Construction work is underway on Parkside of Old Town, a residential development on the north end of Chicago’s former Cabrini Green housing projects. Where high-rises once housed thousands of the city’s poorest families, the Chicago Housing Authority has proposed an array of more modest mid- and low-rises targeted to renters from across the economic spectrum.
The Cabrini area is a focal point of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation, which sought to build or rehab 25,000 public housing units in the city by 2010. The agency is still well short of that goal, but Parkside will bring it a bit closer. Contrary to the old formula of warehousing subsidized apartments in campuses of high-rises, the new plan is to forge “mixed-income communities” using buildings more sympathetic to the human scale. For developers and designers alike, the first challenge is overcoming the history of a place like Cabrini Green, which became synonymous with crime, neglect, and urban decay before it was slated for the wrecking ball in 1999.
As put by Peter Landon, lead designer on the project for Landon Bone Baker Architects, “How do you make it part of the city, and not ‘Cabrini’?”
LBBA’s design for the current phase of Parkside, whose redevelopment began several years ago, tucks seven townhouses behind a mid-rise fronting onto Division Avenue. Green space unites the two, giving low-income and market-rate renters equal access to public spaces that include a promenade lined with birch trees.
“One of the problems with mixed-income housing is people are treated differently,” said Landon. To avoid that, the plan for parkside includes shared outdoor spaces like courtyards and green roofs, as well as equal access to building amenities.
“At places like Cabrini Green, people were cut off,” reads the project website. “Physically and psychologically, they were a city apart. The new apartment buildings aim to eliminate those barriers.”
Courtesy LBBJ; Pappageorge Haymes Partners
The current phase of redevelopment (phase IIB) contains 36 units of replacement housing for former Cabrini residents, 27 affordable units and 43 market-rate units. When all phases are finished, Parkside will total more than 700 homes across 18 acres of land on the city’s near North Side.
Intermingling subsidized housing and market-rate rentals is a balancing act for developers. Ground-floor retail on Division Avenue could help make Parkside profitable in the affluent Old Town neighborhood. On the other end of the Cabrini site, a 305-unit residential tower by Fifield at 347 West Chestnut Street speaks to the rising rental market in Chicago and the neighborhood in particular.
But getting and keeping tenants may be a challenge. Despite the prime locations of sites like Cabrini-Green and Lincoln Park’s Lathrop Homes, some aren’t certain they can overcome the ugly legacy of many 20th century housing projects. For his part, Landon is confident.
“My sense is that people aren’t so racist. Maybe I’m naive,” he said, “but people like living in a mixed community.”