Redeveloping a ‘new’ Cabrini-Green

ByKayla Matias and Claudia Uysaloglu 

Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2018

Cabrini-Green was once one of the Chicago's poorest housing projects situated between some of the city's richest neighborhoods. But in recent years it has been going through redevelopment and aims to become a mixed-income housing unit.

Location was what made the development unique, bordered by Chicago’s Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park, Cabrini was rife with crime, drugs and other urban problems.

Janet Smith, UIC professor of Urban Planning and Co-Director of Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement,  said, “The true question here is who is going to benefit from this redevelopment? Not the residents as this project was developed to benefit business and for profit real-estate. The location of Cabrini-Green was a land grab and business agendas were looking to take the land from public housing residents to build properties for more higher income people."

Smith teaches in urban planning and policy was an active member of the Cabrini-Green case by helping residents of the community and assisted Ronit Bezalel with her films Voices of Cabrini and 70 Acres in Chicago.Development continues in the Cabrini-Green area. Building retail, parks, new residential buildings, offices and entertainment is the current plan after the demolition of housing project several years ago.

Before/after: Cabrini Green in 2006 and 2017

New private housing developments are taking place in the area that are going for full market rate to attract higher income families. Art and entertainment are a huge aspect as well due to its neighboring wealthy communities such as the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park.

Abu Ansari, a resident of the mixed-income housing in 2008, interviewed with film producer for 70 Acres in Chicago to discuss his experiences with the mixed-income housing after they redeveloped the Cabrini-Green community.

When asked about the area he said, “The reason why you see the development there now is because its prime land and you’re close to both 90/94, lake shore drive, downtown. Everything around there, makes living there very convenient. But you can find benefits like that in many neighborhoods in Chicago.”

Living in the community was not always the best experiences for the residents. There were many hardships because of the constant arguments with the residents from different demographics. Ansari said he did not choose to move into the area, it was a decision he was forced into and he was skeptical from the beginning.

“Everything that happened there, I expected," Anari said. "I knew there was no way that you were going to be able to put people together. Home owners, new people from the neighborhood a lot of the home owners, faces of them being very white, in a community of people that have been there for so long. Even people who stayed or were invited back to live in the new development, I knew it was not going to be an easy process and people were not going to get along."

In 1937, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) founded affordable housing for low-income families. According to Ruiz-Tagle, Javier, 2016, The Broken Promises Of Social Mix: The Case of Cabrini Greenthe Cabrini housing project was built with the idea of improving public housing and as a transitional step for World War II workers and their families.

Frances Cabrini developed the area for war veterans to rehabilitate and find comfort in their community after coming back from the war. The Cabrini community combined forces in 1942 with the CHA Green Homes, to form the Cabrini-Green complex.



The fall of Cabrini-Green began with the idea of redevelopment and started by demolishing the high-rise buildings of the community. Under Mayor Richard M. Daley, in the 1960’s the 70 acres of land used to house a very diverse community but he had a plan to redesign the community which marked the fall of Cabrini-Green, due to the flawed design of the high-rises.

In 2000, then-Mayor Richard Daley decided that he wanted to reinvent South Side neighborhoods with mixed-income housing. The Chicago Housing Authority launched “Plan for Transformation” and they aimed at tearing down the public housing and creating mixed-income communities. The goal was to integrate low-income families in a housing development that contained other groups of people with different economic standings.

The Wallace v. CHA lawsuit was filed in 2005, according to Emily Magnusen,The Fight to Stay at Cabrini-Green, because residents were being forced to move out of their homes with little to no other housing benefits and they were not going to be allowed to join the new development.

“The residents felt that their civil rights were violated because the plan was going to have a negative impact on them and they felt the city stepped over their rights and came up with something that they did not agreed on and the city disregarded the original community driven plan,” Smith said.

In 2006, the lawsuit was settled at an agreement that gave previous residents promises of social services and benefits to help them find relocation and other housing options.

The mixed-income housing was a tricky thing for the community, there were people from completely different demographics and incomes living under, essentially the same roof. It was a tough time for them because there was a lack of trust within the two demographics and one was expecting the community to change. 

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