See where Chicago's vacant land ranks amongst central business districts

There have been very few national studies of urban vacant lots, and not for lack of effort. Widespread inconsistencies in property classification and data management make it very difficult to put together a comprehensive record. While each study managed to shed some light on how much of America’s cities was vacant lots and abandoned structures at the time of the research, they were vastly more useful in cataloguing the various bureaucratic disparities that hinder the very accuracy of such inventories. Today, urban planning policies, practices, and record-keeping still leave a lot to be desired.

Looking at just the 25 central business districts included in our study, we found that vacant lots sized 0.5 acres or more amount to a total of 584 acres—that’s urban core property with no improvements, that could fill roughly 442 NFL-standard-size football fields. We also uncovered that some of the least dense urban cores have seen the slowest development activity during the past five years, while developers have been significantly busier in the more tightly packed city downtowns.

Our research showed that major metros in the South, West, and Southwest harbor the most vacant lots in their urban cores. While it is not surprising that these cities have utilized the advantages of spacious geography to expand their boundaries outward, it invites the obvious question: why sprawl, if there is still plenty of potential to reinvest in the city core? The answer to that may be more complex than we can approach in this one article, but what we can do is look at the numbers.

Below, take a look at how the cities rank in terms of vacant land (measured in acres).

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