Teaching Students About Cabrini Green
Cabrini Green is a historically significant social housing project located on the Near North Side of Chicago, Illinois. The public housing project was in operation from the 1940s until its eventual demolition in 2011. Built in response to the post-war housing crisis and as a part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) efforts to accommodate low-income residents, Cabrini Green represents a fundamental chapter in urban American history.
As educators, teaching students about Cabrini Green provides a valuable opportunity to discuss topics such as urban planning, racial segregation, migration patterns, community building, and social reform. The following article offers guidance on how to approach the subject, by painting a comprehensive picture of the Cabrini Green story.
Start by presenting an overview of Cabrini Green’s history. Discuss the factors that led to its creation, such as the “white flight” and the Great Migration when millions of African Americans moved from rural southern states to northern cities like Chicago in search of opportunities.
Also touch upon Chicago’s far-reaching policy initiatives such as slum clearance projects and public housing construction. Address the demographic and spatial dependencies within city borders that influenced these developments and their impacts on marginalized communities.
Life Within Cabrini Green
After setting up historical context, provide an insight into life within Cabrini Green. Discuss living conditions in different periods: its early years when living conditions were relatively decent; its portrayal in media during peak crime rates in the 70s through the 80s; and the period leading up to demolition in 2011 when crime rates declined but many families still called it home.
Include personal narratives and anecdotes (when available) from former residents, which will bring an authentic human perspective to students’ understanding of Cabrini Green.
The Importance of Community
Highlight stories that demonstrate residents’ resilience and commitment to making a better life for themselves within Cabrini Green despite unfavorable circumstances. Discuss initiatives led by residents, local schools and non-profits for community-building and fostering social cohesion.
Address the impact of gangs in the neighborhood as well, both in terms of perpetuating violence and crime as well as gang members becoming effective local leaders and change agents.
Urban Planning and Cabrini Green’s Demise
Educate students about the urban planning challenges faced by Cabrini Green that played a part in its eventual demolition. Topics for discussion might include:
1. Infrastructure: The architectural design of the highrises, lack of green spaces, and an inadequate number of access points.
2. Segregation: Racial segregation both created Cabrini Green and perpetuated its problems.
3. Economic Factors: Effects of deindustrialization and policies pushing for private housing development at the expense of public housing.
The Legacy of Cabrini Green
Lastly, discuss what lessons can be learned from Cabrini Green’s story in terms of social policy implementations, public housing reforms, addressing poverty and segregation, and urban planning principles.
By understanding these different aspects of Cabrini Green, students will be able to engage with an integrative perspective on the American urban experience and relate them to issues faced by cities today.