Reckoning with Vacancy


Reckoning with Vacancy. © David Schalliol.


Project by David Schalliol


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.
































David Schalliol is an assistant professor of sociology at St. Olaf College who explores the transformation of urban centers through hybrid ethnographic, filmic, and photographic projects. His work was recently featured in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and in 2014 the Japanese publisher Utakatado released his first book, Isolated Building Studies. Schalliol contributed to Highrise: Out My Window, an interactive documentary that won the 2011 International Digital Emmy for Non-Fiction. His current film project, The Area, is about the displacement of more than 400 families by the expansion an intermodal freight terminal. | @metroblossom

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