Learning through Chicago City of Learning

As part of our continuing dialog on STEM and STEAM, we are thrilled to have a guest blog from Beth Swanson, of the Mayor’s office. By way of definition, STEAM calls out the “Arts” skills that complement and reinforce the traditional STEM skills. Arts—all kinds including performing, visual and mediacontribute to critical thinking skills, which are so important as our children learn to make good decisions, both academically and personally. Beth is highlighting a terrific program which blends continuous learning (arts, computer science, sports, etc.) with digital technology.
~Shelley Stern Grach

Elizabeth_SwansonThe entire city of Chicago is a platform for learningwith a diverse array of world-class cultural institutions, libraries, community organizations, universities, and public spaces.  Over the last few years, an incredible amount of progress has been made towards our goal for every child to receive a world-class education. Every Chicago Public School (CPS) child now has a full day of kindergarten, pioneering educators personalize learning with technology in their classrooms, and over 80% of our freshmen are on track to graduate.

But our students only spend only 15% of their time in school, and we know that students typically lose 1-3 months of learning over the summer.  We know we need to provide even more learning opportunities for our children to thrive. Last summer, we launched Chicago Summer of Learning to challenge the entire city to make summer count and support learning science, technology, engineering, art, and mathat parks, libraries, and schools as well as at over 100 partners including nonprofits, museums and cultural institutions, colleges and universities, and online learning opportunities.  Our vision is for all of Chicago to be a campus, so we are now connecting learning across spaces to empower young people to explore pathways to the future. 

Connected Learning through Digital Badges: Learning happens everywhere in the city, but it is not always recognized. Badges make learning visibleboth to learners and to others around them. Digital badges are online representations of skills and interests, creating a complete story of achievements across institutions. This is a new way to elevate the skills, achievements, and interests that Chicago’s students earn.

By summer’s end, more than 210,000 young people participated in Chicago Summer of Learning activitiesfrom creating apps to designing jewelry and fashion, from exploring epidemiology to becoming a filmmaker. We awarded nearly 100,000 digital badges to young people all over the cityfrom Austin to Pullman, from Brighton Park to North Lawndale.

Catalyzing a Movement. We’ve expanded Chicago Summer of Learning to the year-round Chicago City of Learning, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and the Digital Youth Network at DePaul, and our model has attracted interest from around the world, spurring the development of a Cities of Learning movement. Whether we design it or not, our systems of teaching and learning are changing. Chicago City of Learning is a critical part of our Citywide STEM Strategy and our efforts to challenge the city to innovate, use technology, and think creatively about what a 21st century school looks likeeffectively have our system catch up to our kids in the way they consume, learn and process information. I’m proud that Los Angeles, Dallas, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Columbus are now following our lead, launching their own Cities of Learning. Looking forward to the friendly competition this summer!

Explore Chicago and discover your future at Chicago City of Learning. Follow us on Twitter @ExploreChi.

As Deputy Chief of Staff for Education to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Elizabeth Swanson is responsible for defining the city’s education policy agenda, from birth through college. Swanson has served as point in expanding early learning opportunities, achieving a full school day, bringing quality school options to families, and launching the city’s Summer of Learning. She works with industry and university leaders to align pathways to college and career and, mobilizing all sectors to drive better outcomes for Chicago’s youth. Swanson has served as executive director of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, and she led the Chicago Public Schools Office of Management and Budget under CEO Arne Duncan.

What Microsoft Open Tech Does in Open Source

Via https://www.facebook.com/msopentech

Via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/msopentech">https://www.facebook.com/msopentech</a>

Yes — Microsoft’s relationship with the open source community had been, let’s call it, rocky. However, in the past decade, much has changed. The market, the developer ecosystem, and, yes, Microsoft. We believe that openness is good for customers, good for the community, good for civic engagement, and good for business. We put our resources behind that belief. Let me explain.

I have been asking the thought leaders in the local open source community, here in Chicago, about what Microsoft can do to build better linkages between Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies, with a focus on open source. One of the things that I learned is that Microsoft is doing things in the open source space already that are not widely known. There is a vague recollection that we have a sizable open tech group (Microsoft OpenTech), but what is not known is the breadth of ways they are powering interoperability through both open standards and open source.

Yes, you can fire up Linux environments on Azure, and yes, you can use Eclipse within Visual Studio. But the open technologies (services, languages, databases, environments, standards, devices, OS’s, etc.) goes so much further. Here is just a small sample of the projects that Microsoft OpenTech has released:

Along with some of the better known projects such as:

I also encourage you to look at some of our projects in progress. These projects span cloud apps, developer tools and DevOps, BI and data integration, open web technologies, open sourced VMs, and even apps and games. And if there are open sourced tools that we need to integrate with, or integrate better with, please tweet me at @MSFTChicago.

Recap: Urban Sustainability Apps Competition


Last weekend, I had the good fortune of being a judge for the Urban Sustainability Apps Competition. Created and run by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, this event provided an interesting twist on your typical apps competition and/or hackathon. If you haven’t been to one, hackathons are a great place for like-minded individuals to get together over a period of a time (in this case a weekend), think about a problem, and apply their technical skills to addressing it.

However, hackathons, even those in the civic space, have a reputation of often lacking in a good framing of the problem they are trying to solve. In the case of the Urban Sustainability Apps competition, the CNT brought to the table community activists and leaders. These are the people who have a solid understanding of the problem space. They were paired with social entrepreneurs and developers – those that have a strong interest in working directly with Chicago’s neighborhoods to make them greener, healthier, and more economically vibrant.

The result was a blending of minds who built tools that help track and fight blight, improve the environment, address urban food issues, and connect people with job needs, health needs, services, and education with resources. In the end, the judges had a tough time. The solutions were judged on the following criteria:

• Does it help get its target community greener, more livable, and/or more affordable?

• Is this a real collaboration between tech folks and community leaders

• Is the solution new or particularly effective?

• Were the demo and presentation well-executed?

• Is there market and funding potential?

While almost all of the submitted solutions met the criteria, one solution stood out. Chicago Green Score took first place (and walked away with free Azure services, an MSDN subscription, and all the Microsoft Developer Tools that they could possibly use). By answering a couple of questions and submitting your address, Green Score rates the “greenness” of your habitat using their algorithm that includes variables around energy usage, water reclamation, etc. It provides a map to show you where there are urban farms, green space, farmers markets, Divvy Bike locations, even environmental hazards.

Built specifically for the competition, this site will be useful for those who are specifically targeting where to live or locate their business, as well as those who are looking to “green up” their own neighborhoods. Hat tip to the team of Tom Greenhaw, James Hollis, Curtis Witek, Kelsey Pudluck, Joe Clay, and Tom Greenhaw Sr who developed the solution. Pictures from the event are below: