The Plan for Transformation has transformed Chicago’s built environment | Feature | Chicago Reader

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The Plan for Transformation has transformed Chicago’s built environment

Over the last decade, photographer David Schalliol has been diligently documenting the demolition and reconstruction of the city’s public housing. Selections from the series are now on display as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

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Teenagers play basketball while a Stateway Gardens building is demolished in 2007. - DAVID SCHALLIOL
  • David Schalliol
  • Teenagers play basketball while a Stateway Gardens building is demolished in 2007.

In the aughts, it was possible to observe the past and future of U.S. public housing policy on the same Chicago block. After decades of deferred maintenance, lawsuits, and even a federal takeover, the portfolio of properties owned and operated by the Chicago Housing Authority was undergoing the nation's largest public housing rehabilitation, demolition, and reconstruction project.

Backed by more than a billion dollars as part of the Hope VI plan—a major federal initiative to overhaul the nation's public housing—the authority launched the Plan for Transformation in 2000 to "renew the physical structure of CHA properties," "promote self-sufficiency for public housing residents," and "reform administration of the CHA."

In the process, the CHA ceded most of its long-standing role as comprehensive manager of the public housing system to a network of private management companies. This dramatic reshaping of the nation's third-largest public housing agency was most visible in the demolition of many of the CHA's high-rise buildings and large-scale projects and the construction of mixed-income developments in their stead.

I've been photographing the transformation since I moved to Chicago's south side from Columbus, Ohio, in 2002. When I started this series, many south-side public housing projects like the Robert Taylor Homes, the largest of the projects along State Street, were shadows of what they once were. I spent time in and around south-side developments like Stateway Gardens, the Ida B. Wells Homes, and Randolph Towers, as well as pockets of the north side's Cabrini-Green development that felt like a community until nearly the end.

During the Chicago Architectural Biennial, I am exhibiting a selection of photographs from this ongoing work following the rehabilitation, demolition, reconstruction, and reoccupation of these public housing projects.


"A Love of the World"
Schalliol’s photographs are included in the group show of works by architectural photographers curated by Jesús Vasallo as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Through 1/7/2018, Mon-Fri 10 AM-7 PM, Sat-Sun 10 AM-5 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org, free.


As a photographer and sociologist, I emphasize the built environment as a key factor in—but also as a symbol of—the transformation of residents' lives. I hope that focusing on this earlier period of fundamental physical changes makes the intensity of the conversion clear. The images in this set show not only the stages of the shift to mixed-income developments, but also the complexity of the changes. After all, 17 years after the launch of the Plan for Transformation, the CHA is transforming the plan itself, increasing the services it provides while still continuing to work on the goal of moving public housing residents into mixed-income communities. At present, of the 16,846 households included in the Plan for Transformation, only 7.81 percent live in mixed-income residences. Instead, there's an array of housing situations for most of the public housing residents who lived in traditional CHA developments.

For instance, I've photographed a family who moved from a Cabrini-Green high-rise to Wentworth Gardens, a rehabilitated low-rise development just a baseball throw away from where the White Sox play. There they became part of the 16 percent of Plan for Transportation households who remained in traditional public housing. In the case of Loomis Courts, a pair of midrise structures built as part of the ABLA cluster of public housing projects, the buildings are no longer fully owned or operated by the CHA but participate in a Section 8 program. Loomis Courts residents benefit from building-based subsidies that allow them to pay below-market rates for market-rate housing, the government making up the difference. Approximately 21 percent of Plan for Transformation households are in similar situations.

With so many approaches to providing subsidized housing, there are added complications—and there's still much work ahead, from meeting the remaining obligations of the Plan for Transformation to finding new ways to provide affordable housing for Chicago residents. It's clear that the CHA has overhauled its facilities and organization, as well as provided improved living conditions for thousands of Chicago families; however, roughly 120,000 remain on the waiting list for public housing in the city, and more than 40 percent of residents who lived in the now-demolished buildings have either been evicted or live in nonsubsidized housing. And of course, despite the huge numbers, these families represent just one element of what may be an affordable housing crisis for those unable to bear the expense of living in many of Chicago's rapidly changing neighborhoods. Addressing these issues will be a critical task for the CHA that could impact housing policy not only in Chicago but throughout the U.S.   v


A version of this essay first appeared on the Chicago Architecture Biennial blog.

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Kitchen cabinets and other built-ins sit on the gallery-style walkways of a Robert Taylor Homes building in 2006.

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A teenage resident of a Cabrini-Green high-rise building sits on her bed in 2010.

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Towels dry from a curbside car wash in the low-rise Frances Cabrini Homes in 2009.

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Former ABLA residents watch as their building is demolished in 2007.

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The last Cabrini-Green high-rise building three months before demolition started in 2011.

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Cabrini-Green residents stand on the gallery-style walkways in 2009.

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Former Cabrini-Green residents move into one of the Wentworth Gardens row houses in 2010.

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The interiors of Cabrini-Green apartments are revealed during demolition in 2010.

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A Cabrini-Green high-rise building soars over newly constructed low-rise buildings in 2007.

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The first Park Boulevard mixed-income buildings rise while the last Stateway Gardens building is torn down in 2007.

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Cabrini-Green residents play on a slide behind the last of the "red buildings" in 2006.

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Men walk past an Ickes Homes building undergoing demolition in 2009.

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A teenager looks out the window of an Ida B. Wells Homes building to investigate a loud sound in 2006.

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In 2010, a mother and her children walk out of Sunrise Supermarket, across the street from the fields where the Ida B. Wells Homes once stood.

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A boy pauses his ride around a Loomis Courts open-air walkway to look out over the city in 2009.

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