Vacant Building Finder

Company/Organization Type: 
Company/Organization Size: 
Independent (no employees)
Company/Organization Age: 
<1 year
If you win, who should we make the check out to?: 
Derek Eder

‚ÄčThe 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 site also contains an extensive FAQ regarding laws and policy on vacant and abandoned buildings for owners and citizens.

How does it work?

With the tools on the left column, you can find buildings that are open and unsecured, have fire damage, or are in use by non-residents (gangs, children, homeless, etc). 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, where on the lot it is located, where an open entry point is (if any) 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 (from the Recorder of Deeds and County Assessor) on the building, or to provide an updated report to 311.

In addition to the building data, I also added in demographic data by neighborhood. This allows anyone to compare each neighborhood to see the correlation between vacant and abandoned buildings and the neighborhoods that surround them. Demographics include poverty rate, unemployment rate, population, and median income.

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:

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 night by a PHP script I wrote to import the data directly from the City of Chicago Data Portal. This ensures that the data is always up to date, and doesn't require any action by me to do so (attn judges: Longevity!). All of the code is open source and free for anyone to download from github.

It been tested to work with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari browsers. The site will work on most smart phones, but is not optimized for them and would thus be difficult to use. A mobile-specific version will be created some time in the near future.

Technologies used:

If you are interested, all the code for this project is up on github:

Community Explanation: 

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 homeless individuals looking for a place to squat (not that this site condones illegal activity - it's just a possibility).