Frequently Asked Questions

What is a ward?

The city of Chicago is divided into 50 legislative areas, called "wards". Each ward contains roughly 50,000 residents, and can overlap with multiple neighborhoods. Ward boundaries are redrawn every 8 years and were last redrawn in 2023.

View ward boundaries and information

What is an alder?

Each ward elects an alder, who is essentially a mini-mayor. They provide ward services and vote on citywide legislation in the Chicago City Council.

Learn more about what an alder does

What is participatory budgeting?

Participatory budgeting (PB) is the practice of having the community directly decide how to spend public budgets. Only a handful of wards currently use PB budgeting, but that number is growing. A typical PB process goes like this:

  1. Residents submit PB project ideas
  2. A group of volunteers evaluates the ideas based on need and feasibility
  3. Residents vote on the final list of ideas to determine which ideas get funding
  4. The ward office works with CDOT to implement the winning project ideas
Learn more about participatory budgeting in Chicago

How can I influence menu funds and infrastructure spending in my ward?

Reach out to your ward office! You can use our Find My Ward tool to get their contact information. If your ward does participatory budgeting, ask how you can be involved. If not, don't despair! You can still contact your alder to discuss your infrastructure idea (and ask them to consider participatory budgeting).

Some advice:

  • Sign up for your ward's newsletter! It's a great way to stay in the loop on participatory budgeting.
  • Have specific asks. Know the type of project and the exact location you're looking for. Make sure the project is reasonably priced in proportion to the ward budget.
  • Phone calls and in-person conversations are generally more impactful than emails. If you call your ward office, you'll likely talk with front office staff and they will relay your requests up the chain of command. If you'd like to talk directly with your alder, sign up to attend one of their ward nights.
  • Try to find other people who care about the same issue. Convince them to contact your ward office too! Many voices have more influence than a single voice alone.

What is Vision Zero?

Vision Zero is an effort to bring the number of yearly traffic fatalities down to zero. Menu items that make streets safer are denoted with the Vision Zero logo in the menu item list.

Vision Zero Overview

Where does your data come from?

  • Since 2012, the Chicago Office of Budget and Management (OBM) has published PDFs of itemized aldermanic menu spending on their Capital Improvement Archive. Researcher John C. Ruf submitted a FOIA request to get aldermanic spending data going back to 2005. Those PDFs are available here.
  • Our site is using raw data extracted from the OBM PDFs. Both journalist Jake Smith and researcher John Ruf independently scraped this data. We are currently using John Ruf's data, supplemented with 2023 data we scraped ourselves.
  • Ward contact information was independently gathered by members of the Ward Wise team.
  • The standard menu item descriptions and cost information comes from the 2023 Neighborhood Infrastructure Menu Program packet that was sent out to ward offices.

Can I use your data?

Yes! The data collected and assembled by Ward Wise can be accessed through our API.

Can I get involved with Ward Wise?

Sure! Our data analysis and website source code are publicly available on GitHub. Ward Wise is a breakout group under Chi Hack Night. We meet every Tuesday night.

Do you have new features planned for the site?

I have another question not on this list!

Send us an email at and we'll do our best to respond!