In the first episode of Main Street USA Dave Marash explores
Cabrini Green, a notorious public housing development on the north side of Chicago, just a few blocks away from downtown's magnificent mile.

Cabrini Green became legendary in the United States first in the 1940s when it was mostly occupied by Italian immigrants and then later on in the 1970s and 80s when the housing project was almost completely occupied by African Americans.

JR is fighting for the survival of Cabrini Green
and is opposed to the new development
The complex became home to 20,000 people. Organised crime, gang violence and the city's negligence were a way of life. After six decades, the city finally destroyed most of the complex acknowledging the failure of mega-sized publicly-funded housing.

The city is trying to develop something completely different; smaller apartment blocks that will be divided into apartments for subsidised rental by poor people (30 per cent), those for limited-price sale to middle-income buyers (20 per cent) and apartments for sale at whatever prices the market will bear (50 per cent).

Today, about 5,000 residents remain in the area, plus an unknown number of squatters occupying 'vacant' apartments that are slated for demolition. This has not necessarily improved former residents' lives. Many have joined a lawsuit alleging that they were hastily forced into other slums, and denied social services to get a leg up in society.

Kelvin hopes to be one of the few residents to
own an apartment in the new Cabrini Green
Main Street USA follows Jonathan and LaFaye, two young African Americans who were born in Cabrini Green, meeting LaFaye's mother Veronica and others who have lived there for generations and have been subjected to the violence, death and destruction that this public housing complex has wrought. Veronica is a recovering addict who now lives in the west side of the city. Like many other former residents, she always goes back to Cabrini, the place she calls home.

D. Bradford Hunt, a professor of Social Sciences at Roosevelt University, explains the history of public housing in the US. While William Little, the director of development at the Chicago Housing Authority, tells us about the new plans the administration has to solve the housing issue and the future of the poor.

At the same time we will witness the end of a community, the dreadful living conditions of families evicted from the complex, and the imminent arrival of the big-chain stores and a new white upper class that will transform the area.

George Robbins used to have his barber shop
in Cabrini Green
JR Fleming and Kelvin Cannon are two residents of Cabrini who have opposite views about the future. JR is fighting for the survival of Cabrini Green and opposes the new project, while Kelvin works for the new developers and hopes to be one of the few lucky residents that will own an apartment in the new Cabrini Green.

Other former residents tell us their story: Clara Brooms, who goes back to church at Cabrini, shares her memories of the Cabrini that used to be; George Robbins, who had his barber shop at Cleveland and Division Streets and would like it to be back there; and H20, a rapper who transformed the housing project into a brand called 'Cabrini Heat'.

Watch Part One of the programme here:

Watch Part Two of the programme here:


Your comments

Thank you so much to Dave Marash and the producers of this programme. As a former Chicagoan having lived there 25+ years, I recently wondered what had become of Cabrini Green. Your programme provided the much needed outsider perspective on this issue. I only wish the Chicago government and the Housing Authority had dealt with this issue using the same sensitivity and intelligence as this programme.
Gillian Hearst, USA

I am a life-long resident of Chicago and I currently live about 2km. from Cabrini Green. I believe the area is in desperate need of repair and development. Generations have been born in a housing complex that is unsanitary and full of crime. Now a new style of public housing will be available that restores safety and a sense of pride in the community. I understand that some former residents were angered by the way they were moved out, and I agree that it could have been done differently. But no one can deny that the complex had become uninhabitable. Change is very difficult to accept sometimes, but it is the only way to make improvements that will benefit the greater good.
Joe, USA

I am most definitely interested in your programme on Chicago and on Cabrini Green in particular. As a resident of the Chicago area, it is interesting to see something done on this without the trappings of American politics attached to it.
Tim Sasse, USA

To contact us click on 'Send your feedback' at the top of the page

Watch Al Jazeera English programmes on YouTube

Join our debates on the Your Views page