“Those buildings were taken down not long after I took that picture.”
December 27, 2014 6:11 AM   Subscribe

"Demolished: the end of Chicago's Public Housing" A look back at Chicago's 20th-century public housing high-rises, and how they were taken down. Also an interesting form of web presentation. (SLNPR)
posted by doctornemo (8 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I've done some work for CHA. What this doesn't covey is the mess of bad policy and family splitting that led to people leaving or being disqualified from units. It doesn't cover the policies that CHA had today that middle class communities would balk at.

With the ten year plan that is actually still going on to some extent (I think it's year 15 or so). This doesn't cover the temporary housing people were moved into that became slums as well. People were ripped from their communities and jobs and relocated without them having opinions. Some were placed in opposing gang territories. Some were placed in just plain dangerous housing. Some were discovered to have more than the number of approved residents and were disqualified.

CHA did lots of work to disqualify applicants and residents. In the last ten years CHA had been sued because of evicting residents whose grandkids committed crimes. Our they had a friend with a felony that they let into their home. Or not everyone over 18 in the household was working 20 hours a week or in school fulltime. Or their kids weren't enrolled in camps during the summer. Or someone needed to be on disability but the family couldn't/didn't have the resources so they were disqualified due to the work requirement. Or non payment of rent or utlities.

CHA instated some social services which were really a joke and are slowly removing them as the plan comes to an end.

The only real successful part of the plan is the senior housing. As far as I can tell it had done a great job protecting seniors provided in the last 62 years of life they had never been convicted of a drug felony. This has been widely discussed on the blue that is a feat for many low income residents due to profiling abs the war on drugs.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:54 AM on December 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

When I first moved to Chicago, I remember looking north on the red line, and seeing Robert Taylor and Stateway Gardens. Those are all gone now.

For a while I worked next to Cabrini-Green. That's now gone too. In another few years, I think it will be difficult to explain to people what they were actually like- sort of like Maxwell Street. It seems like they are being erased from people's memories while they're being erased from the landscape. Certainly the CHA is contributing to this erasure on an institutional level, by not really tracking where the people who lived in these places went, and what happened to them.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:21 AM on December 27, 2014

I was shocked in the late 90s or maybe 2000 when I drove up the Dan Ryan for the first time in more than ten years. The Robert Taylor projects were just gone. My feelings at the time were and still are mixed. It was an eyesore. It was a horrible place to live. Poverty and crime were rampant. Poor mostly-black people were penned into the ghetto with invisible lines to segregate them from the rest of the city. A miserable prison using lack of economic opportunity and redlining as the jailers. Nobody seemed to care as long as they didn't have to deal with "those people".

I wondered what had happened to all of the people who lived there. Had they all just been thrown out into the street? It sounds like a lot of them were. It doesn't surprise me. More handiwork of a system in Chicago stacked against people of color in every imaginable way.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:24 AM on December 27, 2014

Is there anyone saving architectural drawings or schematics of these buildings (especially famous ones like Pruitt-Igoe in St Louis)? Obviously this would be the last thing anyone would think of saving, but floor plans and room layouts are the kind of thing that should go hand in hand with photographic and eyewitness histories, and they can more accurately illustrate shortfalls in the design and planning of the housing project.
posted by crapmatic at 2:49 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great imagery and well-made piece. I like that it integrates resident narratives throughout, and in so doing side-steps the most standard starting points when talking about (U.S., non-NYC) high-rise public housing, that being: 01) criticism of the architectural form and aesthetics, and 02.) fetishizing the danger through the lens of the suburban middle-class.

If I may self-plug: I was a producer for the film "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" [mefi thread || mefi projects || IMDb || rottentomatoes], which is about the infamous 20-year, initially-promising rise, and subsequent lead-balloon fall of a similarly-scaled high-rise public housing development in St Louis.

The festering material conditions, systemic underfunding, the racist policies and practices from federal agencies, the entirely planned dereliction that happened to these highrises in Chicago? The methodology behind removing these affordable publicly-funded units through planned neglect was cribbed, note-for-note from the playbook written for P-I by Mitt's dad.

St Louis had population loss that sped the process; but years after Pruitt-Igoe, Chicago could then point to an entirely dissimilar STL and say: "Look! The high-rise form is bad! The people just wreck things!" and so on. When the truth was that all buildings require maintenance, and that these side-show arguments were a fig leaf put over an incontrovertible fact: that they had made a willful decision to under-maintain them, for purposes of getting rid of them. A promise made and not kept.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 3:15 PM on December 27, 2014 [9 favorites]

It's an unfortunate thing that this account, while correctly noting the history of CHA locating housing projects in primarily black neighborhoods (although I'm sure there were structural reasons -- like already-deteriorated private housing -- that allowed them to pretend to objectivity there), fails to give some of the context behind the reversal of policy that led to the projects being dismantled. The first blow came from the King marches of the 1960s for jobs and especially open housing. Out of that grew the Gautreaux federal housing case against the CHA, which had an early victory in an injunction preventing the CHA from building more projects (unless they also did so in neighborhoods that were not primarily black). This festered in the federal judiciary for nearly two decades, until the CHA agreed to a mitigation plan, mostly what is noted in that chart of outcomes. The idea was to move everyone into scattered-site housing or suitable suburban housing nearer to jobs, but you can guess at how many NIMBY objections there were to each step of this process. It's been a paradox that the removal of the projects has also removed much of the visibility of the plight of the would-be residents, as well as much of any sense of urgency that plight engenders.
posted by dhartung at 5:22 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wondered what had happened to all of the people who lived there.

If you can manage to click dozens of times through the tedious, awkward user interface, the only real fact they mentioned references a 2011 CHA report. Apparently this is the report. It confirms what I heard.

Short version: they got "Housing Choice Vouchers" to compensate them for relocation. They moved into Section 8 housing elsewhere in Chicago, where it was available. And since they just tore down thousands of units of Section 8 housing and availability was limited, many of them dropped out of the system. Many of them moved to other towns in the midwest, like my town.

My city was whiter than white bread until a couple of big influxes of minority residents, one from the Chicago projects closing, and the other from Katrina refugees. Now the minority population is large enough that my city government has taken notice. Originally, they managed Section 8 housing carefully, keeping them mostly restricted to an "official" ghetto. Eventually the city planners used economic incentives for redevelopment, to move the ghetto to the edge of town, where there are almost no commercial services like grocery stores, and limited mass transit. But at least it is out of sight of the god-fearing old white residents of the town, who basically are the only people that have any representation in city government. I call these people Rezzies.

Anyway, it is at times like this, that I think of The Battle of Skid Row in LA. The city wanted major urban renewal projects downtown, but there was a massive homeless population in the redevelopment zones, concentrated around some small urban parks downtown, which had become shanty towns and rubbish pits. So the city sent in bulldozers and fire hoses to wash all those dirty subhumans away. The city graciously set up alternate housing arrangements for the displaced homeless, by creating a concentration camp just east of the Loft District where I lived at the time. It was a tent city surrounded by chain link fences, in a dusty area near the railroad tracks that ran along the LA River (a traditional transportation hub for railroad-hopping homeless hobos). It had only one entry point, a gateway manned by police and people were subjected to searches on entry under the pretext of keeping drugs and weapons out of the camp. I remember one African-American homeless advocate who cursed at the city's camp, he said "urban renewal means nigger removal!"
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:18 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's always weird for me to read about the terrible tenement buildings that prompted slum clearance and then see pictures like this, since I live in a neighborhood where similar-looking former-tenements go for millions upon millions of dollars.

Strange how, over just a handful of decades, something can go from a bugaboo to an impossible object of desire.

I was a producer for the film "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth"

Self-plug your heart out. It's a fantastic film, and it does a great job of showcasing the lives of residents. Thanks for making it.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

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