Yesterday I walked past the last standing high-rise of the Cabrini Green housing development. The demolition of this building began last Wednesday, and already the windows have been knocked out leaving each room exposed to the elements and to the view of outsiders.
As I looked inside, I saw that some rooms and hallways are tagged with graffiti; others are adorned with carefully painted colors indicating the most recent occupant’s aesthetics. I felt intrusive and strange peering into these now vacated rooms. I can’t quite imagine the violation I’d feel having a stranger stare into the exposed windows of my childhood home. I also can’t imagine how much that stranger would fail to understand the memories and stories I associate with each room and hallway.
Not surprisingly, the demolition of the Cabrini Green buildings is controversial amongst its former residents. During the demolition process, a group of art students from the Art Institute of Chicago have been working on a public art installation with young people who formerly lived in the Cabrini Green houses. This public art piece tries to capture the myriad of sentiments that youth who formerly resided in the housing project feel toward Cabrini Green, the demolition, the Chicago Housing Authority, and life in Chicago.
Students from Cabrini Connections have been involved in this art project, entitled "Project Cabrini Green," and last month Cabrini Connections hosted a two-day workshop for the project. As the Project Cabrini Green website explains: “On March 28th, two days before the beginning of the demolition, 134 self-contained, battery-powered LED modules were placed inside 134 of the building's vacated apartments. The lights will blink every day from 7pm to 1am CDT, for the four week duration of the demolition, and will be gradually erased with the building. Each blinking light has a unique pattern. These patterns are a visual translation of poems written and recorded by the youth who attended workshops developed and instructed by Tichy, Appel, and students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.”
You can listen to the recorded poetry and spoken word of these students by going to the Project Cabrini Green website, clicking “Home” and then selecting any of the blinking lights. In addition, a live-feed video of the demolition can be viewed on this site over the next few weeks.
Project Cabrini Green is a reminder that the Cabrini Green housing development will long be remembered by its former occupants and by the community. It will be interesting to see the ongoing legacy of Cabrini Green in the years to come. Although the houses will be entirely demolished within the month, the families and former occupants still need support and services. Cabrini Connections has been an important source of support for students and families in the Cabrini area since 1993. Hopefully, the doors to the program will remain open as a positive outlet for former residents of this community in the years to come.