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Cityscape’s Top 12 stories of 2020

Published on Dec. 23, 2020 by Steven Vance

Updated on Dec. 24, 2020

The theme of 🏘 accessory dwelling units dominated the year. I’m looking forward to seeing what backyard house designs are built, how many vacant lots are developed with backyard houses, and how many basement units are upgraded or “legalized”.

January 2020

Let’s keep ADUs in the news

We kept track of all the press about accessory dwelling units in Chicago. And we helped out journalists with quotes and data. The mission to “keep ADUs in the news” will continue through 2021.

February 2020

The one Chicago guidebook you need to read this year

“The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook”, my favorite book about Chicago. Photo by someone who I convinced to buy a copy during our lunch.

I kept riding the bus to work in order to keep reading “The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook”, edited by Martha Bayne, even if the roads were clear of snow and I could have biked to work.

I love reading about places and locations in Chicago that I know. I like reading about the businesses I never got to patronize before they closed down, and I look forward to spontaneously visiting the blocks and parks I haven’t seen.

The relevant theme, though, and why I’m sharing my enthusiasm for the Guidebook, is how every story includes some bit about real estate. Little of the stories within the articles are about real estate, but the collection of references to houses, buildings, building styles, blocks, corners, businesses, and institutions make it difficult to not think about who contributes to how a neighborhood changes and develops.

March 2020

New data: How many Airbnbs are in your neighborhood

Using data from a third-party Airbnb tracking service, we added a map of Airbnbs to our Place Snapshot. Look up a community area or ward and see approximately the quantity of short-term and vacation rental housing.

However, the blog post was popular but the functionality hasn’t been used much, so we haven’t updated or improved it.

P.S. March was also our sixth birthday. That blog post wasn’t that popular.

April 2020

Prefab “starter home” is under construction, destined for a vacant lot in Back of the Yards

Kinexx Modular Construction started building a modular and prefabricated house at their warehouse near the border of Chicago. We followed that story through to its assembly on-site, and then later a tour.

May 2020

Chicago’s ADU ordinance was introduced — see what you could build

We published an FAQ explaining what kinds and sizes and locations of interior ADUs and coach houses (what this blog now call backyard houses).

I guess the blog took a vacation in June so December gets two posts.

July 2020

Chicago’s ADU ordinance gets a hearing date

In this blog post, we analyzed what properties the ADU ordinance would and wouldn’t allow to have an interior ADU or backyard house. Now that the ordinance has been adopted (in December), all of that analysis is moot.

August 2020

The modular “starter house” in Back of the Yards was assembled

Like I said in April, we follow the progress of this prefabricated and modular house. The Resurrection Project (TRP) is the buyer of the house designed and built by Kinexx Modular Construction.

The house has a living room, and a combined kitchen+dining room. It has three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms, plus a backyard and a two-car parking pad.

September 2020

Commentary: “My parents live with me and my children, and I want an ADU, but the RS-2 exclusion prevents me”

In the ADU ordinance proposed in May, property owners in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts would have to jump through additional and costly hoops to be able to build an interior ADU or backyard house. This would have the opposite intention of the policy to allow people to build an extra unit in their own home, and in Carmin’s case it was necessary because her parents lived at home and the family needed more space.

Thankfully, the adopted ordinance got rid of these hoops for property owners in RS-2. As for RS-1, no ADUs are allowed, and there are no exceptions.

October 2020

Is COVID-19 affecting Chicago building permits? 😟

The short answer of COVID-19’s impact on building permits, based purely on the rate of building permits issued, is it’s hard to tell. That’s because the rate of issuing building permits for new construction in Chicago declined by 1.5 percent from 2017 to 2018, by 10.4 percent from 2018 to 2019, and we don’t have enough information to know if would have continued through 2020. (So far, though, the decline is 44.7 percent from 2019 to 2020.)

November 2020

Chicago readies two North Lawndale sites for sale and redevelopment

4300 W Roosevelt Rd has two lots that total nearly 21 acres of vacant and “complicated” lots.

Chicago’s planning department continues to roll out new Requests For Proposals for redeveloping city-owned land in the INVEST South/West areas. On Monday, City Hall planners dropped four new RFPs for lots with a mixture of city-owned and private property in New City, Bronzeville, South Chicago, and North Lawndale.

December 2020

Take a tour: Chicago’s first modular house is move-in ready

“Josh and Paul opened the tour by describing how they believe the modular house doesn’t look like a modular house. I agree — it’s next to impossible to see clues that the house was built from eight pieces assembled at an offsite warehouse near the southwest border of Chicago.”

Chicago will allow ADUs starting in May — Read our new FAQ

The ADU ordinance was adopted on December 16, 2020, and the first building permit applications for an interior unit or backyard house can be submitted on May 1, 2021. Since that’s a Saturday, review and issuance may have to wait until May 3.


Cityscape’s Top 12 stories of 2020 was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Other posts by Steven Vance

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April 2022

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Chicago’s first two-unit modular house is constructed — more are on the way

February 2022

Apply for this new property tax incentive by March 31

January 2022

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December 2021

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Cityscape’s Top 12 stories in 2021

Chicago hits 21 ADU permits in 2021

November 2021

This architecture firm is doing the most ADU projects right now

Bickerdike plans to expand service area, to develop more eTOD

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October 2021

Six ADU permits have been issued since May 2021

September 2021

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Cityscape has the maps you need to locate where new ARO rules apply

August 2021

What does the 2020 Census data tell us about Chicago and Chicagoans?

Chicago wants to sell four parking lots it owns on the North Side

Chicago might allow cannabis dispensaries in more zoning districts

July 2021

The first three Obama Presidential Center permits were issued

June 2021

Cityscape receives grant to launch a “Data Equity Cohort”

See if you have a new electoral district in 2022 with adopted redistricted maps

May 2021

110 property owners have told City Hall they intend to build an ADU

April 2021

New maps, data, and filters were added for affordable housing developers and advocates

Find historical imagery for Cook County addresses

March 2021

See Carmin’s future backyard ADU

A new “off-site” ARO townhouse development opens on the West Side

Chicago developers are constructing bigger wood residential buildings due to changes in the code

January 2021

Use new Cityscape tools to grow your ADU business

Cityscape maps updated to reflect new Illinois legislators

Outside the Loop radio shows talks about backyard houses with Chicago Cityscape

December 2020

Cityscape’s Top 12 stories of 2020 [you're reading this one]

Chicago’s ADU ordinance explained in a 4-minute video

Chicago will allow ADUs starting in May — Read our FAQ

City Council to review revised ADU ordinance to apply in pilot areas only

A better ADU rule has the potential to build lower-cost houses on vacant land

Take a tour: Chicago’s first modular house is move-in ready

Chicago prepares a deconversion ban near the 606

November 2020

Chicago readies two North Lawndale sites for sale and redevelopment

Mapping investments in INVEST South/West areas

October 2020

Is COVID-19 affecting Chicago building permits?

September 2020

Commentary: I want an ADU, but the RS-2 exclusion would prevent me from building one

August 2020

Filling a zoned “Pedestrian Street” gap will bring TOD benefits to more blocks

Get a look at new basement ADUs in Bronzeville + 2 other projects

The modular “starter house” in Back of the Yards was assembled

July 2020

Ask Cityscape: Could I build two ADUs at my house?

Here’s what ADU supporters told City Council at the first hearing

Chicago’s ADU ordinance gets a hearing date

May 2020

Chicago’s ADU ordinance was introduced — see what you could build

April 2020

New zoning rules adopted last week

Ordinance would change approval rules for certain industrial uses

Prefab “starter home” is under construction, destined for a vacant lot in Back of the Yards

See what’s in the development pipeline

March 2020

Chicago Cityscape turns 6

New data: How many Airbnbs are in your neighborhood

Ask your alder to support ADUs

Three North Side “Pedestrian Streets” are being combined

Make informed decisions by using your own boundaries

Make informed decisions by mixing your data with Cityscape’s

Chicago’s vacant land problem

February 2020

Metra should add a new station in Humboldt Park

Legalize ADUs across Illinois, lawmaker’s bill says

The one Chicago guidebook you need to read this year

January 2020

Work in industrial real estate? Chicago Cityscape does, too

Let’s keep ADUs in the 2020 news

Cityscape Pro is now available for 1, 2, and 3 month terms

December 2019

Downtown land that Chicago owns is up for sale again — this time thru a sustainable design…

Recreational pot sales start in 13 days

November 2019

Two South Side community hubs are moving forward with investment from Benefit Chicago

Where the ARO units are

October 2019

Where are the cannabis disproportionately impacted areas?