In 1999 documentary filmmaker Ronit Bezalel produced this 30-minute film about the demolition of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing high rises. The film focuses on the stories of some of Cabrini’s residents, and gives voice to active community members like Mark Pratt, who feels torn between the desire to find better, safer, affordable housing in the city and the inevitable disintegration of Cabrini as a community.
The film, like Jan Tichy’s Project Cabrini Green, is an important testament to the complex history of Chicago’s public housing projects beyond their media images as hotbeds of social dysfunction. As most places anywhere, these were also communities of families and friends devoted to their homes and each other.
Bezalel and Pratt have been working on a follow-up film called Cabrini Green: Mixing it Up for the past several years, which will feature follow-ups with displaced former residents and powerful scenes such as one of young Cabrini residents confronting former Mayor Richard M. Daley:
In the meantime, Bezalel has also produced some shorter videos which shed valuable light on post-Cabrini social realities in the Near North area of Chicago.
One profiles “Old School Mondays,” a reunion picnic for former residents of Cabrini-Green that happened ever Monday in the summers for several years after the demolition of the high-rises:
This video makes evident the power of social bonds forged for decades at Cabrini and other, now-demolished projects in Chicago. Compare the neighborhood solidarity evident in this video with Bezalel’s profile of the “Block Party” at Old Town Village (a mixed-income development built on the site of demolished Cabrini-Green buildings):
In a focus on the experience of youth, Bezalel also featured the students and teachers of Jenner Elementary talking about the experience of losing their community as the demolitions proceeded around the school building:
For a deeper look at the patterns of community destruction that have played out in Chicago’s Near North neighborhood, check out Lawrence Vale’s essay in The Design Observer. Vale will be visiting Chicago to talk about his recent book (which treats these issues in far greater detail using examples in Atlanta as well as Chicago) on January 23.