Cabrini-Green Housing Project at its dedication in 1942
The failures of idealistic public housing projects have been studied and debated by many, and tarnished the credibility of American urban planners for a generation. Urban renewal policies in the middle of the twentieth century advocated the clearance of entire neighborhoods, and their replacement with high-rise housing projects. With a lack of community structure these projects often became synonymous with gang activity, crime, and violence. Chicago is certainly no exception to this trend, as the notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects (along with St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe projects) became nationally infamous as a symbol of urban blight.
The last of the Cabrini-Green high rises was demolished in 2011
Since 1996, when the federal government abandoned the urban renewal strategy of high-rise projects, cities like Chicago have struggled to re-develop the projects equitably. Chicago demolished the last of the high rises in 2011, putting the finishing touches on a ten year Plan for Transformation, yet controversy is still ongoing. The overall fate of residents displaced by the plan remains unclear (undoubtedly some have moved to neighboring areas, while others have likely relocated to other parts of Chicagoland, and others likely became homeless).
Tenants filed a lawsuit regarding the stalled rehab of the rowhouses at Cabrini-Green
In May of 2013, tenants filed a lawsuit regarding the fate of the Cabrini rowhouses, which were originally slated for rehab and preservation as public housing. The suit alleges that only a quarter of the units have been rehabbed while the rest remain vacant. It’s doubtful that economic development interests like the Target that just broke ground in Fall 2012 would want a large concentration of public housing as a neighbor. It remains to be seen if the city and the Chicago Housing Authority would be so bold as to break their original commitment to Cabrini residents, paving the way for gentrification and redevelopment of the larger area. The contemporary challenge is to make this redevelopment work for all, but it seems certain stakeholders wield more influence.
How has your city addressed the challenges of public housing?
Credit: Photos and data linked to sources.