The Future of Chicago's Most Infamous Public Housing Project

The Chicago Housing Authority has unveiled its redevelopment plan for Cabrini-Green.

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Associated Press

Little remains of Chicago's Cabrini-Green, a mid-century public housing complex once home to as many as 15,000 people. The poorly maintained high rises, rife with gang violence, were eventually demolished (the final one came down in 2011). Today, only low-rise units and dozens of acres of vacant land remain.

The Chicago Housing Authority hopes to see it all redeveloped soon.

Last year, the CHA launched its "Plan Forward: Communities That Work," which aims to replace or rehab 25,000 subsidized housing units in the city by 2015, a goal originally set for 2010. Part of that plan includes redeveloping Cabrini-Green and the Near North Side.

The plan (view PDF) anticipates a variety of new buildings, retail, and green space. There will also be a new L-train station. CHA says half the new residential units to be market rate, another 30 percent public housing, and the remaining 20 percent affordable housing. 

 


A Detailed look at the CHA's redevelopment plan. Click on each image to enlarge.

 

The Francis Cabrini row homes, which still stand, were built in 1942 and are eligible for the National Park Service's register for historic properties. About 150 of the 583 remaining units were renovated in 2008; the others are still vacant. The CHA's new plan recommends preserving 30 percent of those and demolishing the remaining units to extend the nearby street grid.

Cabrini-Green public housing project, foreground and mid-photo high-rises, is seen against the Chicago Skyline in May 1996. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)

Change has already come to the neighborhood, surrounded by some of the city's wealthier locales. A Target opened last year and high-end condos and apartment towers have been built nearby, creating concern among public housing residents that whatever comes to replace Cabrini-Green will not be for them. Lawrence Vale wrote for Design Observer in 2012, that "in the coming years the former site of Cabrini-Green will fill up with new housing; and there is equally little doubt that not much of this housing will serve the residents who once lived in the vanished projects."

Despite concerns, the planning process still depends on community input. In 2000, a Consent Decree for the residences of Cabrini-Green was executed. It included a mandate for 700 public housing units in the Near North Area and the creation of the "Near North Working Group." According to the CHA, 434 units have been built. The NNWG, represented by a collection of government and housing officials, now provides "overall direction" for future development.

A fully redeveloped Cabrini-Green area is still quite a few planning steps away from realization. A request for proposals from developers is expected sometime this month. After that, new designs will go through a public approval process and financing still has to be secured. As of now, the CHA says construction could start in three years.

Top image: A mother and child, residents of the Cabrini-Green public housing project in Chicago,play in a playground adjoining the project, May 28, 1981. (AP Photo/Charles Knoblock)

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