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Civic Lab's TIF Illumination Project


An Equity Problem

Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) is a controversial issue in Chicago. The City of Chicago says it's broke. Yet the TIF program operates without oversight, funded by taxpayers. Meant to turn around "blighted" areas, Chicago residents are not consulted during the decision-making process. How might we visually explain this issue to residents in the context of their neighborhood?



With each ward (Wards 27, 6, 20, 7, 8, 9, 46, 4, 11, 12, 50 and 49), we took publicly available data and presented how much was taken and spent within that region. This included the specific projects funded by TIF.



Our commitment to systems-thinking demands us to investigate root causes. With this in mind, our interview questions for users are shaped by some foundational questions that we ask ourselves as a team.

  • Who decides how much money goes where?
  • Who oversees the application process and administration of funding?
  • Shouldn't residents be informed of TIF funding towards projects before they are built, not afterwards?
  • Why is the TIF program such a secret and so confusing?


Given the scheduled town hall meetings, we prioritized the poster format to hand out as a physical keepsake for participants.

This graphic was created based on 2014 numbers - there have been many more meetings to date.



We attempted to explain the concept behind Chicago's TIF program and give an overview of the program in specific neighborhoods. Most town hall meetings took place in 2013 & 2014.

27th ward map
11th ward poster

Learn more about our partnership with The TIF Reports at their website.

Future Features to Test

We'd like to produce experimental maps and diagrams to illustrate TIF program flaws by focusing on individual issues.

Please contact us about how to get involved.