Growing up on Chicago’s Northwest Side in the 1990s, I heard plenty of stories about the city’s projects. The tales were passed down like a game of telephone, the storyteller and audience never really knowing what was fact and what was fiction. My mom told me about former Chicago mayor Jane Byrne’s brief and failed attempt to combat gang violence by moving into Cabrini Green. How the mayor slept under a mosquito net to keep the cockroaches from crawling into her bed. My grandma recalled days long gone, when one or two of her Irish and Italian friends called Cabrini Green home. My dad, who had worked in the Cabrini neighborhood and checked the pipes in one of the high rises, said he remembered the cockroaches the most. “They were at the doorstep, before you even stepped inside the building,” he said. That and the neighborhood convenient stores sold year-old expired baby formula.
For better or worse, Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and what that often means is that residents don’t leave the eight-block radius that surrounds their home. This was the case for me as well as for many of the project residents interviewed in “High Rise Stories,” a collection of eleven first-person narrative accounts about residing in Chicago’s public housing system, from McSweeney’s Voice of Witness series, edited by Audrey Petty. Read the rest of this entry »