Last of Cabrini Green
This year the last highrise of the Cabrini Green housing complex was demolished, I stopped by to say goodbye.
I have a lot of memories of Cabrini Green and surprisingly most of them are good ones despite the project’s history of violence,drugs and gang warfare. 14 years ago, right before they started shutting down the buildings, the barn I worked at was right next to the Green and every night I would drive my horse and carriage up Clybourn or Crosby Street, right through the thick of it. Usually after midnight. Amazingly only once was I ever shot at (or near, we incidentally drove through a shoot out just as it started) and once I was accosted by a very intoxicated and angry woman with a large chunk of concrete. Most of the harassment came from the children on our way out of the barn who wanted to see the horses run and threw stones at them until the drivers started carrying supersoakers filled with vinegar and aimed for faces. (Mess with me, fine; mess with my horse and you’re asking for it.)
Once upon a time the Green was actually a very nice place to live. You had your own private balcony with a view of the communal gardens it was named for and while the walls were thin and everyone poor there was a sense of community and pride in that community. Sadly this didn’t last very long, and the Green rapidly became known as one of the most dangerous Projects in the country.
They also had Farmer Brown’s. I loved Farmer Brown’s, it was open from 1PM to 4AM and had the best hot wings in the city, with a side of squishy white bread. We’d always go back to the barn in pairs, so second pair to leave the stand would take everyone’s orders and stop off at Farmer Brown’s to get dinner. One person would stay outside with the horses, parked on the sidewalk, and the other would run in (wearing a tuxedo and tophat) to get the food. Never once we were hassled doing this, the most I ever heard was, “Oh white girl you crazy to be here.” To which my only reply was “The hot wings are totally worth it.” Everyone started cracking up and I got a free order of wings that night.
Though I miss Farmer Brown’s I don’t miss the Green. They were ugly, soulless buildings and the people living in them were never accorded the basic respect one human should have for another. Individuals put their mark on the inside of their homes, gangs marked the outside.
While I don’t agree with the manner it was shut down (abruptly with little support for the people being dislocated) it is better for everyone, the tenants and the city in general, that is gone. While the new neighborhood is all red brick row houses, condos and higher rents the area still has a memory of the Green. Here and there little things survive, hold on and remind us how very far we have go to as people. And how very long of a drive Clybourn Avenue is when you’re driving a horse.