When improvements improve nothing

The DEARBORN HOMES, a C.H.A. property.

So when I started graduate school at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in the fall of 2010, I began exploring a part of the city I hadn’t been in much before. IIT’s campus is located in Bronzeville,a neighborhood with, among other distinctions, a long history of public housing.  South of 35th St, The Robert Taylor Homes, torn down in the early and mid ’00s, was the largest public housing project in the country while it stood. North of 30th is the Dearborn Homes, a complex composed of 16 six to eight story cruciform apartment blocks surrounded by ball fields, playgrounds and a school. Its the kind of property that the CHA has been emptying of residents and demolishing for a decade, a manifestation of the fact that this form of public housing has been widely considered a failure of policy and practice. So imagine my surprise and curiosity when I began seeing masons working around the pediments of the buildings. “What could they be doing?” I wondered, “Tuckpointing the facade to increase energy efficiency? Maybe prep work for new windows?” These would encouraging signs of investment into what mid-rise structures the CHA planned on preserving. But I was wrong. That is not what the authorities had in mind. Instead they installed pediments on top of the facades at the end of each building, making them appear somewhat Greek for some reason. Greek!? In Chicago! And not in Greektown! Now I have not asked them but the last thing the residents of the Dearborn Homes need is for their buildings to appear vaguely Greek. Maybe they would like investment in the open space between the towers, or maybe those new energy efficient windows, or maybe any of dozens of other non-cosmetic improvements. But to make the buildings look Greek? That is a misallocation of scarce CHA resources and irresponsible. Just saying…

Next- “Green” parking garages


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