The End of Cabrini-Green Housing Project

I heard the story of the closure of Cabrini-Green housing project this morning on NPR and wanted to pass along the news. (You can take listen to it HERE.)

The infamous projects were developed over a period of 20 years reflecting the the urban renewal approach to US city planning in the mid-twentieth century. The 70-acre development was initially hailed as a salvation for the city’s poor but quickly became a war-zone that victimized those it was supposed to save.

Here is a time-lapse video I found on TRUE/SLANT of the demolition:

Related Articles
Chicago closes Cabrini-Green projectUSA Today
Cabrini-Green Demolition: Notorious Housing Project Torn Down SlowlyHuffington Post
Watch Cabrini-Green disappear right before your eyesTrue/Slant
Long Goodbye for Infamous Public Housing ComplexNPR
Cabrini-Green – Wikipedia

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  1. Good riddance. Another failed social experiment by architects and planners at the expense of the poor and minorities. When will HUD learn that by-and-large housing project simply do not work? Modern Utopias! FAIL.

  2. I heard that story as well. Pretty interesting.

    I picked up a copy of Grant magazine last year during ASLA Chicago. The issue was devoted to Chicago and it had fantastic essays on the culture and complexities of the city. I recommend it if you would like to read more about recent and contemporary Chicago. There is an amazing photo essay of some of the housing projects over time (including abandonment).

    Thanks for posting.

  3. I used to ride my bike through Cabrini every morning on my commute from Lincoln Park to The Loop (2001-2003). It will not be missed… The public housing development created a major gap in connecting the communities of the North-side and it’s influence was not limited to the 70 acre site, it bled East to Old Town, North to Lincoln Park, West beyond the river and South to Chicago Ave. It’s impact was huge!

    While wellfare-housing projects are not a good solution, I don’t have a better one… When Cabrini was being torn down the city started experimenting with mixed-income housing. The first floor was public housing, second floor would be priced for first time buyers and the third floor was around $350K (not cheap at the time). Worst idea Ever! Couldn’t give them away. Why would I want to pay $350K to live above somebody from Cabrini, no offense, but do you really think our lifestyles are compatible?

    Now the South-side of Chicago has turned into one giant public housing development. The South Side has one of the highest murder rates in the country. The writing is already on the walls for this movement though as people realize that it has great architecture (it used to be the nicest part of Chicago in the 1800’s/ early 1900’s), parks, schools, proximity to down town and incredible views.

    Now the people that live on the South Side are being displaced to Gary Indiana and the Suburbs of Chicago. The problem is that where ever they go, they bring the area down. Blame it on drugs, gangs or guns, it doesn’t matter. Those are the facts and I wouldn’t want them moving into my neighborhood but it’s happening. Suburbs that used to be nice are turning into slums. How do you fix a problem that is so culturally ingrained? People are born into that environment and the mind-set spans generations. It doesn’t matter if they are in a gov’t built high-rise, a three-flat on the South Side or a single-family home in the burbs, the result is the same…

    OK, gotta go get things done… one final note, in the video they showed of the demo it showed one building. The actual Cabrini site was made up of 5-7 of those buildings and that must have been one of the nicest ones. Picture 5-7 of those buildings with burn marks radiating up from 70% of the windows, sheets dangling from the facades, every stereo BLASTING rap music, people yelling, screaming and running all over the place and gang colors everywhere. That’s what Cabrini looked like 15-20 years ago… roll up the windows, lock the doors or better yet drive 3 miles out of the way to avoid it… coming to a neighborhood near you…

  4. Any idea why they didn’t implode it?

  5. Dan Jo, I wondered that myself but did not find any information on that.

  6. Thomas, thanks for the inside perspective on the area! I believe the building in the video was one of the last to be torn down. From what I have read, the projects were an unspeakably horrible environment to live and I hope, for the sake of those citizens, that they find healthier living environments. It is a social issue that will be difficult to correct for sure. But, it is a result of a series of historically poor design and planning decisions. Now we know…

  7. Dan Jo – The probably didn’t implode it because either A) Somebodies cousin owns an old-school demo company or B) It would have looked way too similar to the controlled demolition of WTC Building 7… a wait, I mean, it failed from fire… cough, cough…

  8. I actually thought it had been torn down years ago.. didn’t think I would hear that name again..I know Chicago got into the townhome style public housing thing, a few years back..But the infamous Cabrini-Green..Hard to say what the right answer is..Flrank Lloyd Wright thought high-rises were the answer,of course…..I’m interested in how few square feet we can stuff ourselves into – I think I was reading something about japanese (of course..) apartments going reallly really teeny..

  9. * These comments are not the opinion of the author. They are offered to stimulate thought and promote discussion of a genuine sociological condition. This commentary is provided “as is” without express or implied warranty.

    Yes, T-1, Mr. Wright might be right. A very large, all-inclusive high-rise could be the answer… lock the doors and bring in everything a community needs to thrive; entertainment, healthy food, medical care, education, exercise and employment. All in one building, separated from the negative influences of their community. A truly therapeutic and rehabilitative environment. Talk about a social experiment! How could it be any worse than what we’re doing now?

    In all seriousness, many repeat offenders confirm that they prefer to be in prison and often commit crimes so that they’ll get sent back. It guarantees a bed, a roof and three squares a day, without having to work. Why not create a giant community that provides a safe, clean environment that educates and employs it’s residents while protecting them from the social forces of their previous neighborhood.

    Of course we’d have to start the process at an early age, preferably placing children in the facility as early as possible in order to break the cycle of their dysfunctional family backgrounds. Identifying families that have been on welfare for generations would be a good starting point. The same process worked to essentially eliminate the culture of Native American peoples during the mid-late 1800’s, by isolating kids from their native language and customs, under the guise of “education”. Why can’t it work to eradicate a genuinely problematic culture of gangs, drugs and recidivism?

  10. there is an O.Henry short story where the main character is committing petty crimes to get put into jail for the winter. And that is actually my sister’s ex-husbands retirement plan, as far as we can tell – jail..
    I say put them in these clean environments, apart from their native society, and then

  11. Not to be confused with “Simple Green”… that’s good stuff! But really, why do we allocate vast expanses of land to burying people? We use a ton of wood/metal building all of those coffins, pump the corpses full of chemicals so we don’t decompose and become a part of that evil “nature”… we cover the land in turf that needs to be mowed, fertilized and herbicide-d… Wrap me in a shroud, toss me in the ground and plant a tree (oak) on top of me. Seriously. How cool would it be to have a “forest” of graves instead of a field of turf and headstones? You can’t get much more “green” than tossing people in the ground and planting a tree on top of them… but there are mounds of legislation dictating postmortem practices, which reinforces my belief that “design” doesn’t happen in studios but rather courts. If you want to start a highly profitable business, start a “natural” burial services company. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Not ashes to embalming fluid, sealed steel boxes and fields of turf. Oak trees and prairie grasses… or what ever is appropriate for the region…

  12. They don’t implode buildings they don’t have to, especially in urban environs. It is very expensive, plus the risk of collateral damage (broken windows, dust and debris) is much much higher. It is just cheaper and easier to knock it down the old fashioned way, big heavy steel ball.

  13. new professional goal! – that crane operator was incredible! I want one – I mean the crane and wrecking ball..

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