In Chicago, where one lives affects how one understands vacancy.
In many North and near Northwest Side neighborhoods, vacancy heralds the construction of larger and more expensive buildings, while in many South and West Side neighborhoods vacancy is the harbinger of yet another derelict lot. The result is that while many Chicago neighborhoods are maintaining—if not gaining—density, other sections of the city are increasingly sparse.
Reckoning with Vacancy grapples with these divergent conditions by concentrating on the city’s South and West Sides, where the last several decades have brought major changes to the built environment and the communities that constitute and inhabit it. From coordinated efforts like the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation to the more chaotic effect of the Great Recession’s foreclosure crisis, these events have dramatically affected the neighborhoods many of us call home.
While some of the resulting vacant properties are targeted for long-term development or are being winded through the city’s vacant property ownership programs, the majority of these parcels are in an ambiguous position: either informally maintained by community members or derelict and seemingly up for grabs. How are we to understand such sites, and how can residents and municipal planners work with them? This orientation also allows us to engage broader puzzles related to the city’s future, including which factors determine vacancy in our cities, how we might bridge disparate experiences of vacancy, and how we might understand the relationship between planning and informality.