A South Side Project (5-17-1954)

As early as 1950, the Chicago City Council approved clearing twelve sites for new public housing.  Today the Chicago Housing Authority announced plans for a new project called Stateway Gardens.

The area covered eight blocks in the Bronzeville neighborhood, bounded by 35th, State, Pershing, and the Rock Island Railroad embankment.  The current housing was mostly frame shacks.  It was one of the worst slums in the city.



The CHA had already acquired a number of rubbish-filled lots.  Meanwhile, the city was working to clear the garbage as quickly as possible.  Officials wanted to begin building the new units before the end of the year.

Most of Chicago’s public housing was low-rise, no more than one or two floors.  Stateway Gardens was going to be different.  The planners wanted to have plenty of open space, to give the feel of “a suburb in the city.”  So this housing would be high-rise—eight towers of 16 floors each, for a total of 1,648 apartments.

Stateway Gardens was only the first stage of a bigger program.  The CHA wanted to clear the State Street corridor all the way south to 63rd Street, though nothing was definite yet.  If more projects were built, they would likely follow the Stateway Gardens model.  High-rise housing on landscaped plazas was the fashionable trend in urban design.



Later critics have claimed another agenda was at work.  East of the Rock Island tracks, nearly all the residents were African American.  The neighborhoods to the west were White.  Maybe the new public housing projects were an attempt to keep Black people on “their side of the tracks.”

If the South Side projects were really an attempt to isolate African Americans, then we’re looking at some real historic irony.  This date—May 17, 1954—is the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision banning segregated schools.

Stateway Gardens was completed in 1958.  CHA followed with the Robert Taylor Homes on the tracts to the south.  Both high-rises projects were torn down in the early 2000s.


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