Monica Myers March 23, 2019

In the spring of 2007, the Chicago Housing Authority demolished the last of the 28 buildings in the Robert Taylor Homes housing project. Robert Taylor Homes is one of several high profile housing project demolitions, from St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe to fellow Chicago project Cabrini Green. The demolitions serve as an admission that high-rise public housing wasn’t a good idea. The housing that replaced them are all low rise projects better integrated within existing neighborhoods. So why did anyone back then think it was a good idea? Why did housing authorities build these high rise projects in the first place?

Resources on this topic:

Hunt, D. B. (2001). What Went Wrong with Public Housing in Chicago? A History of the Robert Taylor Homes. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 94(1), 96–123.

“Demolished: The End of Chicago’s Public Housing” by David Eads and Helga Salinas. https://apps.npr.org/lookatthis/posts/publichousing/

“When Public Housing Was Paradise” by Joy Connelly https://openingthewindow.com/2011/06/13/when-public-housing-was-paradise-2/

“Elizabeth Wood, 93, Innovator In Early Days of Public Housing” by Bruce Lambert http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/17/us/elizabeth-wood-93-innovator-in-early-days-of-public-housing.html

“A Brief History of Public Housing” by Jennifer Amy Stoloff https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jennifer_Stoloff/publication/228789405_A_brief_history_of_public_housing/links/5643a68008ae9f9c13e05df6/A-brief-history-of-public-housing.pdf

Video sources:
– Archive.org, Prelinger Archives

Photo sources:
– Wikimedia Commons
– Flickr user Samuel A. Love
– Zahiri, N., Dezhdar, O., & Foroutan, M. (2016). Rethinking of Critical Regionalism in High-Rise Buildings. Buildings, 7(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings7010004

Filmed in sunny Sacramento, California.

15 thoughts on “Why did we build high-rise public housing projects?

  1. Last time I posted a video, I had 600 subscribers. Thanks to all of the new subscribers out there!

    1. Cause rgreedy racist white people needed a tight place to keep all the “unwanted” people out of their lives and to make it easier to get everyone hooked on drugs 5o keep them in a state of constant debt

  2. I Live in the Clarence Darrow Homes Projects 39th St. & Cottage Grove 730 Apt. 404 1962 – 1974 the First 5 years were Nice but After MLK jr. was Killed They Really Went Ghetto.

  3. my country is full of these projects… 90% of the population reside in it, i dont get whats wrong..its safe clean and lively.

  4. I find it odd that there is no mention of Jane Jacobs in this discussion. As the person who understood exactly what kind of problems the projects would create, and predicted exactly what would happen to them in her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her work would be the starting point for any serious discussion of the issue. I live in Toronto, a city which escaped most of the problems encountered by other cities because Jacobs happened to move here, influenced local planners and politicians, and changed the city’s policies. She long remained the city’s most beloved public intellectual. A close reading of Jacobs would inform this video discussion: the key factor is not the size or shape of the buildings, but the presence or absence of coherent social networks and customs to maintain a human community. The “slum clearance” programs destroyed neighborhoods that were poor and had substandard housing, and were boxed in by racism and redlining, but nevertheless had some functioning social networks and local commerce. They were replaced by new housing designed essentially the same way as prisons, with shattered social networks, no commerce, and anonymous, absolute bureaucratic rule. None of the mechanisms of interpersonal trust and responsibility that can make even a very poor neighborhood function were possible — so they rapidly disintegrated. The neighborhood I presently live in has many high-rise apartment towers (probably the majority of its residents live in them), including public housing projects. It has some of the city’s poorest people, is overwhelmingly populated with immigrants from Asia and Africa, and has the greatest population density in the country —- yet it’s a fine place to live, with little crime, a wonderful street life, and a strong sense of community. Nobel Prize winning scientists, writers, film producers, investment bankers, computer geeks, lawyers and entrepreneurs all choose to live here, and it is possible to sample any cuisine in the world within the range of a fifteen-minute walk. People arrive as penniless refugees, and within a few years can open shops in a neighborhood that supports and encourages local commerce. We can thank Jacobs for this… and in fact we do, with numerous momentos and celebrations.

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