Why does so much city-owned land sit idle in Los Angeles?

For the last eight years, I have used my commute from the South Bay to downtown to explore the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The more I drive, the more I notice what I call L.A.’s “lost space,” mysterious plots of land that sit abandoned or underused throughout the city.

On Figueroa Street near West 52nd Place in South L.A., for instance, two barren parcels sit on opposite sides of the road, the larger one surrounded with an old rusted chain-link fence. As a person who studies the economy, I’ve found it puzzling: How is it that in one of the world’s hottest real estate markets, in a city that is in dire need of affordable housing, land like this sits idle?