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App Helps Make Sense Of Chicago’s Many Neighborhoods

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CHICAGO (CBS) — To the newcomer, understanding Chicago’s network of neighborhoods can be downright daunting.

For lifelong residents, they are a source of pride, and much debate. Nobody can agree on exactly how many neighborhoods exist in the city–and often where one starts and another stops.

But one thing is clear: The city is defined by them.

That’s where software developer Dave Krawczyk enters the picture.

Krawczyk is a Chicago newbie, and he quickly became fascinated with how Chicagoans so closely identify themselves with their neighborhood name.

In fact, when he interviewed for his current job at Deck5 Software, he couldn’t help but notice the Chicago neighborhood map on his future boss’ wall.

So the resident of the Lake View neighborhood set out to develop a simple solution to help people navigate the city of neighborhoods.

His app, called 312, is available for Apple devices. (You can also search “Chicago neighborhoods” in the app store.) There are plans for an Android version.

Chicago App

“My vision for this app is not only to educate users on the different neighborhoods in Chicago and their locations, but also to really let people experience the culture of the different neighborhoods and start to connect the culture with the neighborhood, as I’ve heard so many people do,” he said in an email to CBS Chicago.

Officially, the City of Chicago is mapped into 77 communities, but there are nearly 200 neighborhoods within the city limits, and those constantly evolve, based on real estate whims, changing demographics and other factors.

For the app, Krawczyk, utilized computer mapping language from the city’s data portal to create the backbone for the map’s images.

Without access to that kind of open-source data, developing the app would have been much more difficult.

“It’s great to live and work in a time when access to information is basically second nature, Krawczyk said. “As a developer, this enables seemingly endless possibilities.”

His application goes beyond those traditional 77 communities.

Adam Harrington is somewhat of a Chicago neighborhood savant. He would be the human version of the app. CBS Chicago asked him to take it for a spin.

“The app is comprehensive and thorough in terms of breaking down neighborhoods. It’s easy to navigate around the map, which is complete in terms of the street grid,” he said in an e-mail.

However using the city’s data posed a few problems.

“The city data portal information is more to blame for this than the developer, but some of the “neighborhoods” that appear on the map are so obscure that they run the risk of confusing people,” Harrington said. 

He cited the case of Lincoln Park, which has been reduced to a “tiny polygon” surrounded by “sub-neighborhoods” (like “Sheffield  Neighbors”)  culled from the city’s database.

“All of these are neighbors’ associations rather than neighborhood names,” he said. “I have never heard anyone say, ‘I live in Sheffield Neighbors.’ “

Krawczyk also included Divvy bike station locations, which was also easily accessible online.

He plans to integrate even more information in future releases, including neighborhood wiki pages, crime statistics, restaurant information and Twitter support.

“From this point on, we hope that we can use feedback from Chicagoans to drive the development of the app,” he said.

As with any software application, there have been a few bugs (users outside the city are told they are in the Gold Coast neighborhood, for example.)

However, that’s not all bad,  Krawczyk said

He believes on getting “a product out the door with a limited set of features, and maybe a bug or two will slip past.

“Then, see what the response is from the community and take that response to shape the app into a product that the community desires.”

Several users on the Chicago Reddit page, have made suggestions that Krawczyk plans to implement.

“It’s great to live and work in a time when access to information is basically second nature. As a developer, this enables seemingly endless possibilities.”