Some might consider it ironic to look towards the future of a project so prominently set in the past, but the monumental history of Cabrini-Green is still worth caring for and writing about, lest we lose it. However, I would care a moment to look back and reflect on how I wound up embedded in an issue so far removed from my immediate situation, yet one I’ve found myself so passionate about this last semester or so. For a column that’s genuinely helped me grow as a writer, for getting out of my comfort zone, for producing articles that I’m genuinely proud to attach my name to, I believe that some thank-yous and acknowledgements are in order.
First and foremost, thank you to Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, who paved the trail for this same topic with her extensive Cabrini-Green coverage in 2004, arguably at its greatest levels of redevelopment flux. Her even agreeing to meet with me for an interview and providing some amazing sources gave me the confidence I needed to approach something like this.
Thank you to that random YouTube video I watched over winter break about African-American representation in animation, which led me to a Wikipedia search for the sitcom “Good Times,” which finally led me to here, the topic of this very column. Thanks to the helpful dude at the Harold Washington Library who helped me get past the Chicago Tribune’s paywalls, to my high school professor Dr. Smith for sending me some amazing advice, and even to the rude cop who told me the neighborhood is called “Near North” now, rather than its old adage.
Sincere thanks to Ken Dunn, the philosopher and urban farmer who helped kick this continued interest off, who gave me likely my most bizarre interview I will ever have — collecting compost in a garbage truck on a cold winter morning while talking about Aristotle and the Reagan administration. Thanks to Alderman Walter Burnett Jr., who fit me into his busy schedule for a hasty interview, sandwiched between his 8:30 a.m and 9:30 a.m. appointments, both labelled in his calendar as “be vaguely corrupt.” Further thanks to all the media that has guided me, to the cast and crew behind the documentary “70 Acres in Chicago,” the author of “High-Risers” Ben Austen, and Jan Tichy for meeting to talk about his Project Cabrini-Green.
A very unique thank you to Pastors Chuck Infelt and Eric Worringer of the Holy Family Lutheran Church, right in the heart of what used to be the Cabrini red-brick high-rises, who have been more than willing to talk about their experiences preaching and engaging the community both before and after redevelopment, Infelt being the prior and Worringer following. A great deal of their congregation members were former residents and have been incredibly welcoming. Unique thanks to the awkward secretary of the Waverly, Iowa city council who connected me to Infelt, who called the sleepy Iowa town “home” before leaving for the Chicago, as well as serving as mayor after retiring.
With people like these, and a host of plans on the horizon, the future of this column is bright, as apparently this city can never run out of history. Along with continued collaboration with Holy Family, I look forward to volunteering at Ken Dunn’s urban farms this summer, hopefully learning as much about city land use policies as I do actual gardening. I’m working to bring “70 Acres in Chicago” to a screening here at Illinois Tech, which would be an amazing event when the goal is to help educate this campus about more of this city’s history, or as much as possible at least. My last, concrete plan is to visit Infelt in his hometown of Iowa over the summer, to meet face-to-face the man I’ve only talked to over the phone, to see where the man who shaped his own niche of the neighborhood grew up; he has untold hours of stories from spending decades in one of the most turbulent parts of the city, and a shocking amount seems to have gone unrecorded.
I can say that I’m looking to do more with this column than keep it in the weekly TechNews issues. While establishing an early platform is important, depending on the volume of work, maybe a book or a collection of short stories or even a biography of the neighborhood’s prolific figures in the future, but whatever form this winds up taking is beyond me. However, with these the excellent people who have my back, and the immense scope of the topic, I can’t see the content stopping soon.
It might be tempting just to let some of those old stories of Chicago slip away, but remembering these lessons as a collective is what makes a city a city, how it keeps its soul and forms a community. There’s got to be a greater sort of consciousness to a city like this beyond knowing your relevant green line stops or enclaves of River North restaurants or Magnificent Mile shops, and as the future stewards of the city it’s high time we embrace it.