About this project

What is this?

The Vacant and Abandoned Building Finder is a tool for helping people and organizations find buildings in Chicago that are not in use and potentially hazardous to the neighborhood around them.

The original version of this site was created in October of 2011 by Derek Eder (me) and was powered by an early version of my Searchable Map Template with Fusion Tables. In November of 2019, with the impending shutdown of Google Fusion Tables, I updated it to use CARTO and more modern web conventions (like Bootstrap 4) and pull data from the City's new 311 system that was launched in 2018.

This application is now maintained and hosted by my company, DataMade.

How does it work?

With the tools on the left column, you can find buildings that have been reported to 311 as vacant or abandoned. You can also search around an address or intersection and by the date the building was reported.

On the right side the buildings are potted on a map of Chicago. Each point is clickable and will show you details about when the building was reported, if there are any ordinance violations associated with it, as well as a picture of the building itself (courtesy of Google's street view). Additionally, there is a list of resources anyone can use to find more information on the building, or to provide an updated report to 311.

Chicago Buildings usage

Who is it for?

This tool is free and for anyone who is interested in vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago. It was built with simplicity in mind; you don't have to be an expert in real estate or Chicago building policy to use it. That being said, it can definitely be used by someone who is, and I hope that it proves to be a useful tool.

It could be used in the following ways:

  • As an educational tool for the general public to make them aware of the number of vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago and where they are.
  • By firefighters who want to check if a burning building has people (non-residents) reported in it to determine if they should perform a rescue. If there's no one in the building, they won't have to risk their lives.
  • By community development organizations to track neighborhood trends in foreclosed and abandoned housing and compare it to demographic data.
  • By journalists as a research tool.
  • By the City to more efficiently track vacant and abandoned buildings and manage 311 reports.
  • By neighborhood groups and concerned citizens to locate and report vacant and abandoned buildings around them.
  • By urban adventurers looking for cool and interesting buildings to explore and photograph (again, this is probably illegal)

Why did you make it?

I am not too much of an expert on the subject of vacant and abandoned buildings, but the data seemed very interesting to me. I created a simple version of this map in April of 2011 and noticed that it quickly became one of the most visited pages on my site.

When the Apps for Metro Chicago contest was announced, I decided that this tool would be a great candidate for it, so I refined it, expanded it, and spun it off in to it's own site: chicagobuildings.org. It is now a finalist for the Community round I eagerly await the results of the competition.

Where did you get your data from?

The building data comes from two sources on the City of Chicago Data portal:

How many vacant buildings are there?

Between November 1, 2018 and November 1, 2019, there have been 5,342 unique vacant buildings (by address) reported to 311. On average, 19 vacant/abandoned buildings are reported each day.

Are there problems with the data?

There are! This map does not represent the full list of vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago. Because the data comes from 311 requests and Administrative Hearings, only buildings that are actively reported or in violation will show up on the map. It is likely that there are many more vacant and abandoned buildings than we show here.

What did you use to build it?

This site is built with HTML, CSS, Javascript and Google's Fusion Tables and Maps API. The data is stored in Fusion Tables and is updated every week by a PHP script I wrote to import the data directly from the City of Chicago Data Portal.

Technologies used:

If you are interested, all the code for this project is open source and up on GitHub.

Credits

This site was built, designed and hosted entirely by Derek Eder in his own free time for no money. Special thanks to Cristina Sladana from Cook County Commissioner Fritchey's Office, Danielle DuMerer from Chicago's Department of Innovation and Technology, Bill McCaffrey from Chicago's Department of Buildings and Chet Jackson from the West Humboldt Park Development Council for answering all my annoying questions.

Also a big thanks to my wife Aya for designing the logo, proofing and giving design feedback and Nick Rougeux for all his continuous sage style (CSS) advice.

Press

Since launching in late September 2011, some great articles have been written about this site: