The last of the Cabrini-Green buildings, 1230 N. Burling, was marked for demolition over a decade back but in April the deconstruction began. As the last of the reinforced concrete tumbled unto the cordoned off space, an era silently ended.
The construction of Cabrini-Green began in 1942 at the peak of the postwar urban renewal movement. What originally began as row houses grew to include several high rises, eventually housing over 15,000 people. Although the complex is mostly known for various problems, the development coincides with the development and demise of an intellectual movement.
The conditions in large cities in the 19th century is normally cited as the beginning of this movement. As the industrial revolution got underway, New York, London, Paris and other major cities swelled with slums beginning to pop up. Based on moral, ethical and economic reasons, an policy agenda appeared that dealt with these issues. Combined with modern planning and the city beautiful movement, new urbanism reached its apex in the period just after World War II.
The 1960s brought changes to the complex like the rest of the city. As such, it was not long until gangs controlled the towers. Into the 80s and 90s, the complex suffered. In 1981, Mayor Jane Byrne moved into an apartment to bring some light onto the situation, but it was hardly able to beat back the tide. In the 1990s, high-profile crimes drew continued national attention. It all ended in 1997, when a new plan for development was introduced which included demolition of the towers. Throughout the US, similar fates fell upon many post war projects. The era of large social planning made its final whimper in those last blows by the wrecking ball.
Though, this is not the fate in other countries. In an article penned for Foreign Policy, Seth Colby and Francis Fukuyama talk about the radical changes that Medellin, Columbia has undergone. The story acts a foil to Chicago's history.
"We realized," Fajardo told us, "that politicians are the ones who make important decisions in society whether we like it or not, so we said to ourselves that we have to get into politics. Instead of saying how things should be, we said this is the way it is done." In Fajardo's view, Medellín had two fundamental, and related, problems: extreme inequality and a culture of violence. Fajardo believed that policies aimed at repairing the city's damaged social fabric could alleviate both.
The most striking feature of Fajardo's approach was his plan to erect high-quality public architecture in Medellin's poorest neighborhoods. "Architecture sends an important political message," he says. "When you go to the poorest neighborhood and build the city's most beautiful building, that gives a sense of dignity." Fajardo and his colleagues believed in social urbanism: the idea that modernist buildings and transportation systems of the sort Libia Gomez now enjoys would help bridge the enormous gulf of distrust separating the poor from mainstream society. In barrios like Santo Domingo and Comuna 13, the city created digitized maps of every street and building, noting where drug gangs operated and money flowed, and devised architectural features to disrupt them.
The article, which is linked below, is interesting in connecting themes of crime and development. It is worth the time if you have it.