Telling the story of the Cabrini-Green Projects through personal narratives would be pointless and hollow without first laying down the concrete history of the neighborhood. Primarily, the lessons of Cabrini-Green deserve all of the context and careful framing they can be afforded – to do anything less would be disrespectful to its people and their memories. Secondly, I know my current audience — STEM students who prefer the exact and calculable over the abstract. Numbers, dates, and figures are easily digestible and make for a fantastic way to communicate the basics and backgrounds of a story.
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive history, however. Statistics can have a hard time communicating the human hardships and social strife that dominate the story of Cabrini-Green. This piece is much more analogous to a curious Wikipedia summary or the back of the book cover than anything else. Call this "getting everything in order before delving into details" or "pumping the brakes" before going even further into the story.
With as little embellishment or dramatic flair as possible, these are the facts:
1942: Ground is broken on the first of the Frances Cabrini Homes, consisting primarily of two-story rowhouses. Being built on top of a crime-ridden Italian neighborhood, it is named after Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, an Italian-American aide worker and the first American to be canonized.
1957: The Cabrini Homes Extension is built, adding brick mid-rises and high-rises to the neighborhood. Seventy-five percent of the residents are white.
1962: The William Green Homes are constructed north of Division Street, being mostly white high-rises. By this point, a majority of the Cabrini-Green residents are black.
Clybourn, Larrabee, Chicago, and Hudson: the streets and avenues that mark the boundaries of the Cabrini-Green neighborhood.
1964: By this point, with an average age of 55 years old, most of our current college professors have been born.
1966: The Gatreaux et al. vs. Chicago Housing Authority lawsuit alleges the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) of racially discriminatory housing practices. The plaintiffs win the suit.
April, 1968: After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, sniper fire erupts from the tops of Cabrini-Green high-rises. The violence continues for multiple days. These tactics return in the future.
July, 1970: Two Chicago Police officers are shot by sniper fire while partaking in the “Walk and Talk” community engagement project. Both Sergeant Severin and Officer Rizzato later die of their injuries.
February, 1974: The sitcom “Good Times” based in Cabrini-Green launches on television and continues for a successful run.
April, 1981: Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne temporarily moves into the projects to advertise her commitment to making the city safer. After three weeks, she leaves. This results in public backfire.
April, 1983: Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, is elected.
October, 1992: Seven year-old boy Dantrell Davis is shot and killed walking to school. This garners significant media attention and public outcry.
943 dead: the number of people murdered in the City of Chicago in the year 1992. This stands as the city’s highest ever murder rate.
1994: The CHA receives grants to redevelop Cabrini-Green as a mixed-income neighborhood.
15,000 residing: the official number of residents of Cabrini-Green at its peak. Because of squatters, long-term guests, and record-keeping difficulties, the actual number is estimated to be just shy of 20,000.
1995: Demolition begins.
1997: The redevelopment plan is officially revised to include the entire demolition of the Green Homes and Cabrini Extension — or all of the high rises.
1999: The plan is revised further to allot $1.5 billion to fully tear down and replace over 18,000 area apartments.
2000: A vast majority of current college students have already been born.
2002: The Cabrini Extensions (brick high-rises) are closed.
2004: Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune runs extensive coverage from inside the neighborhood, covering stories of old tenants and new developers alike.
448 dead: The number of people murdered in the City of Chicago in the year 2004. This stands as the city’s lowest murder rate since the 1992 peak.
2010: All high-rises are totally demolished.
December 1, 2010: The last two resident families of the old Cabrini-Green have been evicted and relocated. For what it means, the neighborhood officially has a fresh start. For better or worse.
2019: Some 25 years after the city’s first plans of redevelopment, this article is published.
Next week: The first interview of the column with Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune