project cabrini-green

cabrini–green was a chicago housing authority (CHA) public housing development on chicago's near north side. it was bordered by evergreen avenue on the north, orleans street on the east, chicago avenue on the south, and halsted street on the west. today, only a set of row-houses, built in the 1940s, still remain. at its peak, cabrini–green was home to 15,000 people, living in mid- and high-rise apartment buildings. over the years, gang violence and neglect created terrible conditions for the residents, and the name "cabrini–green" became synonymous with the problems associated with public housing in the united

this is/was cabrini-green in chicago, illinois:

photos by zoe strauss

the original population of cabrini-green reflected the area's prior ethnic mix; poor italians, irish, puerto ricans, and african americans lived among the war workers and veterans. racial segregation overtook cabrini-green by the early 1960s. the large new apartments and large swaths of recreation space failed to mend the area's poverty. the difficulty blacks had finding better, affordable housing gave cabrini-green a permanent population. CHA failed to budget money to repair buildings and maintain landscaping as they deteriorated. cabrini-green's reputation for crime and gangs rivaled little hell's. the murders of two white police officers in 1970 and of seven-year-old resident dantrell davis in 1992 drew national attention. —here

over last weekend, i went to the museum with my mom. we saw some crazy art, but we missed seeing the exhibit on project cabrini-green:
on march 28th, two days before the beginning of the demolition, 134 self-contained, battery-powered LED modules were placed inside 134 of the building's vacated apartments. the lights will blink every day from 7pm to 1am CDT, for the four week duration of the demolition, and will be gradually erased with the building. each blinking light has a unique pattern. these patterns are a visual translation of poems written and recorded by the youth who attended workshops developed and instructed by [project leader jan] tichy, [co-developer efrat] appel, and students from the school of the art institute of chicago.    —from the project cabrini-green website

the project aims to highlight the significant moment of the demolition, while giving voice to young people, enabling them to reflect on social issues related to their communities. The idea to collaborate with youth derived from the wish to empower them through a creative experience.  —project cabrini-green website

go here and you can see the lights flicker together within the building. you can also click on individual apartments to hear the audio that the students created to go along with the light + poetry. it is a desolate yet strong work, evoking hope within hopelessness, giving a voice to vacancy.

if you're in or near chicago (or not), drop in at the mca to see the exhibit.
it's a week of statement art, isn't it? i love these projects with voices. they give me hope.


  1. The lights represent the beating heart of the building and the souls of those who lived there - powerful. Seems the thought behind the project was a big, empowering idea that sadly lost it's way and life. Thanks for posting.

  2. yes—i think the art project puts an emphasis on what was lost, but also reminds the viewer of what's been left behind, hopeful remnants of a failed idea, like you said. maybe something will be gleaned from this attempt and applied to the next one... hopefully.


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