Demolition of 3542-44 South State Street—home of The View From The Ground
I apologize for the lapse in publication. For several months, The View has been experiencing at first hand the rigors of forced relocation. Our office was located in 3544 South State Street, one of the Stateway Gardens high-rises demolished over the last few months. It was our understanding that the CHA would prepare space in one of the remaining Stateway buildings for the programs housed in the office. After delays and confusion, it was communicated by various means that none of these programs would be given alternative space at Stateway, if I was in the office.
We conceived of our office in 3544 South State—a five-bedroom apartment on the first floor—as a small settlement house: a common home for neighboring programs and initiatives that support and enrich the lives of Stateway residents. Acting on behalf of the Stateway Local Advisory Council (LAC)—the resident council—my colleagues and I established working relationships with an array of institutions and invited them to work out of the office. Among them: the CARA Program (a job training organization working with at non-leaseholders); the Mandel Legal Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School (with which we collaborate on a police accountability project); the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (providing legal services); the Family Institute of Northwestern University (providing mental health services); and Archeworks, a non-profit design studio. Traditions of resident employment in the office evolved into an independent organization, 32 Degrees, that facilitates public health programs and trains residents as outreach workers. The office also served as a base for reporters (from Chicago, national, and neighborhood media), documentary-makers (from NPR, PBS, CBS’s “60 Minutes II”), and researchers exploring public housing issues. It was in this rich, nourishing ecology that The View was born and developed. (A story broadcast on NPR’s “On the Media” evokes the office in its last days and discusses its role as a resource for journalists.)
When it became apparent that programs serving Stateway residents were, in effect, being held hostage by the CHA’s refusal to provide me with space, I withdrew from the office I had helped create. In the intervening months, I have worked out of my pick-up truck, the Chicago Bee Branch public library at 3647 South State, and the LAC office at 3653 South Federal. The LAC has generously invited me to reestablish The View at its office, and I am in the process of doing so.
I mention this matter now for two reasons:
First, the question of how the CHA responds to public criticism—and to its critics—is central to the piece that follows on the independent monitor of the relocation process. Large public and private institutions can always invoke seemingly neutral reasons (e.g., budgetary constraints, shifting funding priorities, obscure regulations and contract provisions that suddenly cry out to be enforced, etc.) to justify attempts to silence their critics—or more precisely, to induce them to censor themselves. This tendency is perhaps best thought of as an institutional reflex rather than as a conscious policy: in the absence of an explicit commitment to open public discourse, official responses to criticism will be skewed in that direction.
Second, I want to reassure readers that The View is back. I have stepped away from relationships I value, in order not to put the work of friends and colleagues at risk. This has involved a measure of loss for me. It has also renewed my sense of freedom. In coming months, we will work to increase the capacity of The View and to extend its reach. Among the stories we are preparing is a series on the policing of public housing and a journal of a demolition—an account of the process by which 3542-44 South State became a vacant lot.
It’s good to be back in action.