How many corrections does it take to fix Chicago's ward remap? About 58 pages worth.

July 24, 2012

On Wednesday, the City Council will vote to approve a set of supposedly "technical" corrections to Chicago's ward remap that was approved in January. The corrections run 58 pages.

How can there be that many corrections to a widely distributed map? In January, WBEZ tried to navigate the ward redistrcting process as it played out behind closed doors.

Long a point of consternation in Chicago politics, the mapping process grew more complex with the aid of accurate satellite mapping technology and at-the-ready census data.

The end result was a map worthy of a jig-saw puzzle. Literally.

As the process of redrawing boundaries became more complicated, so too did translating that into an ordinance that could be submitted to the city's council. 

Aldermen had the benefit of seeing an electronic map, something that wasn't released to the general public until after it was approved.

Electronic maps these days use geographic information system (GIS) files. The most common of these files is known as KML (Keyhole Markup Language), which powers a lot of the modern mapping, data vizualizations that apps, governments and news organizations use.

Visually, these files look like colorful shapes and lines on a Google Map. On the backend, these files look like a massive spreadsheet with columns of coordinates. Each set of coordinates, representing a point, drawing a path to create a full boundary. Now, imagine having to navigate from one to 60 or 80 points to complete a boundary, then have to write that into legislative language. (Beginning at the intersection of North Hudson Avenue and West Eugenie Street; thence east on West Eugenie Street to North Clark Street; thence south on North Clark Street to West North Avenue….)

The errors in the boundary descriptions stayed in the version the city council approved. Aldermen and staffers were hastily making changes right up until the approval vote, and didn't apply those changes to the legal descriptions within the ordinance itself.

At least one alderman pointed that out before it was approved. It was agreed that the visual representation of the electronic map would be the basis upon which the map would be implemented.

Before the council voted on a final map, I attempted to manually draw these out from an earlier version of the ordinance. I found dozens of directional errors and conflicts—and I didn't even get through the full map.

Others, who were tasked with correcting the ordinance, found a lot more. That's why the council Wednesday is expected to pass 58 pages worth of corrections.

While the City Council released the corrected electronic map (after they voted to approve it) in January, it's worth noting that they hastily signed and approved an ordinance that they knew to contain hundreds—perhaps thousands of errors.

 

Here are the corrections:

Chicago Ward Map Corrections

Here's the original ordinance:

Amendment of Title 2, Chapter 8 of Municipal Code Concerning Redistricting of City of Chicago Wards

 

Here's an embed of the approved map as rendered through a Google Fusion Table Map: