One of the worst housing projects in the city currently lies buried some half a mile west of the Hancock Building and the Magnificent Mile, and the city seems to have forgotten. The Cabrini-Green Homes of Larrabee & Division haunted the city with constant crime reports and news coverage for decades — housing some 15,000 people at that same time — but this seems to be a part of the city’s history that isn’t being passed along. Now, luxury apartments and upscale chain restaurants have replaced the high rises and tenement homes, the name “Cabrini” scrubbed away and gone, seemingly for good. It’s a microcosm of the city’s cycle of decay and redevelopment — established in the 1940s, notorious for crime in the 1970s and 1980s, slated for demolition and change in the 1990s, and then gentrified and erased by the 2000s and 2010s. Answering some question of “what happened?” can’t be done with the dignity the topic deserves in a single article, so this paper is going to be starting a recurring column touching on a new aspect or approach of the Cabrini story — or some adjacent piece of Chicago history — every week.
For anybody interested in the history of Chicago, or for any resident who cares to take anything more than a passive stake in the city, the learning from the past and present of Cabrini-Green is absolutely invaluable. Though Chicago is gradually becoming less segregated, its unwritten borders and rules were never stronger than the northern and eastern borders of that most notorious neighborhood. Further, the impact of gentrification along Larrabee Street is as stark and apparent as any other part of this city — an issue especially relevant to recent alumni or students searching for trendy off-campus housing. If any student is going to make an effort to truly be a part of the city — and not so much just living in an awkward, disconnected bubble bordered by 31st and 35th street that happens to have a Chicago zip code — looking back at Cabrini is key.
Understanding the history of the Cabrini-Green Homes is also important for the sake of those 15,000 residents who were seemingly scattered to the wind by its decade-long and drawn-out demolition. If your home were crushed and you had to move to a community with no connections and no support system, I’m sure that you would want your story told, too. And, tragically, this is a story that isn’t being passed along or discussed nearly as much as it deserves — nearly as much as those 15,000 displaced residents deserve.
Personally, I’m looking forward to digging deep into the history of contemporary Chicago & Cabrini-Green with as much effort as a student’s schedule allows. I’ve already made contact with a number of sources, all of them seemingly happy with a chance to finally share their stories that have either been looked over or simply forgotten — like the rest of Cabrini-Green.
Next Week’s Column: an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s most veteran columnist who covered the neighborhood in-depth in the early 2000s.
Photo by Daniel Marten (He/him)