I recently finished Ben Austen’s High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing.
As I have studied some of what Austen details, I want to highlight main themes from the book:
- The way that Austen recounts the history of Cabrini-Green helps highlight the community, social life, and humanity present at Cabrini-Green. He does this through tracing the lives of several residents and their families throughout the larger narrative about Cabrini-Green and public housing. Cabrini-Green became a symbol or abstraction for many Chicago area resident and for the country but these stories help humanize the place and those who lived there.
- Public housing in the United States never had much of a chance. It was difficult to get implemented in the first place, decisions about design, locations, and maintenance were not always made with the best interests of the residents in mind, and the number of public housing units has declined in recent decades with former residents pushed out and a switch to voucher options. If this is the front line to a fight over a right to housing, it is hard to find much hope that the right will be established any time soon.
- The Chicago Housing Authority did poorly including locating public housing units in already segregated areas, failing to maintain buildings, and not following through on the Plan for Transformation, For a government agency that was supposed to help people, its legacy is not a good one, even by Chicago standards.
- Pairing this book with the 2011 documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth would provide a good education on the topic of public housingfor the general public. Both have a compelling storyline/presentation based on particular housing projects and enough connections to scholarly conversations on the topics involved for people to dig deeper.