In another life, I used to be a schoolteacher on the South side of Chicago. For the first couple of years that I taught, our school was located in the shadows of three abandoned high-rise buildings, collectively known as the Lakefront Properties. They sat in a neighborhood known as North Kenwood-Oakland, along Chicago’s lakefront (hence the name) between 39th and 43rd Street.
One year, on Halloween, I got it in my head that some students wanted to vandalize my car. I really had no reason for thinking this, but fear can cause you to do some things you might not otherwise do. So instead of parking in the teacher’s lot that day, I parked on the other side of the abandoned high-rises and walked through them to get to school. It was the only time I ever did this, but it was a chilling experience, just the same.
What I saw, walking through the courtyard of buildings that hadn’t been occupied in over a decade, was very unremarkable. In fact, there was nobody on the outside of these buildings at all. And if anyone was on the inside, I never knew it. So the physical presence of anyone or anything in those abandoned buildings was thankfully not an issue.
But I had a very strange inner feeling as I made my way through these buildings. I could sense the despair and frustration that once pervaded the buildings. It wasn’t known as “The Low End” for nothing. When I emerged on the other side, in the place that I would have normally parked my car anyway, I realized that public housing was no way to live. I had seen nothing more than a few abandoned buildings, in broad daylight, but I could imagine what this had done to the people who had lived in the buildings, for any amount of time.
The buildings were imploded together on a bright, sunny morning in 1998. I likened it to the moment where the Titanic struck the iceberg, at least as far as the school was concerned. The school was shut down, and the building itself was demolished not long after that.
New construction has since filled in this space, and I went back there a few years ago, looking for any sign of what had once stood on that spot. I found none, and understood that was probably the point. For those living there now, there has never been any public housing, let alone high-rises that stood deserted for many years, in that area. But it was there once, and I walked through it. I was only trying to avoid having eggs thrown at my windshield, but I would up bearing witness to what a bad idea these high-rises really were, instead. May no one ever have to live in those conditions again.