UChicago News

‘Hackathon’ teaches Chicago high school students the social power of Big Data


The week before the Chicago: City of Big Data panel, fifty students from Chicago high schools came to the Computation Institute for a crash course on the potential of data to make the world a better place. With help from alumni of the Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship, the students learned about the open data released by the City of Chicago and how it can be used to understand and address problems in their own neighborhoods. Mary Abowd was there to cover the event for UChicago News, and described a breakout session led by DSSG mentor Tom Plagge on methods for testing factors associated with crime.

The students drew a link between the appearance of graffiti and subsequent gang violence, a connection supported by city data that shows that graffiti reports in certain neighborhoods are often followed by violence in those same neighborhoods. “It turns out that graffiti reports are a very good predictor of certain kinds of crimes happening in certain neighborhoods within a week or two of the graffiti,” Plagge said.

Students concluded that if more community members reported when and where new graffiti cropped up, it could help police to better intervene. But convincing neighbors to make reports is a whole other matter, raising a host of questions about anonymity, police-community relations, and what some students described as a pervasive despair that the violence will never end.

“People will not report something if they think it will be a waste of time,” said 14-year-old Nina Henderson, a freshman at South Shore International College Preparatory High School, who said she has lost several cousins to gun violence. “We need to come up with solutions that will help everybody who lives in these crime situations.”

The students ended the day by brainstorming their own data applications, on subjects such as monitoring crime rates near parks, analyzing pothole repair response times, preventing cyber-bullying, and tracking patterns of littering in order to find the best places to put new garbage cans. You can read the full article here, and another report from the event by Jeffrey Bishku-Aykul of the Hyde Park Herald here. For more on Chicago: City of Big Data, see our write-up of the panel here.

[Photo by Robert Kozloff]


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