In 2011, Ben Austen—a journalist working for Harper’s Magazine—found himself watching the demolition of one of Cabrini-Green’s towering buildings. Beyond the building’s physical mass, he viewed the complex as a looming monolith that represented the story of public housing and its occupants not just in Chicago but elsewhere.
In an interview with CityLab, Austen points out that many of the arguments for the destruction of public housing projects like Cabrini-Green, and the infamous Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, echoed the arguments made in favor of their construction in the first place: to create safer, better accommodations. He argues that the failings of these projects gets disproportionally blamed on the architecture when in fact these large public housing complexes were an improvement over what they replaced. Since these public housing complexes have been demolished, poverty is less centralized and, Austen suggests, less visible but no less urgent. Read more about lessons learned and stories told in his book High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing.