Every Community
a Smart Community

Ensure the full participation of all Chicago residents and businesses in the digital economy through training and engagement programs that make technology relevant, useful, and productive

Smart Communities

(Initiatives 4 and 5)

As an initiative of World Business Chicago’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs and the City’s Tech Plan, LISC Chicago, the Smart Chicago Collaborative, Chicago Public Library, and the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology will build on Chicago’s model programs, Connect Chicago and Smart Communities, to increase digital leadership and innovation across the city by investing in digital skills and digital access among residents, businesses, and nonprofits.

As part of this initiative, program partners are creating a profile of a fully connected digital community that can be used as a benchmark and will provide best-practice toolkits and other resources to help all Chicago communities reach this benchmark.

Initiative 4


Free Wireless Service

(Initiative 6)

The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District will expand free Wi-Fi service in parks and public spaces across Chicago. The City will also reach out to community groups to spread awareness of how they can help increase Wi-Fi availability by establishing access points in their neighborhoods.

Free Wi-Fi in Public Spaces

In 2014, the City partnered with Google to provide free wireless service at Garfield Park and the South Shore Cultural Center. This builds upon additional recent public-private partnerships to provide wireless service at North Avenue, Osterman/Hollywood, Montrose, Foster, and Rainbow beaches as part of a pilot program with Cisco and Everywhere Wireless. The City continues to partner with SilverIP Communications to provide wireless service at Millennium Park.

Additionally, improvements have been made to the free wireless services available at Chicago Public Library branches, City Colleges of Chicago, and other City facilities to accommodate additional users. Thanks to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, free Wi-Fi is now available at 21 senior centers, six community service centers, and other public buildings located across the city.

Wi-Fi Usage at Chicago Public Library Branches by Year

Low-Cost Broadband

(Initiative 7)

The City of Chicago will work with private partners to develop new options for affordable residential broadband service, offering more residents access to low-cost Internet service and increasing Internet usage citywide.

Internet Essentials

Internet Essentials, which provides low-cost broadband services to communities, was launched in Chicago in May 2011 by Mayor Emanuel and Comcast. As a result of outreach and training conducted by the City and nonprofit partners, Chicago continues to top the nation in Internet Essentials program enrollment. Enrollment has steadily increased since program launch — with enrollment doubling in the second year, from 7,000 families participating during 2012 to 14,000 in 2013. As of September 2014, approximately 22,000 households, or an estimated 85,000 individuals, nearly triple the amount at launch, are connected to the Internet via this program, which offers discounted Internet service to families who have a child in the National School Lunch Program.

Internet to Go

In 2014, Chicago Public Library received $400,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $175,000 from Google to launch Internet to Go, a lending program for Wi-Fi-hotspots. CPL will pilot the program in neighborhoods with low in-home broadband adoption rates and low overall Internet use. Residents in these communities will be able to borrow Wi-Fi hotspots for up to three weeks at a time, connecting to their own personal devices or to laptops or mobile devices also borrowed from the library. CPL will offer digital literacy and skills coaching as a part of the program.

In May 2015, Internet to Go launched at Brighton Park, Douglass, and Greater Grand Crossing branches, circulating approximately 300 Wi-Fi hotspots. The pilot will be expanded during the summer to at least three additional locations.


Engage Youth

(Initiative 8)

The City of Chicago will partner with Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Public Library, and other institutions to educate and engage young people in technology, preparing them for the jobs of the future and building the city’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce.

Expanding Wi-Fi to Every CPS Classroom

While nationwide less than one in three classrooms has internet access that supports digital learning, Chicago has dramatically increased technology infrastructure and access. Over the past four years, the number of schools with sufficient IT infrastructure has increased more than ten-fold — CPS completed the installation of a fiber broadband internet connection with a minimum of 50 Mbps in every CPS facility and distributed over 15,000 iPads to students in welcoming schools. By 2017, the bandwidth in every school will be doubled, each classroom will receive its own Wi-Fi connection, and every student will receive a Wi-Fi connected device.

Initiative 7 - Affordability

College to Careers at City Colleges

All seven of the City Colleges are developing College to Careers pathways in high-growth industries to equip students for the jobs of the future, including healthcare; business; information technology; culinary and hospitality; transportation, distribution, and logistics; advanced manufacturing; education; and human and natural sciences. College to Careers is successfully enrolling and placing students, with more than 1,000 students landing internships or jobs through the program to date.

Wilbur Wright College is developing the pathway for its students to be prepared for careers in information technology. Wright College realized a 14 percent IPEDS graduation rate (the federally-defined graduation rate for first-time full-time students who complete their studies within 150 percent of the designated completion time frame), surpassing the projected 12 percent IPEDS rate.

Early College STEM Schools and Post-secondary STEM Education Preparation

Five CPS schools partner with the City Colleges, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions, and Verizon Wireless to train students for STEM careers. Students enrolled at Early College STEM Schools (ECSS) graduate in five years with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. Now in the third program year, ECSS connects high school, college, and the world of work, pioneering a new vision for college and career readiness. These schools are training and preparing a diverse group of students who are traditionally underrepresented in information technology careers—potentially changing the demographics within IT fields across the Chicago region and beyond. During the program’s first school year (2012–2013), 942 ECSS freshmen enrolled in new IT courses, with a 90% average pass rate in the Exploring Computer Science course. More than 100 second-year students took college-level math and English courses at Richard J. Daley College, and industry partners are on track to provide more than 1,000 work-based learning opportunities and 900 mentorships to more than 1,300 students since the schools launched in 2012.

In addition, in January 2015 CPS announced a partnership with Exelon and the Illinois Institute of Technology to offer students at Von Steuben High School the opportunity to earn college credit by taking STEM courses at a four-year university, as well as a unique opportunity to learn more about Exelon’s businesses through interactions with their employees, internships, and field trips to Exelon’s operating facilities. The partnership goal is to provide at least 300 students over five years with the opportunity to take classes at IIT. The coursework will focus on foundational courses that transfer to degree programs at most universities.

CPS Career and Technical Education Program

CPS offers more than 40 different types of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs across approximately 60 high schools, designed in conjunction with business, which focus on developing skills that lead to higher-paying jobs. Courses incorporate rigorous classroom instruction, hands-on training, direct work experience, and supplemental student supports. CTE provides high school students a head start on preparing for college and careers in twelve industry pathways, including agriculture and horticulture; business and finance; construction and architecture; culinary and hospitality; health science; information technology; manufacturing and engineering; and transportation.

K–12 Computer Science Curriculum

In 2013, Chicago launched the most comprehensive plan for K–12 computer science education of any major school district in the country. Over the next three years, every Chicago public high school will offer a foundational “Exploring Computer Science” course. Additionally, over the next five years, at least half of all public high schools will offer an Advanced Placement Computer Science course. Chicago will be the first U.S. urban district to offer a K–8 computer science pathway, reaching one in four elementary schools over the next five years. Within five years, CPS will also allow computer science to count toward a high school graduation requirement.

Chicago City of Learning

Chicago City of Learning (CCOL) elevates STEM learning pathways for students by offering thousands of in-person and online learning opportunities for youth, ages 4 to 24, many of them free. Programs include activities that range from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), to opportunities in performing arts, sports, and community action. As students participate in these programs, they earn achievement badges, receiving a permanent and shareable record of their accomplishments. The badges also make it easier to connect young people to new learning opportunities, through online recommendations that point youth to other programs that they might like. Some badges even “unlock” unique opportunities, such as special events where students showcase their work, exclusive access to mentors, and internships. For example, last summer, participants in CCOL’s STEAM|Studio worked with local business owners to produce their designs and experienced a very unique residency with the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

In summer 2014, nearly 4,000 unique in-person learning opportunities and more than 160 online learning opportunities were available to students across Chicago, and 115,000 badges were issued to students. In the future, the currency for badges will grow, with colleges and employers accepting badges as indicators of achievement, as pioneered by DePaul University.

In September 2014, Comcast partnered with CCOL and community-based organizations to promote Get Schooled, Get Connected. This program connects students across Chicago online who compete in weekly quests, play interactive games, and explore educational opportunities to help enhance their path to college.

#Civic Summer & Youth-Led Tech

#CivicSummer is a summer jobs program for teens focused on civics, media, and technology. For the past two years, the Smart Chicago Collaborative (SCC) and Mikva Challenge worked with hundreds of Chicago teens to help them use the latest digital tools to organize around an issue, amplify their voice, and take positive civic action.

In 2014, 140 youth leaders were part of the Youth Change-Maker Initiative, exploring digital tools and activism strategies to develop digital and media creation skills, build youth-inspired policy solutions, and develop advocacy campaigns focused on resolution and change.

Initiative 8 - 3D Printing

Participants constructed successful advocacy campaigns and earned badges through CCOL. Beyond the summer program, SCC works with local developers to continue developing the digital activism ideas generated by program participants. For example, youth participants came up with an idea for a website that would make it easier for youth to have juvenile records expunged. A local developer then built a website, www.expunge.io, and SCC made the code available on the code sharing site, GitHub, so that it may be reused by other communities.

In 2015, SCC is partnering with Get IN Chicago to provide a Youth-Led Technology summer program in five Chicago neighborhoods: Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, and Roseland. During the six-week program, youth participants will learn how to create a website, and how to find real customers and employers for their tech skills.

CPS Starter League Partnership

In summer 2014, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship partnered with the Starter League  to offer BizCamp, where 50 Chicago high school students learned and applied entrepreneurship concepts, created a business plan, built a Web application prototype, and pitched their digital product at a start-up business event.


YOUmedia is an innovative, 21st-century teen learning space available at several CPL locations. YOUmedia connects young adults with books, media, technology, mentors, and institutions throughout Chicago in library spaces designed to inspire student collaboration and creativity. Mentors help teens learn to use a variety of technology and digital equipment, including still and video cameras, drawing tablets, and audio-, video-, and photo-editing software. Students then create and share digital media through a social network for program participants.

In 2014, thanks to a $2-million investment from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and an additional $500,000 from the City, the YOUmedia program expanded from 5 to 11 locations and welcomed nearly 22,000 visitors citywide. Over the next four years, the number of YOUmedia programs will double to 24 so that more families across the city can experience digital learning in their local library.

US2020 City Competition

In June 2014, Chicago was named one of seven cities nationwide that will share a $1 million grant through the US2020 City Competition. The grant will allow CPS and nonprofit and industry partners to increase STEM education and awareness efforts in Chicago.

Sponsored by Cisco Systems, the US2020 competition challenged cities across the country to develop innovative models that will increase the number of STEM professionals engaging and mentoring students, as well as STEM education opportunities for girls, minority students, and students from low-income families. As a part of this effort, Chicago is recruiting 500 STEM professionals to mentor 5,000 CPS students in 2015.

Initiative 8 - Students Photo by Brooke Collins

Digital Skills Training

(Initiative 9)

The City of Chicago, Chicago Housing Authority, City Colleges of Chicago, and other partners will deliver digital literacy training and create other opportunities for more hands-on experience with technology to increase digital skills of Chicago residents.

As a result of additional investments made over the past few years, residents can obtain free access to the Internet, computers, and digital skills training at more than 250 locations across the city, with programs available in Spanish and other languages at some locations. Programs and resources available include the following:

CyberNavigators at the Chicago Public Library (CPL)

CyberNavigators provide one-on-one and class-based digital skills training to nearly 100,000 Chicagoans every year at 49 library locations. Privately-funded through the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the CyberNavigators program has been replicated locally at Smart Health Centers, and has been identified by the Urban Libraries Council and others as a national model for digital skills training. Over the next few years, the CyberNavigators program will expand to every library throughout the city.

Technology Training at Chicago Housing Authority Labs

Through a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant, the CHA opened eight new computer labs in its housing developments between 2011 and 2013. Technology training is offered to CHA residents at these labs, which are also staffed by residents through a job-training program run by TEC Services. Since 2011, more than 102,000 technology training sessions have been delivered to CHA residents. One hundred and twenty CHA residents have completed the job training program, and another 17 residents are currently employed managing the labs and providing training through the program.

Initiative 9 - Adult Learnings

FamilyNet Center Expansion

FamilyNet Centers have been serving as digital skills training hubs since 2011, delivering more than 13,000 training sessions for thousands of Chicago residents. Originally funded by BTOP, these centers integrate technology training with a variety of support services. In addition to helping residents develop technology skills, including using email, online banking, common business and productivity applications, and online government services, the centers connect families with financial counseling, income support, resume and job search, and job retention assistance.

In 2014, the number of FamilyNet Centers increased from five to 12 through a partnership between the City, LISC Chicago, AmeriCorps, and Comcast. FamilyNet Centers are located within Centers for Working Families sites in Auburn Gresham, Back of the Yards, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Humboldt Park, Little Village, Logan Square, North Lawndale, Pilsen, Ravenswood, Quad Communities, and Woodlawn.

Smart Health Centers

Over the past two years, more than 20 Smart Health Centers opened within existing health clinics throughout Chicago. Smart Health Centers, managed by the Smart Chicago Collaborative, provide patients with access to technology and trained health information specialists, called Health Navigators. Health Navigators guide patients through the process of obtaining their health records and finding reliable health information online, as well as provide basic digital skills training. The program, which is modeled after the successful CyberNavigator program, received support from BTOP and continues to be supported by the Sprague Foundation. To date, more than 7,000 patients have received one-on-one assistance and more than 3,000 group training sessions have been provided at Smart Health Centers.

Data Learnathons

In 2014, the City began hosting Data Learnathons, free intensive workshops focused on helping residents and institutions build data literacy skills. Volunteer tutors from Chicago’s vibrant civic-development community teach the fundamentals of downloading, cleaning, and mapping data with applied, hands-on examples. Participants utilize data obtained from Chicago’s Open Data Portal and open source software to address real-world challenges that impact Chicago. As a result of this data-literacy training, residents are empowered to conduct research, download and analyze government information, and create maps and other data visualizations to help achieve community or organizational goals.

Promote Digital Excellence Activities

(Initiative 10)

The City of Chicago will work with the Smart Chicago Collaborative (SCC), the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC Chicago) and other partners to transform every community into a smart community, promoting the use of the City’s technology resources and the Smart Communities benchmark and toolkit to enable residents to gain maximum benefit from digital technology.

Connect Chicago

Launched in 2013, Connect Chicago is a network of more than 250 locations offering free computer access in Chicago. Member organizations provide residents with free access to technology resources and training, and more than 100 practitioners from these locations are part of a Meetup group that gathers regularly to share best practices and highlight useful tools. For example, some members have identified quality free digital literacy training resources and online tools that computer centers can use to schedule training sessions. These best practices are shared by the SCC so that they may also be implemented successfully elsewhere.

Initiative 10 - Hard Working People

Public Computer Access

(Initiative 11)

New and Improved Public Computer Access

The City of Chicago, Chicago Housing Authority, City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Public Library, and other organizations will continue to offer public computer labs to provide free Internet and computer access to residents.

Thanks to federal, state, and local funding, between 2011 and 2013 49 new public computer centers have opened and more than 3,000 new computers have been deployed. Now over 250 centers provide residents with free access to nearly 4,500 computers. In addition, broadband speeds and wireless capacity were added and/or improved at 79 libraries, seven community colleges campuses and five satellite locations, 21 senior centers, and five community service centers.

The City’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) works with CPL and the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) to support the technology equipment and infrastructure for more than 100 Connect Chicago locations across the city. Technology training at these sites is developed and delivered by CPL and DFSS.

In all, more than 250 Connect Chicago locations currently provide free access to technology resources and training. Through the Smart Chicago Challenge, partners will continue to invest in these centers, including providing digital skills training to Chicagoans. CHA residents manage the computer labs at CHA facilities through an on-the-job training program.

Initiative 11 -  Computer Lab

Educational and Creative Resources

(Initiative 12)

The City of Chicago has several opportunities to engage residents in technology-related creative and educational activities, and to use technology to make educational assets available to residents. Making these resources broadly available benefits residents and encourages engagement in technology.

Chicago Public Library’s Maker Lab

Chicago Public Library’s award-winning Maker Lab is a hands-on, collaborative learning space where people come together to share knowledge and resources to design, create, and build.

The lab offers Chicagoans an introduction to technology and equipment that engages them in new forms of art, manufacturing, and business opportunities. The lab features instruction on a variety of design software and equipment, including 3D printers, laser cutters, a milling machine, and a vinyl cutter. Residents can manufacture models and goods and even learn robotic knitting. In 2014, CPL launched Mini Maker Labs in neighborhood library branches with events taking place from July to late November. Since launching in July 2013, Maker Lab has hosted more than 100,000 visitors, with nearly 10,000 individuals attending nearly 1,000 classes and events. The City’s first free maker space is supported through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

Digitizing CPL’s Archives

CPL is digitizing assets related to Chicago’s neighborhood history, making historical resources about Chicago’s neighborhoods, parks, and people more accessible to residents and communities. Resources related to former Mayor Harold Washington, the Chicago Examiner newspaper, the Chicago Theater, and more may be accessed at digital.chipublib.org.

Finch Robots at Chicago Public Library

CPL has partnered with Google Chicago to provide library patrons with robots that can teach them hands-on computer-programming. Thanks to Google’s donation of 500 Finch robots, anyone with an adult CPL card can now check out one of the state-of-the-art robots in order to learn the basics of computer coding. Since their arrival at CPL in 2014, the robots have been checked out 2,542 times and 455 holds have been placed.