Back in the early ‘60s, a two-mile strip of low-income housing was completed on State between Pershing and 54th. That strip of 28 high-rises, dubbed the Robert Taylor Homes, would develop over the years into one of the most infamous housing projects of the city, if not the nation. Amid all the sensational stories of the violence, drug-dealing and poverty that surrounded the area, residents insisted the Taylor Homes were not the cesspool many believed them to be.
One such resident is Beauty Turner. The plucky 50-year-old is an assistant editor of the Residents’ Journal, a bi-monthly mag designed for Chicago housing tenants. Late last year, curiosity concerning the former Taylor Homes – and Chicago Housing Authority projects in general – prompted We the People Media, publisher of Turner’s paper, to organize a dedicated tour of the South Side. Some would say the requests come too late, for many of the households have been torn down through the CHA’s Plan for Transformation, a ten-year initiative to reform public housing as it exists today. As of January, a monthly “Ghetto Bus Tour” takes willing participants past their former footprints anyway, transplanting to ground zero those who otherwise would have never tread on that space.
Despite its flip nickname, the tour generates many serious questions and discussion about how people lived in the massive, overcrowded Taylor towers. Turner spends time each tour answering how many shootings there were, how many deaths, what daily life was like in general. She has much ill will towards the CHA’s Plan, directing her tours while putting emphasis on the strength of community that used to be in the Homes and how that community was rent apart. As much as the projects had a sordid reputation, the (huge, crying) liberal in us inclines towards Turner’s favor. We’ve always been fascinated by the Taylor Homes, not only their blatant image of urban blight, but also what those towers mean and how they came to represent the ghetto. The purpose of the tour is not to gawk and revel in sensationalism; it's to get a feel for what really went on, to cut through the violent veneer and understand the meaning of community. Call us out on our cushy suburban upbringing if you like. Experiences like this, toothless as they are, can really shed some light on human behavior, including that which binds people together in the face of hardship.
Information about the once-a-month bus tours is available on We the People Media's website. Individual bus tours are $20 a person.
Image courtesy of Joe M500.