When Chicago’s Alderman Walter Burnett remembers the Cabrini-Green housing projects, he remembers dilapadated buildings and urine-drenched hallways. He says that he couldn’t even get access to the Cabrini-Green housing projects without the facilitation of a gang member.
This week, Burnett, along with State Representative Ken Duncan and Chicago Housing Authority CEO Charles Woodyard, broke ground on a new Target retail location that will be built where the high rise projects once stood.
Ronald Crosby has lived in Cabrini Green for twenty-nine years. When asked how it felt to imagine a Target where the high rise buildings -- known as the “reds” and the ”whites” -- used to stand.
“It’s weird. Real weird,” Crosby said. “Spent so many years hearing gun fires and shootings and things like that. It look real weird. Yeah, cause, this was a terrible place to be.”
Today, Crosby is primarily concerned with making sure he can get a job doing construction on the site. He said when the buildings came down, local residents were promised demolition jobs that never came. Other spectators were more optimistic, citing the 75 retail jobs out of 200 that Target had agreed to reserve for Chicago Housing Authority residents.
Paul Johnson is an activist with the African American Contractors Association, as well as a resident of the neighborhood. He says the city needs to listen more closely to the desires of the residents, many of whom thought the site would be reserved for public housing.
“They’re hoping that merely making this Target will make people flood -- the upper crust people -- to flood over here in waves,” Johnson said, “and it’s not gonna happen.”
The Target is part of the city’s wider Plan for Transformation, a plan that includes the construction of mixed-income townhouses in the area. The CHA says, especially with the national economic slowdown, it’s been harder than they predicted to fill some of the top-dollar condos in those buildings.
Says Johnson, “Mixed income housing is not working in the city of Chicago because these five and seven and eight hundred thousand dollar condos, they’re just not worth that.” He believes the city is overlooking what he calls a “cloud of fear” that continues to hang over the Cabrini-Green area.
Still, Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast neighborhood is a mere twelve blocks east of where the new Target will stand, and a downtown commute lasts only three stops on the Brown Line. The new Target will house a clinic, an optician and a Starbucks - what one community member said felt like the fourth in the neighborhood.
Chicago may be closer to a new Cabrini-Green than its residents think.