The Cabrini-Green Housing Projects was a favorite stomping ground for politicians looking for media attention, the black vote or both.
In 1981, Mayor Jane Byrne, who owned a swanky 43rd-floor apartment on Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast, took a tour of the notorious Cabrini-Green projects. Byrne decided that she, her husband Jay MacMullen, and an around-the-clock Chicago Police detail, would move in to “get the troublemakers out.”
Laughably, Mayor Byrne and her crew moved out three weeks later.
Lesson: Cabrini-Green was not a place to trifle with nor to launch a publicity stunt.
Cabrini-Green offered the urban tale of two cities; it was home to some of the most horrific crimes in Chicago’s history, including the 1997 rape and attack that left 9-year-old “Girl X” blind, but it was also the backdrop for some of black Hollywood’s most memorable contributions.
Cabrini-Green’s well-documented blight, violence and hopelessness was also fertile ground for artistic expression. Award-winning actress Jackie Taylor, founder of the Black Ensemble Theater, has produced more than 100 plays and musicals.
Taylor grew up in Cabrini-Green and says that the horror of life inside the projects made her strong, and the beauty of the family connections helped to develop her art. “It exposed me to a lot of people, a lot of different personalities and a lot of violence,” Taylor noted, “but, at the same time, a lot of wonderful experiences.”
In 1975, the film Cooley High was set here. (The cast and crew filmed at a different Chicago Housing Project), the film is based on the notorious Cooley High School, home to many of the Cabrini-Green residents.
Recently, “The Chicago Code” (starring Delroy Lindo and Jennifer Beals) devoted an episode to Cabrini-Green.
In its heyday, the project, built on the land formerly known as Little Hell, held 15,000 residents in its mid- and high rise apartment building complex. Since 2000, a total of 12,780 high-rise units have been demolished. The Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation of Public Housing will replace Cabrini-Green with mixed-income condos and town homes; the location is ideal, as Cabrini-Green was located a stone’s throw away from the affluent Gold Coast.
Take a tour.