Addressing the externalities of vacancy and blight is a major challenge for the Chicago metropolitan area. While neighborhoods on the South and West sides of Chicago struggle with blight, neglect, and abandonment, downtown Chicago and the northern neighborhoods and suburbs experience stronger market conditions. This crisis has amplified entrenched socioeconomic divisions and ultimately burdens the entire region by perpetuating a cycle of poverty, violence, and physical and social disorder that tarnish Chicago’s image.

This Note outlines Chicago’s vacant property challenge by discussing the history of urban decline in Chicago. It examines factors that led to a high level of vacant and abandoned properties, namely long-term trends of declining population, suburbanization, and deindustrialization, in addition to the foreclosure crisis of recent years. The Note assesses the impacts of concentrated vacancy and blight, and then analyzes the legal and policy approaches the Chicago-area local governments have taken to addressing those impacts. Generally, the existing legal regime has been insufficient. Finally, this Note proposes enhancements to existing programs in order to drive revitalization efforts. Part IV proceeds with recommendations for legislation that will allow Chicago to more aggressively manage and reutilize the region’s vacant land and abandoned building stock. Vacancy and abandonment have wrought devastation on Chicago’s neighborhoods on a scale much greater than did the Great Chicago Fire. However, just as the city did after that disaster, with creative and aggressive policies the region will again reemerge and rebuild.