You can by a vacant lot in South Chicago right now for $1.
With over 5,000 lots in the Englewood district alone, the City of Chicago is buckling under the weight of ongoing upkeep for so many empty and unused spaces around the city. Spaces that emerged after the housing market collapsed and have now become garbage dumps, centers for drug dealing or loitering gang members.
The solution: sell them off for the price of a pack of gum. But before you dash off to Chicago seeking your own piece of the pie, you need to know that there is a catch, you must already own a house on the same block.
The plan is a rather ingenious one that protects the neighborhood from possible gentrification while simultaneously ensuring that the lots will be well cared for. How? Because the people who care about those spaces the most are the people living next to them. From my front yard here in North Georgia I scarcely, if ever, consider the state of vacant lots in Chicago. Even if I did muster some vague sense of concern, I am doubtful that it would ever transfer into a plan of action. Furthermore, even if I were inspired to act, I am distrustful that my action would be in the best interest of the neighborhood, a neighborhood I don’t live in, full of people I don’t know, in a city that is not my home.
Conversely, if there was a vacant lot next to my house filled with garbage and drug dealers and gang members, and if my kids were running through it daily, you can imagine I would find myself quite inspired to do something about it.
And yet, many of us find that we are surrounded by vacant lots of various kinds daily that fail to generate any sense of responsibility in us; a responsibility to bring light, or beauty, or joy or dignity to barren spots of land. While we may not live next to a physical patch of abandoned asphalt, every one of us has been called to a place and to a people for which we are responsible. They might be a fellow employee, or someone from your community, your neighborhood, your school, or your street. Jesus calls them your “neighbor” and some of them are desperately in need of attention. Like the cracked hardtop between apartments in South Chicago many of the people we connect with from our sphere of influence have slipped, unnoticed, into disrepair. Weeds have grown up through the ground, chocking out what was once a bed of grass, while broken glass and old tires have slowly replaced gardens and fruit bearing trees. Laughter of innocent children has given way to violence and sounds of gunshot. Have you noticed?
In his book Visions of Vocation, Steve Garber writes,
“Whether our vocations are as butchers, bakers or candlestick makers- or people drawn into worlds of business or law, agriculture or education, architecture or construction, journalism, or international development, health care or the arts – in our own different ways we are responsible, for love’s sake, for the way the world is and ought to be. We are called to be common grace for the common good.”
Do you share God’s vision, passion and longing for what is possible in the vacant lots surrounding you? After all, if those living closest to them fail to be unmoved by the glaring gap between what they are and what they could become, who will? Is there a lot in particular that you have recognized which needs some attention - some grace, some friendship, some hope, some “common grace” and “common good?” Perhaps “for love’s sake” you might consider partnering with God as he seeks out the forsaken, the discarded and the forgotten- the vacant and abandoned- joining him in his work of “making all things new.” Let’s seek to ensure that in each of our own neighborhoods there is no need for the city to sell land to anyone with a dollar. We can all agree, they are infinitely more valuable than that.