What is this?

2nd City Zoning is an interactive map that lets you:

  • find out how your building is zoned
  • learn where to locate your business
  • explore zoning patterns throughout the city

To make Chicago's zoning code digestible by humans, we took inspiration from one of our favorite games: Sim City 2000. It started with the color scheme: green for residential, blue for commercial and yellow for industrial. (This oversimplifies things a bit, read the full story.) From there we got a little carried away. Graphics, sounds, music, oh my.

2nd City Zoning is entirely open source and built with open data.

What is zoning?

Zoning basically makes sure a factory doesn't open next to a school.

It consists of regulations that control how big of a building you can build on a property, what you can do inside it. You can't just build anything anywhere - every property in Chicago lives in a zoning district of one kind or another.

These districts shape the physical character and economic makeup of our neighborhoods. They're the DNA of our city's build environment: some districts allow high rises to sprout around downtown, others encourage walkable, mixed-use commercial corridors on arterial streets, and still others insulate the city's lingering industrial corridors.

Zoning is controlled by Chicago's City Council. They have a Zoning Board that reviews all proposed zoning changes, which are then passed on to a City Council vote. Unlike most cities, each zoning change, when approved, is put down in the books as a separate ordinance. Here's an example of one.

How do zoning districts work?

All properties in Chicago fall within a zoning district. These districts are grouped into broad categories like Residential and Manufacturing.

Every zoning district has a designation (in 'land use-density' format,) a name, and a description. Let's look at an example:

B1-1: Neighborhood Shopping District

What's here? Retail storefronts on low-traffic streets. Apartments allowed above the ground floor.

Remember, zoning is about land use - what you can do with a property - and density - how big the building can be.

The "B1" piece of this district's designation captures the land use part. The zoning ordinance lists in excrutiating detail every business that is and isn't allow in a B1 district. Its official official name is a "Neighborhood Shopping District," and we distilled the description of what goes on there from the zoning ordinance. (No need to thank us.)

By the way, the B1 designation starts with the letter "B" because it falls under the Business category of zoning districts, which also contains Neighborhood Mixed-Use (B2) and Community Shopping (B3) districts.

The "-1" bit of the designation captures the density part. In zoning, there are a bunch of rules ("density and bulk requirements," in zoning-speak) that restrict how big a building you can build on a property - titillating things like maximum height requirements, floor-area ratios, and others. (They're all explained here.)

The larger the number after the hyphen, the denser the buildings can be. In all, there are five flavors of B1 district, B1-1 through B1-5. They all allow exactly the same land uses, but you can building denser buildings in B1-3 and B1-5 districts than in B1-1. This "land use-density" designation pattern applies to all districts.

How does zoning get changed?

Zoning changes must be aprroved by City Council and can be proposed in two ways:

  1. As a Zoning Reclassification Application with no Aldermanic sponsor, requiring financial and personal disclosures, along with submitted architecture drawings and a non-refundable fee of $1,025.

    Here's an example of one of these applications.

  2. As an ordinance sponsored by an Alderman, consisting of a few sentences.

    Here's an example of a re-classification at 1511-1553 W Division St and 1141 N Ashland Ave sponsored by Alderman Proco Joe Moreno.

In Chicago, aldermen have long controlled most zoning decisions, giving them significant sway over the shape and evolution of neighborhoods.

There have been over 2,300 zoning reclassifications in Chicago since 2011. You can browse them all on Chicago Councilmatic.

What are the different zoning categories?

In Chicago, all districts fall within one of twelve broad zoning categories, explained below. To learn more about a particular district, visit the zoning districts page or read the City of Chicago Zoning Ordinance.

Residential Residential (R)

Houses and apartment buildings only on these parcels! No stores, offices, or factories allowed. Schools, churches, police stations and the like are cool, though.

Commercial Business (B)

From bodegas to big boxes, these districts are for stores and offices. B districts promote walkable storefronts and shopping centers. To promote mix-use neighborhoods, above-ground floor apartments are usually cool.

Commercial Commercial (C)

C districts are also geared towards commerce, but allow a wider variety of businesses than B districts, especially car-oriented stuff like strip malls and drive-through banks. Above-ground floor apartments are usually still okay.

Commercial Downtown (D)

Downtown zoning districts can only be found in the Loop and its environs. They're what makes it legal to build high-rise offices and apartments downtown. Weirdly, the Downtown Service (DS) districts in this category also cover the South Loop warehouse area between the Dan Ryan and the Chicago River.

Manufacturing Manufacturing (M)

Factories, warehouses, freight, junkyards... all the heavy duty stuff that still litters Chicago's industrial corridors. These districts range from nondescript warehouses (M1) to hardcore factories (M3).

Manufacturing Planned manufacturing districts (PMD)

Fourteen special zoning districts that protect industry from encroachment by commercial and residential buildings. Unlike other districts, parcels in PMDs cannot be rezoned to non-industrial uses, so they take zoning decisions out of aldermens' hands.

In 1988, the Harold Washington administration created the Clybourn Corridor, the city's first PMD, and Daley continued the policy. For an evaluation of whether the PMD's have actually kept industrial jobs in Chicago, see Joel Rast's article " Curbing Industrial Decline or Thwarting Redevelopment? "

Planned Development Planned development (PD)

Tall buildings, hospital campuses, and other large developments that must be negotiated with city planners. Developers gain freedom in building design (read: they can bend the zoning rules,) but must work with city to ensure projects gel with and benefit the neighborhood.

Planned Development Transportation district (T)

Bits of land designed to protect roads, bus ways, bike trails, and rail lines. Only a handful of properties in town are zoned this way.

Parks and Open Space Parks and Open Space (POS)

Protects land set side for public parks, open space, beaches, and cemeteries. Most Chicago Park District land lives in these districts. Also, this is what keeps the lakefront forever open, free, and clear.

Dear Maxis and Electronic Arts: Don't sue us!

We are using some music and sound effects from Sim City 2000 on this website. This is not to make a Sim City competitor, but to make the experience of diving in to zoning laws fun!


Sim City 2000 was made by Will Wright and Fred Haslam and many others at Maxis.

Sim City 2000 soundtrack by Brian Conrad, Sue Kasper, Justin McCormick.

© Maxis/Maxis, Electronic Arts, DSI Games/Zoo Digital (GBA), all rights reserved.

Sim City is a trademark of Maxis.

Buy it!

If you love Sim City as much as we do, go buy it!

Team and credits

This site was originally built as an Open City project done as a volunteer effort, built for fun and education (ours and yours).

Second City Zoning is now hosted and maintained by DataMade, a civic technology company founded by Derek Eder.

The team is:


This site was originally built with zoning shapefiles from the City of Chicago Data Portal. However, this data is out of date and we now pull directly from the City of Chicago's ArcGIS REST Services Directory.

Everyting is stored in CartoDB and CSV files and are open for anyone to use:

We love that the City of Chicago has opened their data for citizens to use. This site represents just one example of what can be done with it. We hope it inspires others to dive in to zoning (and other) datasets the City, County and State have released.


All the code for this site is open source. It was built with Jekyll, Bootstrap, CartoDB and Leaflet.

Technologies used:

All the code for this project is up on GitHub.


Since launching in January 2013, we've gotten some great press coverage! Check it out:

SimCity Reference of the Day: Chicago Zoning Map
By Henry Grabar on Atlantic Cities | Feb 12, 2013
Map of Chicago with SimCity zoning
By awinsalot on Reddit /r/SimCity | Feb 9, 2013
App by OpenGov group simplifies Chicago’s complex zoning — Sim City style
By Elliott Ramos on Day x Datum on WBEZ | Feb 8, 2013
Sim City for the Second City
By Juan-Pablo Velez on Next City | Feb 7, 2013
App lifts veil on government policy for Chicagoans
By Conner Forrest on Medill Reports - Chicago | Jan 24, 2013
Second City 2000
By Michael Lipkin on Chicago Tonight (WTTW) | Jan 23, 2013

Contact us

Found a bug? Report it on our issue tracker!

Have a suggestion? Want to sue us? (please don't!) Contact us at info@datamade.us