Landmark Self Expression and Leadership Project Takes on Abandoned Lots in Chicago

Olympic ambitions for lots

From: The Booster Wicker Park
January 24, 2007
By ANITRA ROWE Staff Writer
Sean Parnell of Wrigleyville is doing his part to get Chicago ready for its 2016 Olympic bid.

Parnell doesn’t have millions for a new temporary stadium. But he does have a plan to turn abandoned Chicago properties into points of community pride.

And Parnell believes that this local activism could help transform Chicago over the next decade — creating more complete streetscapes that would impress the likes of the visiting International Olympic Committee, and strengthen the city.

Parnell is compiling a list of Chicago’s most ugly, dangerous and neglected properties for his “Chicago Abandoned Lot Project.”

His initial goal is to fix up five properties by March 22, but Parnell also has committed to tackling troubled properties in the long-term.

Parnell worries that when the IOC visits Chicago, and travels through the areas on the South Side where the Olympics might be held, the blighted areas they see “may lead them to think that Chicago may not be up to the world standard set by previous Olympic cities.”

“I think the Olympic Committee holds American cities to a higher standard and may not perceive Chicago up to that standard,” Parnell said.

Outside of Olympic ambitions, Parnell said he also fears for those who live near the wide swaths of vacant land that stretch across the South Side and the West Side’s abandoned buildings.

In his youth, Parnell said he found these landscapes “strangely intriguing.”

But now Parnell said he knows how dangerous blight can be. And as a marketing consultant with experience in research and networking, Parnell thinks he can do something about it.

Parnell’s project is an outgrowth of a leadership seminar he’s taking through the international Landmark Education program. Chicago’s Landmark Education office is at 820 N. Orleans.

Parnell said his role in the lot transformation process will be one of a catalyst and a plan maker.

After putting together his list of community eyesores, and “whittling down” the options to an initial five, he’ll contact the property owners and talk to them about their development plans.

Then, Parnell said he will offer to help the property owners make their sites the best they can be.

That could mean locating a buyer or developer for the site, Parnell said, or finding a development compromise that’s agreeable to neighboring properties, where previous plans may have failed.

Parnell said lots are abandoned for a variety of reasons. The property at hand could be at the center of a law suit, he said, or the landowner might be waiting for the property to increase in value.

But while a property sits neglected, Parnell said it often become a magnet for garbage, graffiti, gang activity and drug dealing. When abandoned properties catch fire, a number of additional hazards are presented, he said.

Each site Parnell approaches will have different development possibilities, he said. Some will work best as neighborhood gardens or parks, while others could be developed to serve community needs, such as grocery stores, hair salons and restaurants.

Parnell said many abandoned North Side lots — and lots on the near West and South sides — have been developed in the past 10 to 15 years, as gentrification has pushed up and out from the city’s center.

While the change has been largely positive, Parnell said many people also have been priced out of these neighborhoods.

By working with communities near the lots he undertakes, Parnell said he’ll focus on improving sites without displacing those who live nearby.

For more information about Parnell’s project, visit, or to recommend a property, e-mail Parnell at [email protected].

You May Also Like

1 comment

What a grand idea. I live in a very blighted block E. 65th Place between Dorchester and Blackstone. We are harping on the ward office to help clean it up, we are in a beautiful new condo building, but the city owned lots are disgraceful as well as those owned by others. I would love to get your ideas about how I can help. I would love to turn the immediate lot next to mine into a wildflower garden. Would like to know how to get permission to do that, perhaps help in bringing in dirt and fencing it in so it doesn’t get trampled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *