Saturday, February 10, 2018

Learning from the Hindsight of Others

Cabrini-Green in Chicago, probably the country's most notorious public housing project, was built over the course of twenty years, from 1942 to 1962. Eleven years after Cabrini-Green was completed, in 1973, our own public housing high-rise, Bliss Towers was constructed. Thirty-three years after it was completed, the demolition of the Cabrini-Green complex began and continued over a period of sixteen years, from 1995 to 2011. Following a similar timeline, thirty-three years after Bliss Towers was built, people started talking about demolishing it. 

There have been many plans proposed for Bliss Towers--demolition and replacement, rehabilitation, or something in between. The plan du jour seems to be constructing a new building across State Street from Bliss Towers, to "de-densify" the high-rise, and then demolishing the top four or five floors of the building.

This morning, on NPR's Weekend Edition, Scott Simon interviewed Ben Austen, journalist and author of the book High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. The interview, which can be heard here, is recommended listening for all readers. The book should probably be recommended reading for those making decisions about the future of Bliss Towers. Publisher's Weekly had this to say about it: "Urban planners in particular will find this an instructive guide, or, perhaps more importantly, a cautionary tale about a failed attempt to provide affordable housing for the poor."


  1. Thanks for this, Carole. I listened to the Scott Simon interview and took some notes....

    What happened? "mismanagement and underfunding."

    "wrenching crime"

    But "residents fought to keep it...

    Despite the crime there was more love than terror... there was a "rich fabric of life... ordinary lives could be lived there... we were all like family"

    It was decided that the problem was architecture... and so they distribute the poor around the city, in low rises... but we're seeing the same problems... gone from vertical ghettos to horizontal ones....

    why is it so hard to provide basic adequate housing, asks Simon...

    the government has failed in many ways.... our collective sense of responsibility has deteriorated...

    My two cents. This is a terrifically nuanced tale and the process we have been embarking on in Hudson does not allow for that nuance to be explored or explained....

  2. the housing is the housing. the people who live in the housing create either the terror or the love. there are few jobs and not much hope to get out of the ghetto. that is what makes it so terrifying.

    the people in the vertical ghetto and the horizontal ghetto are largely unemployed and have few options. ghettos like parts of Hudson are filled with drug dealing and crime. We know first-hand about gang shootings and the people who commit these acts.

    more public housing will bring in more drug dealing and crime. Affordable housing is not the American Dream where everyone lives in harmony.

    Hudson is a dead end for the poor, and can be said to be a cattle pen for them.

    further, there are a few developers of "affordable housing" who reap the huge profits off of this development and there are many local bureaucrats who reap the financial rewards also. It is the Industry of Poverty and trap for those they say they are helping.

    1. Sorry, J Kay, but this is exactly the kind of simplistic and mostly wrong assumptions about public housing that Ben Austen was talking about.

    2. Sorry. Peter Meyer.

      Having studied public housing and development at Columbia, it was clear that high concentrations of the disadvantaged only augmented the problems of the underclass and segregated them from the mainstream of America.

      Hudson provides one of the lowest rated school systems in the State of New York. Its drop out rate is enormous.

      there are multiple shootings in Hudson. there is drug dealing. there is child abuse. there even was a child porn studio next to Bliss Towers, probably in an apartment subsidized by the government.

      It is an unhealthy environment for the children of the poor, whether you like it or not. You are not experiencing what they are.

      Further, this is segregation of the poor to keep them out of mainstream society. Your concepts are antiquated and inhumane.

      what is the answer. perhaps renting housing in the communities outside of hudson with better school systems and a safer environment is a way to allow the children of the poor to get a view of mainstream life. children are quick learners. in hudson they learn to be drug dealers and see violence all the time. its not good.

      more public housing is not the answer. it is the way to segregate and exploit.