70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green
By Ronit Bezalel
70 ACRES IN CHICAGO: CABRINI GREEN explores the effects of Chicago’s 1.5 billion dollar Plan for Transformation, an order requiring the demolition of the city’s public housing high rises, and the building of mixed-income condominiums. The film chronicles the demolitions at the Cabrini Green Homes, a development erected from 1942-1961 as a housing solution for the working poor. Located a mile from Chicago’s world-famous lakefront, the neighborhoods adjacent to Cabrini Green are some of the most conspicuous and symbolic reminders of income inequality in the city. Among Cabrini locals, this sharp dividing line is familiarly expressed as a distinction between the “gold coast” and the “soul coast.”
Concerns quickly arise over the implementation of the Plan for Transformation and the lack of input afforded to existing residents. The community fights back; they file lawsuits, march and rally. Yet many families wonder if the new housing will accommodate the old residents, or if they will be forced to find affordable housing elsewhere.
The film also sheds light on the city’s history of racial segregation, which prevents the mobility of Black families, the historical Great Migration of African Americans from the south moving north, and the demolition of the area’s previous community, “Little Sicily,” which was razed to build Cabrini Green. Complex issues emerge as communities previously on opposite sides of the proverbial tracks begin to occupy the same buildings. While some new residents show a willingness to break down old barriers, painful reminders of double standards and privilege gaps remain.
More than a specific portrait of a single housing development, 70 ACRES IN CHICAGO: CABRINI GREEN illuminates the layers of socio-economic forces and the difficult questions behind urban redevelopment and gentrification taking place in cities throughout the United States today.