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Tin Can Alley: 1941

Tin Can Alley: 1941

April 1941. Chicago. "Children playing next to condemned building in the 'black belt,' Negro section on the South Side." Photo by Russell Lee. View full size.


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The Projects

The goal of public housing in Chicago was to contain black people to the neighborhoods they already occupied. There was an element of providing better housing for poor people but all the Projects built after WWII were in the Black Belt. High rise public housing in white areas was nonexistent. Raze all the old two flats and you can build high rises that hold many more people. White areas were not welcoming to black folks. Riots ensued.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago and the dividing line between black and white neighborhoods was always something everybody who lived on the south side was well aware. Every ten years or so it crept westward. White people only drove through black neighborhoods and black people wouldn't enter certain border neighborhoods unless they wanted to risk a beating. I love my hometown but it's a very clannish city.

Still around

Not this particular building, but you'll still see a lot of hulks like this in Chicago and all over the world--I grew up gaping at them as I went to the museum district on the Skyway and Stony Island, and as the South Shore went through Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, Hegewisch, and the like.

Rationale for the projects? Sure--if they'd worked, it would have been a step up from the old tenements. But let's not forget that a lot of residents considered them home, and you can do a lot with tuckpointing, plastering, and roofing to keep them going--as residents of Chicago's North Side know very well.

This is why we got The Projects

In retrospect we see the huge public housing projects as failures. But the photo above shows why they were created. The goal was providing affordable, safe housing for the people in places like we see here.

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