The Fall Of The Kingdom

There is widespread concern about the quality of information available to residents living in public housing communities undergoing relocation, demolition, and redevelopment. This concern is shared by the Chicago Housing Authority, resident leaders, and housing advocates.

What do residents know about the CHA’s “Plan for Transformation”? On the basis of our experience at Stateway Gardens, it is possible for residents to be at once uninformed and deeply knowledgeable.

Consider the question that has been asked again and again by CHA residents at community meetings convened for the purpose of presenting the Plan for Transformation—a plan under which thus far more than half of the family public housing units in the city have been demolished and scarcely any new housing has been built. The question takes a somewhat different form depending on where the meeting is held. On the West Side, residents ask, “When the Bulls built the United Center, they continued to play in the old Stadium until the new stadium was ready. Why is this different?” On the South Side, they ask, “When the White Sox built the new Comiskey Park, they continued to play in the old Comiskey Park until the new park was ready. Why is this different?”

Consider what residents living in communities being “transformed” see from their windows and what they hear as they go about their days. This slide show evokes the latter stages of the demolition last spring of 3517-19 South Federal—a building known as “The Kingdom”—as seen and heard by residents living in 3547-49 South Federal, a building now empty and being prepared for demolition later this fall.

Plans are in progress for the redevelopment of abandoned communities such as Stateway into “mixed income neighborhoods” that will provide quality housing for at least some of the families that have been forced to relocate. The federal government has committed resources to the redevelopment process. Resident leaders are engaged in ongoing negotiations with the CHA to make sure the city honors its commitments. Amid unresolved issues, competing agendas, and contingencies, these processes are advancing. Yet they remain largely invisible to residents. What vision of the future can one hold in focus, when one looks out the window at the dismantling of one’s community? What messages can be heard over the sounds of demolition?

In coming days, The View will explore these and related questions in an electronic journal on the death and life of a public housing high-rise.