In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Chicago Housing Project (1937) began to build large high rise buildings in order to provide affordable housing to replace some of the city’s slums. The houses were named Robert Taylor buildings after a civil rights activist and CHA member who resigned over the board’s refusal to endorse a racial integration project in 1950. The project planned to build twenty-eight sixteen story buildings that housed a total of 11, 000 residents. What started as a well- meaning project to create safer and better housing for the city’s poor turned into nothing short of disaster.
In reality the project packed up to 27,000 people into its 4,415 units. It took the poorest and most crime-ridden sector of the population and stacked them on top of each other in a hot concrete box. At one point the unemployment rate in the Robert Taylor buildings was as high as ninety five percent (statistic includes children). Gang violence was prominent. In a single weekend there were 300 incidents of shootings and twenty-eight deaths in the buildings. My grandfather worked on relocation for residents of the buildings in the 1960’s and told my mother that he encountered several young children who had never stepped foot outside of the building in their lifetime.
In 1993 the project was scrapped and residents began to move out of the buildings into new low- rise mixed income communities. In March of 2007 the last of the twenty-eight buildings was demolished.
While researching this topic I found a lot of “hard” culture about the Robert Taylor buildings. Setting aside demographics and statistical data I would like to hear about the lifestyle of residents of the buildings. Although ridden with drugs, crime, and poverty I am sure that a culture unlike any other arose from these projects that had a huge impact on thousands of Chicagoans. Sudhir Venkatesh takes a look at individual stories and community culture within the Robert Taylor buildings in his book American Project: Rise and Fall of the Modern Ghetto.
Picture (The homes)