Chicago, IL
United States

Endeleo Institute, Garfield Park Community Council, Rudd Resources Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University

Developed a community-driven vision for the redevelopment of vacant land near public transit. 

In Chicago, most vacant land is found on the South Side and West Side, both of which are primarily comprised of communities of color. Decades of disinvestment have resulted in large tracts of vacant and underutilized land, most of which remains unused, unattractive, and dangerous—perpetuating community concerns around health, safety, connectivity, and economic and community vitality. Many of these lots are located near public transit stations, presenting development opportunities near public transportation.

Elevated Chicago is a collaborative that leverages the built environment near transit hubs to promote opportunity, equitable development, and community connection. They aim to prioritize development that will create more green spaces and multiuse and commercial developments that can support residents’ mental, emotional, physical, and economic health. For this project, Elevated Chicago partnered with the Institute for Housing Studies and Rudd Resources to capitalize on the city’s current focus on equitable transit-oriented development to establish data that quantifies the city’s private and publicly owned vacant lots located near transit sites.

Elevated Chicago created “community tables”—groups comprised of diverse residents and orgs such as housing co-ops, non-profit developers, churches, and schools — in several neighborhoods to encourage conversations about the vacant lots. They convened a series of conversations with two community tables East Garfield Park and Washington Heights, giving residents the opportunity to share their experiences, the impact of vacant lots on their quality of life, and their hopes for the vacant lot redevelopment. Community members could view maps demonstrating the prevalence of vacant lots throughout the community, learn about city programs and current and future development in the community, and take part in discussions about private versus publicly owned vacant land. These conversations revealed that community stakeholders are excited by but also wary of redevelopment opportunities. Residents and other stakeholders expressed a desire to pursue opportunities for community ownership (such as a community land trust), essential businesses including grocery stores, and other services that can lead to a thriving community.

The Washington Heights community used some of the grant funds to train, engage, and pay returning citizens to catalogue vacant lots with a tool developed by the Institute for Housing Studies to that helped them understand the intricacies and process of cataloguing vacant lots. Though this work has not yet led to direct policy recommendations, its completion comes at a time when local leaders are prioritizing wealth-building and exploring options for community landownership, such as through the CHIBlockBuilder initiative.

Elevated Chicago is continuing efforts to educate local policymakers about vacant properties near transit. They produced two videos about South Side and West Side vacant lots that feature resident stories and experiences, as well as a one-page fact sheet that summarizes project findings, which will be released onlinein late 2023 or early 2024. These products align with Elevated Chicago’s long-term goals to bring on-the-ground stories told by community members to city planning officials and city council members who have the power to reshape the vacant land parcels. Elevated Chicago hopes to continue to highlight the need for transparency around lot practices and processes that facilitate transferring publicly owned land to communities and that provide capacity-building opportunities for communities that want to repurpose vacant land.