2015 Year in Review

Using open data to give insight on construction and demolition activity in Chicago

2015 had 12.8 percent higher estimated spending
and 10 percent more permits than 2014

Renovations & alterations

+7.6% total project costs

Estimated project costs increased from $2.9 billion to $3.0 billion.

-4% permits count

There were 4.0 percent fewer permits for renovations & alterations issued in 2014 than in 2014.

Find $1 million+ permits »

New construction

+23.8% total project costs

Estimated project costs increased from $3.1 billion to $4.1 billion.

-2% permits count

There were 1.8 percent fewer permits for new construction issued in 2015 than in 2014.

Explore costs by ward »


-2% permits count

There were 1.8 percent fewer permits for demolitions & wrecking issued in 2015 than in 2014.

Slowing down

Demolition permits peaked in Oct. '14 with 4.65 permits/day, and in Sept. '15 with 4.30 permits/day.

Get demolitions alerts »

How did the overall permits count go up while renovation and new construction went down?

There's another permit type that had a significant gain. There were 26 percent more electrical wiring permits issued in 2015 than in 2014.

Top teardown blocks

Most of these houses have multiple units, but are planned to be replaced by single-unit buildings

Find all suspected teardowns »

Photo of a home at 1436 W Melrose Street permitted for teardown

Lake View: 1400 block of West Melrose Street - 3 homes permitted for teardown, including the 3-unit pictured

Photo of a home at 3631 N Hamilton Ave permitted for teardown

North Center: A 3/4 mile section of N Hamilton Ave, between 3300 and 3900 - 6 homes permitted for teardown

Photo of a home at 1934 W Erie St permitted for teardown

West Town: A half mile section of W Erie St, between 1600 and 2000 - 6 homes permited for teardown

2014 had 16 percent higher estimated spending
and 6.5 percent more permits than 2013

Renovations & alterations

+19.4% total project costs

Estimated project costs increased from $2.3 billion to $2.9 billion.

+20% permits count

There were 19.5 percent more permits for renovations & alterations issued in 2014 than in 2013.

New construction

+39.4% total project costs

Estimated project costs increased from $1.8 billion to $3.1 billion.

+16% permits count

There were 15.7 percent more permits for new construction issued in 2014 than in 2013.


-18% demolition permits

There were 17.7 percent fewer permits for demolitions & wrecking issued in 2014 than in 2013.

5.7 versus 4.7 permits per day

Demolition permits peaked in Oct. '13 with 5.65 permits/day, and in Oct. '14 with 4.65 permits/day.

Church conversions

New multi-unit housing is coming in the form of renovated churches – these are three examples from 2015

Photo of a church at 2900 W Shakespeare Ave

2900 W Shakespeare Ave in Palmer Square, with 10 units under construction, called "Sanctuary on the Square"

Photo of a church at 913 N Hoyne Ave

913 N Hoyne Ave in Ukrainian Village, with 10 units for sale, called "The Belfry", was originally up for auction in 2012

Photo of a church at 1300 N Artesian Ave

1300 N Artesian Ave was originally on the demolition delay list, approved for demolition in June, but suddently a renovation permit was issued in December

Where was the activity

Notes about our data and analysis: These figures are calculated from the City of Chicago's open building permits dataset, which sometimes has its own errors. Ward boundaries are from the 2012 change, which took full effect for the 2015 election. Any figures regarding costs consider only those permits with an estimated project cost greater than $1. Estimates are sometimes wrong; we've changed the ones where we notice there was an extra 0. Finally, an issued permit isn't a guarantee that the project is completed. Sometimes there is double counting because a revision permit is issued for the same project with the same estimated cost.

Downtown dominates

Once again, the 42nd Ward, covering most of the Loop, the West Loop east of the Kennedy, Streeterville, and River North, had the largest aggregate estimated project costs at $2.51 billion. Alder Brendan Reilly has presided over the ward, including when its changed boundaries in 2012, since 2007.

The 42nd Ward's dollar activity was nearly twice that of the second ranked ward, 27th, whose alder is Walter Burnett. Burnett ended 2015 on a strong note of being pro-development, and defended proposed rental housing in areas that are gaining owner-occupied housing. The 27th Ward had $1.40 billion in aggregate estimated project costs.

Geographically, the 27th Ward is highly diverse, covering parts of the West Loop (including the bustling Fulton Market District), Kinzie Industrial Corridor, University Village, West Humboldt Park, East Garfield Park, River West, Goose Island, Cabrini-Green, and Old Town. Burnett has been the alder since 1995.

Last year the 2nd Ward was ranked second, but now takes third place with 60 percent less spending activity than the 27th Ward, with $559 million in aggregate estimated project costs. Alder Brian Hopkins has been on the job for 9 months. The 2nd Ward is also geographically diverse, the "most egregiously gerrymandered ward" (CloutWiki), but smaller than the 27th Ward, and comprises most of Ukrainian Village and Noble Square, and significant portions of Old Town, Gold Coast, Sheffield Neighbors, and Wicker Park.

Get data for another Ward or Neighborhood »

Demolition distinction

Screenshot of a map showing demolitions across Chicago

Demolition permits on the North Side usually had a corresponding New Construction permit, but demolition permits on the South Side were more likely to not have a replacement project.

Read the background »

Low activity areas

Construction activity isn't evenly distributed

Last year we reported that there were 0 new construction permits in Alder Roderick Sawyer's 6th Ward in 2014. The 6th Ward covers most of Greater Grand Crossing, and a third of Englewood and a third of Chatham. There was 1 new construction permit in the 6th Ward in 2015, for a tent at a church event. There was also 1 new construction permit in 2013, to build a porch.

There was a significant amount of renovation & alteration permits issued, however, particularly for the Lafayette Place apartments by the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) company to renovate 110 units in eight buildings in Park Manor/Greater Grand Crossing, including two senior housing buildings.

Request a custom report for your workplace, neighborhood, Ward, or business district.

Building near transit

More new construction and renovation activity, measured by estimated project costs, happens within two blocks of a CTA station than anywhere else in Chicago

Even though they represent just 9% of Chicago's land area, CTA's 'L' station sheds - the circular area within two blocks of a stop - have a disproportionately high permitting activity compared to the areas outside these two blocks.*

The station sheds had 52.0 percent of the city's estimated new construction dollars citywide, a small increase from 2014 when they comprised 49.4 percent. The 'L' station sheds had 57.6 percent of renovation & alteration dollars, a large increase from the 49.7 percent figure in 2014.

In fact, new construction spending near CTA stations increased from 2014 to 2015 faster than the increase in new construction spending citywide in the same period.

Likewise, 26% of new construction permits were issued for projects within two blocks of a CTA station, representing 56% of estimated new construction spending citywide.

New construction outside downtown

The top 5 'L' station sheds outside the Central Business District with the most new construction spending were:

Renovation outside downtown

The top 5 'L' station sheds outside the Central Business District with the most renovation/alteration spending were:

Outside of these station areas, the Cottage Grove-East 63rd station on the Green Line in Woodlawn had nearby renovation spending in 2015 about one sixth the level in 2014. In 2014, Preservation of Affordable Housing got permitted to build a 5-story senior housing building. In 2015, much less was permitted, but POAH got a permit to install 122 photovoltaic solar panels on that building's roof. We mapped all of the solar panel permits across Chicago in our December 17 issue of '1909'.

Revised TOD ordinance

The Chicago City Council revised the Transit-Oriented Development ordinance in September 2015, two years after the original had influenced about a dozen developments to have more or smaller units than normally allowed, or fewer car parking spaces, or both.

The new ordinance increases the maximum distance a building can be from a CTA or Metra station to receive the benefits, and reduces the parking minimum to 0 for residential uses (where previously that was only possible for commercial uses).

Photo of a building under construction at 500 N Milwaukee Ave by Harry Carmichael

Looking southeast at the 14-story building at 500 N Milwaukee Ave, "Kenect". There will be a second, 5-story building at the corner with Grand/Milwaukee/Halsted. The two buildings, steps from the Grand Blue Line station, will have 227 apartments and 88 car parking spaces. Photo by Harry Carmichael.

Photo of a building under construction at 2211 N Milwaukee Ave by Daniel Schell

Looking southeast at the 6-story building at 2211 N Milwaukee Ave, "The L", about two blocks from the California Blue Line station. It will have 120 apartments and 60 car parking spaces. Photo by Daniel Schell.


Chicago Cityscape's built-in analysis tools gave Chicagoans a new look into house demolitions and teardowns, the practice of demolishing an existing building (often still livable).

Last year we described how people were using our Demolitions Tracker and Teardown Tracker tools, but this year readers to should check out the "lost buildings" photo essay on Chicago Patterns, a website dedicated to documenting building history.

(We paid particular attention to the demolition of the building at 209 W Lake Street, with the artifical stone façade, partially because it caused Monk's Pub to close for two weeks and we couldn't get a drink there.)

1087 N. North Branch Street on Goose Island, built 1964

A demolition permit was issued for this building and 2 others nearby, on December 1, 2015.

Photo by Gabriel X. Michael

See other lost buildings »

'1909' weekly newsletter

Samantha Kearney joined the Chicago Cityscape team in July to research and analyze building permit data, and publish original reports every other week in '1909'. Kearney created several custom maps to illustrate these reports.

These were the five most popular maps, by pageviews:

  1. South Loop Building Boom - over 10,000 new units are planned for construction
  2. Breweries
  3. Masonry Houses
  4. Solar Panels - see the map on the right
  5. Water Towers

These maps were powerful (and popular) newsletter features, accomplishing everything from illustrating the growth of a single developer (FLATS) to tracking all Chicago Public Schools infrastructure spending.

Download the data yourself

It is free to export Chicago Cityscape data in CSV files with geographic coordinates along with permit details using the searchable spreadsheet. These files are easily interpreted by free map making apps, including Google Fusion Tables, Mapbox, CartoDB, and QGIS.

See more of our maps »

About Chicago Cityscape

Steven Vance started Chicago Cityscape in March 2014 as Licensed Chicago Contractors to make it easy to find a licensed contractor to hire.

The name was changed in September 2014 to Chicago Cityscape as a reflection of the evolved purpose: Tracking changes in Chicago's built environment – buildings coming down and going up – by monitoring building permits.

By the end of 2015, over 1,850 people had a free "Neighbor" account on Chicago Citsycape, giving them access to email notifications about Places, Companies, and Addresses.

We grew our '1909' free weekly newsletter from 200 subscribers and hit 1,000 in November 2015.


Visitors loaded 199,151 Address Snapshot Property Reports, representing 32 percent of all page views.

The most viewed permit is was for a new Portillo's in the South Loop, Canal/Roosevelt strip mall area. It prematurely appeared in our database in September but wasn't actually issued until December 10, 2015. It was viewed over 1,500 times.

The two most popular places our Neighbors get free email notifications for are the Greater South Loop and the Albany Park community area.

What else can we say? People use Chicago Cityscape in new ways every week. Tell us how you use it.

Upgrade from Neighbor to Pro

Pro members have access to additional features on Chicago Cityscape. They can get demolitions alerts, receive updates for an unlimited number of Places, Companies, and Addresses, and download neighborhood-level property tax data – see all the benefits.

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How was your 2015?

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