The last Cabrini high-rise is demolished

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Today marks a historic end point–the end of Cabrini-Green. A few months back, the last building was closed, and residents were shuffled out and relocated. Today, the wrecking ball gave the high-rise at 1230 N. Burling St. its first blow, one of many that will result in its disappearance within a week.

I’ve been covering public housing for a few years in Chicago. There was a time when you’d see my face at most meeting or event that had anything to do with the Chicago Housing Authority. Since I’ve changed jobs, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to covering public housing. But today–well today was a historic day. I was expected to be there.

But I just couldn’t go.

When you cover something for a few years, people begin to see you as an expert, the go-to person to cover a story or to give context to a piece. Heaven help the person who unwittingly brought up public housing in front of me. I’m sure I gave more than a few people an unintended lecture on the finer points of housing policy.

Last night, residents gathered to make music, show pictures and remember. This morning, the wrecking ball arrived.

And part of me wanted to be there. Part of me said I had to go. If I’m the go-to girl, shouldn’t I go to this?

But today, I knew I wouldn’t be the only reporter with a camera and a notebook, like I had been so many times before. Today, I would have fought others for space, for time with residents–battling with them to see who can get the most compelling quote and the latest details.

At last night’s gathering, I would have been an associate mourner–like someone who comes to a funeral because they know the person who knows the person who died. And while Cabrini and I have a bit of history, it’s nothing compared to the thousands who lived there and made their home.

I couldn’t spend today fighting for the story. I certainly don’t blame those who had to–after all, it’s a reporter’s job to be on the scene and tell it well. But I couldn’t be another person in the gaper’s block, another neck craning to see the tragedy. It just didn’t feel right.

In a few days, I know I’ll see it. I have a habit of watching Cabrini pass as I ride the brown line downtown. It’s fairly often that I pass the intersection of Halsted and Division streets in my car. In less than a week, the buildings I usually look for won’t be there to look at. They’ll have passed on.

When someone you know dies, there are little reminders of them everywhere. A year and a half ago, my mentor and former boss passed away of a heart attack very suddenly. I never go to Target without thinking of him, remembering all the afternoons we spent at the Starbucks there, halfway between both our apartments, talking shop.

Cabrini won’t be something I can see out my window anymore. But the space they occupied, both the land and the memories they take up in the hearts and minds of Chicagoans, won’t disappear so easily.

So, today, I feel a little quiet for the passing of a place I knew, and for the mourning of all of those who knew it much better than me. And may all of you who knew it, whether the demolition of the buildings is a celebration or a tragedy to you, may you find a sense of peace and reverence for our city–the city that was, that is, and is to come.

Photo credit: E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune

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