Data Highlighting the ETOD Implications of Vacant Land Near Transit

Blog post by Institute for Housing Studies
March 5, 2024

Institute for Housing Studies   (Chicago)

The City of Chicago has struggled for decades to address issues related to an abundance of vacant land, largely concentrated in the city’s Black neighborhoods. High levels of vacant land in Chicago’s communities of color are the product of decades of discrimination and disinvestment from public and private entities, followed by long-term population loss, property abandonment, and ultimately demolition of distressed, deteriorating structures. There are numerous obstacles that prevent these lots from being redeveloped or repurposed, and they can often sit vacant for years despite significant community efforts. High concentrations of vacant land can have a broad range of impacts on communities and residents including negative impacts on nearby property values, increases in crime, increased exposure to environmental hazards, and negative effects on mental health, physical activity, and social cohesion.

A particularly vexing aspect of Chicago’s vacant land challenge is the large concentration of these vacant lots located near CTA transit stations. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates one of the largest heavy rail rapid transit systems in the country. There are over 125 CTA train stations in neighborhoods within the city limits. Access to these transit stations is typically considered a neighborhood amenity, and since 2013, Chicago has implemented different types of transit-oriented development policies that create incentives to develop dense housing and walkable communities near CTA transit stations. While these policies have successfully attracted new investment to many higher-income Chicago neighborhoods, they have not had the same success in the city’s predominantly Black South and West Side communities.

Recent efforts in Chicago have worked to prioritize Equitable Transit Oriented Development (ETOD) strategies that promote dense, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development near transit hubs that are 1) accessible to Chicago residents of all socioeconomic and race/ethnic backgrounds and 2) mitigate displacement pressures driven by forces tied to gentrification and long-term disinvestment. Elevated Chicago has been a local and national leader in highlighting the importance of ETOD and developing policies and programs to attract equitable investment near transit.

As a part of this work, IHS partnered with Elevated Chicago, Rudd Resources, the Garfield Park Community Council, and the Endeleo Institute on the project Chicago’s Vacant Lots Near Transit: An ETOD Deep Dive. The project examines the impact of vacant lots near transit on the South and West Sides via two case studies: one in East Garfield Park near the Kedzie/Lake and California/Lake Green Line CTA stations and the other in Roseland/Washington Heights near the 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line CTA station. The project examines demographic, economic, and housing market conditions in the two communities and showcases videos featuring community members describing the impact of vacant lots near two major transit hubs. The project also outlines key takeaways from community engagement conversations and provides resources and next steps for those interested in vacant lots and ETOD in Chicago.

To support this work, IHS developed an in-depth analysis of City-owned and privately-owned vacant land across Chicago.i The analysis highlights the proximity of vacant land near CTA train stations, the distribution of these vacant lots by census tract race/ethnic composition, Chicago Community area, and CTA train station. The data appendix includes these data as well as data aggregated by City of Chicago ward. The section below highlights some of the data and analysis found in the Elevated Chicago report.