Remembering Cabrini-Green as it was


Awhile back, I sat on the porch of one of the new condos that’s been built where the Cabrini-Green housing project one stood. I was talking with two girls – twin sisters – who had grown up in the high rise buildings but now lived in one of the new units with their parents.

“What do you think of how your neighborhood has changed?” I asked.

Childress shook her head. The neighborhood just wasn’t the same, the
girl said. So many family members and friends had moved away. She
missed the way it used to be.

And her sister Tasha? She
smiled. She didn’t miss those high rises a bit. The new community had
completely changed how she thought about her life. Before, she said she
assumed she’d grow up and live in Cabrini-Green on public assistance like
many of her family members. But living downstairs from a guy with his
own business, who traveled all over for work, had made her realize the
world was bigger than she had realized.

These two sisters were
like the yinand the yang of Cabrini-Green. And as I went down to see
the demolition of the building where they once lived, I couldn’t help
but think how their stories were both different and connected. 

Every time a building gets torn down at Cabrini-Green, I go to pay my respects. I went yesterday to see 1230 N. Larrabee St. By the time I came
to Chicago, only a handful of buildings were left. It bothers me how once a building is gone, its’ like it never was there. Pass by the place where 412 W. Chicago Ave. used to be and all you’ll see is a grassy knoll. There’s no trace of the building where Jacoby Blake died. Nothing left of 660 W. Division St. where Thelma Hicks lived.

For me, the buildings were a place I wrote and reported about. For so many, they were home. No matter how ugly or broken down they got, for many people, Cabrini-Green’s buildings will always be home.

If you live in Chicago, even if you lived here a long time, you’ve probably forgotten what it used to look like. I think it’s the transient nature of human beings – we accept whatever is in front of us and quickly forget what used to be.

If you want to jog your memory of the old Cabrini-Green, watch this documentary by filmmaker Ronit Bezalel, Voices of Cabrini. Sprinkled throughout are shots of Cabrini-Green, monolith buildings that span the spaces that are now empty.

1230 N. Larabee St. will probably last another week or two; 364 and 365 W. Oak St. have been closed down and are awaiting demolition. Only 1230 N. Burling St. remains open, and the experts I have talked to give it a few months at best. That means a year from now, almost everything Cabrini-Green was will be no more. 

Whether that makes you sad or happy depends on whether you’re Tasha or Toya. But no matter which twin you are, the end of Cabrini-Green is certainly the end of an era in Chicago. An era of public housing, of city politics, of the thousands of families who lived and died there.

Rest in peace.

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  • I don't understand romanticizing a place like this that bred so much violence, pain, and death. Maybe its because I grew up in the city and now I live just east of Cabrini, but to me, the sooner these buildings are gone the better. Everyone who lived there is better off somewhere else - for their own safety.

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