everyday on my commute to work, we drive by. from a distance, it's intriguing. two tall buildings that seem to mirror each other. but one with a collection of patchwork colors running down the side.
as you get closer, through the chain-link fence, it comes into focus. cabrini green. on a patch of land, in between an industrial corridor and the affluent gold coast neighborhood of chicago, lies one of the most infamous housing projects in the country.
i remember learning about it for the first time when i took a criminal justice class in college. the unit was on gangs and the reading assignment was about two rival factions literally waging war from the buildings i was gazing upon.
when i moved to chicago, i was deathly afraid of the stories i had heard. occasionally we'd have to pass by en route to a bar or shopping excursion. it was jarring. concrete slabs rising up from the ground. metal detectors in the entry ways. cops camped out in the parking lot questioning residents and patrolling the area.
but other times i'd see a mother pushing her baby in a stroller along the bumpy, littered sidewalk. or a group of small boys giggling while they played on the jungle gym. it was heartbreaking.
now the last remaining buildings are in the process of getting razed. each morning we drive by and watch the cranes busily scooping up rubble while a wrecking ball takes cracks at the structure.
mangled wires poke out of the crumbling walls as if to recount the painful twists and turns of the lives that were lived within. but beneath the spaghetti wires and dusty debris, i could see something beautiful. amidst the beige walls of most of the units, there were rooms painted in bubblegum pink, ocean blue, mint green.
i could imagine the mother i saw anxiously awaiting her daughter's birth. picking the brightest pink to light up her little girl's world. the little boys dreaming of swimming or fishing or escaping to far away lands as they looked at their blue walls before drifting off to sleep.
of course i'll never know why the walls were actually painted those vibrant colors. but the fact that they were tells a story: of real people. with lives and families. with hopes and dreams. trying to find beauty amidst a lot of ugliness. searching for the silver lining. trying to make the best of a bad situation.
i hope they've found new homes. new hope. in the meantime, what a great lesson for us all.