Inside an Ambitious New Plan to Build an Entire Smart City in Bronzeville

By Will Flanagan, April 10, 2017


A View of the Image Project Development from Overhead [Artist Rendition]

Every city wants to be a “Smart City,” an urban environment that uses software and the Internet of Things to manage its assets, improving the efficiency of its services and the lives of its inhabitants through technology.

— Bo Rodda

So, um, where are they? Yes, some cities are further along than others - New York deploys smart traffic management systems; Nice, France uses nearly 3,000 sensors to process environmental data; and here in Chicago the city makes all of its information accessible via the massive city data portal - and there are Smart City initiatives and efforts in nearly every major city in the world, as well as several global Smart City forums and councils....]

But even the “Smartest” of the Smart Cities - LondonSingapore, and Barcelona to name a few - admit that they are just in the early stages of this transformation. Really, every “Smart City” in the world is just entering grade school.

Why is this? Most cities are built on decades - and sometimes centuries - of infrastructure and systems, with thousands of buildings, that aren’t compatible with smart grid technologies. And to get them compatible, it takes a lot of time and a lot of money. Unfortunately, there’s no magical IoT device that can be plugged into a central grid that immediately turns a city into a connected, thinking organism. The problem is that most cities have just been too dumb for too long in order to become smart overnight.


And that problem is at the heart of the Imagine Project, an ambitious new proposal to transform 114 undeveloped acres in Bronzeville into a living lab, its very own Smart City within the city of Chicago.


Inside A Plan To Create A 'Smart City' Along Chicago's Lakefront

Jim Dallke - Associate Editor

4/11/17 @3:50pm in Tech


Karis: There's an ambitious proposal that aims to turn part of Bronzeville into a smart city within the city of Chicago. Jim, what's up with the Imagine Project?

Jim: The Imagine Project is a proposal by developer Paul McDermott and Bo Rodda, a former energy efficiency specialist at Argonne, to turn 114 acres of undeveloped land in Bronzeville (just south of McCormick Place) into a "living lab." 

... it’s really hard to integrate next-gen technology into antiquated infrastructure...
And that’s the promise of the Imagine Project.
— Will Flanigan, ChicagoInno

Will: Here’s why this matters. The Array of Things is arguably one of Chicago’s most ambitious smart city initiatives to date. (It’s a collection of sensors and embedded systems that basically serve as a Fitbit for the city). It’s going to help Chicago better manage its assets and improve the efficiency of its services. But it’s taken over two years to roll this out. Why? Because it’s really hard to integrate next-gen technology into antiquated infrastructure.

And that’s the promise of the Imagine Project. Because it’ll be built from the ground up with Smart City efforts in mind (think easier access to fiber corridors and sensors and beacons built directly into sidewalks), green-lighting and executing initiatives like the Array of Things will take weeks instead of years. 



Imagine Development's proposal for the Michael Reese site includes bits of nearly every idea for the vacant land since the city bought it in 2011.

New Michael Reese Development Plan Shows Grand Vision For Neighborhood

By Sam Cholke | @SamCholke

February 27, 2017 10:21am


BRONZEVILLE — What might become of the old Michael Reese Hospital site? One development group has big ideas and is showing them off.

Imagine Development on Monday released a proposal to remake the site, a plan that pulls from just about every previous idea for the site as the city debates who will develop the property.

The developers are hoping its plans for luxury condos, affordable apartments, sports and entertainment districts and lots of new hotel space will land the firm the deal to redevelop the 114-acre location when the city picks a developer on April 6.

“Our vision is a vibrant, sustainable, diverse, pedestrian- and family-friendly community honoring the history of Bronzeville,” said Paul McDermott, the project manager for the proposal. “We see it as a first-of-its-kind, mixed-use, urban revitalization project to not only transform the South Side, but also elevate Chicago’s global stature and enhance quality-of-life for local residents.”

The city bought the site for $89 million in 2009 in the hopes of building housing for athletes during the city’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.

When the bid failed, it triggered a clause in the contract that increased the price to $91 million, and the city started looking for someone who would build conference space, hotels or a tech park for the site.

The Imagine Development plan includes all of those elements and more.

The developer said it is negotiating with two Chinese universities to open extensions of their campuses in Bronzeville and is planning 5 million square feet of office, lab and conference space and 1.4 million square feet of hotel space.

The plan calls for arts and sports facilities to complement new hotels and academic research facilities. [Courtesy of Imagine Development]

The plan calls for arts and sports facilities to complement new hotels and academic research facilities. [Courtesy of Imagine Development]

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2011 proposed a tech park for the site, and that idea is now gaining traction again. The developer is proposing to consolidate many of urban research labs and infrastructure research groups on the Michael Reese site to create a testing ground for new ideas in urban development, an idea reminiscent of what McCaffery Interests and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill proposed for the former South Works site in South Chicago before parting ways with U.S. Steel.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill looked at the Michael Reese site in 2014 and concluded that a casino would be one of the most cost-efficient ways to redevelop the site. The approvals necessary for a casino have been consistently blocked at the state level. The developers are including the entertainment that the 2014 plan said would complement the casino, but are excluding any call for gambling on the site.

Instead, the plan calls for arts incubators to complement the academic and business incubators planned around the research groups.

Though the site was passed over for Barack Obama's presidential library, the developers said they want one or more new museums within the site and are proposing everything from a performing arts museum to a Chicago sports hall of fame.

Sports was to be the dominant use when the plan was to bring the Olympics to the city. The proposal wants to resurrect at least a portion of that idea as well. The plan calls for new Olympic-level sports training facilities and more than 12 acres of sports facilities and fields.

These institutional uses would be surrounded by 3.5 million square feet of residential space that would be a mix of affordable housing and luxury condos. The plan calls for 400,000 square feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of restaurant and bar space to provide the street life of the “city-within-a-city” the developers imagine.

The developers have not released cost estimates for these ideas.

The ambitious idea for the South Works site was expected to cost $4 billion to redevelop 589 acres in South Chicago.

The Michael Reese site is considerably smaller, with 49 acres directly owned by the city. The remainder of the site includes 11 acres of privately owned property and the air rights to McCormick Places’s 28-acre truck-marshaling yards.

Any developer who takes on the site will have to contend with the high expected costs to clean up residual radioactive waste from a former uranium-processing facility on the northern edge of the site in 1915.

Imagine Development is the first team to go public with its proposal and other developers are expected to have submitted their own ideas to the city.

Pete Strazzabosco, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, declined to say what other firms responded to the request for proposals, which wered due Feb. 22.

The city is reviewing the proposals now and is expected to make a decision on a developer on April 6.