Last Project StandingCivics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago

Last Project StandingCivics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago

Catherine Fennell

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780816697366

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press


In 1995, a half-vacant, wrecked public housing project on Chicago's Near West Side went under the wrecking ball. Federal and local officials touted the demolition and redevelopment of the Governor Henry Horner housing complex as a model for public housing reform within and beyond Chicago. Its redevelopment ushered in the most ambitious urban planning experiment of its kind: The demolition of Chicago's infamously troubled public housing projects and their redevelopment into much smaller developments known as "new communities." Proponents expected everyday life in these much smaller, mixed-income, and partially privatized developments would mitigate the insecurity, isolation, and underemployment that plagued residents of "severely distressed" public housing. Focusing on Horner's redevelopment, Last Project Standing asks how Chicago's experiment transformed everyday built environments into laboratories for teaching urbanites about the rights and obligations of belonging to a city that seemed incapable of taking care of its most destitute citizens. Based on three years of ethnographic and archival research, it argues that aspirations to raise a more inclusive, more caring city took shape and faltered as public housing residents, their advocates, their new neighbors and other Chicagoans came into contact with the people and things of changing public housing. Fennell considers how collisions with everything from unruly heating systems and decaying buildings to silent neighbors became an education in the potentials of care and protection in the aftermath of welfare failure.