- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 15, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674008308
- ISBN-13: 978-0674008304
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #826,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto
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From Library Journal
Venkatesh (sociology, Inst. for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia Univ.) began his extensive exploration of the history of the notorious Robert Taylor Homes public housing project as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. His methodology is to build a "collective history" by combining surveys, documentary research, and participant observation. This approach provides a fascinating and rigorous explanation of how a model of urban subsidized housing, which succeeded for 20 years, declined into disastrous conditions for its inhabitants. He looks, for example, at criminal activity in the project with an unflinching view of the contributions of such social structural changes as the economy and labor market, social services providers, city and state politicians, police practices, and residents. This is an important contribution to understanding urban poverty and will stand with classic work by Carol Stack and William Julius Wilson (who wrote the foreword). Highly recommended for public or academic collections in sociology, urban studies, and public policy.DPaula R. Dempsey, DePaul Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Venkatesh spent hundreds of hours interviewing residents of Chicago's Robert Taylor Holmes housing project. Poorly designed, cheaply built, and isolated from surrounding neighborhoods by an expressway, the Holmes project was doomed almost from the start...Venkatesh describes the struggles of tenant leaders and social activists who resisted the gangs and sought to improve living conditions, but he can't point to any wholesale reform in what was a fatally flawed system from the get-go. (Kirkus Reviews)
A fascinating and rigorous explanation of a how a model of urban subsidized housing, which succeeded for 20 years, declined into disastrous conditions for its inhabitants...[American Project] is an important contribution to understanding urban poverty and will stand with classic work by Carol Stack and William Julius Wilson (who wrote the foreword). Highly recommended. (Paula R. Dempsey Library Journal)
This book gets beyond academic analysis and gives voice to residents' concerns over education and health care, as well as the lack of employment opportunities, which in turn pushes young people to the streets in search of a means of earning money. By describing inhabitants' strident efforts to unify the community and fight political battles against an often indifferent bureaucracy, Venkatesh challenges the stereotypical notion that public housing fails because its residents do. (Doubletake)
The demolition of high-rise public housing such as the Robert Taylor Homes can only improve the lives of those presently subjected to its debilitating and dangerous grasp, right? Wrong. That, at least, is the carefully thought-out view of Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh in American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto. Revivifying participant observation as a form of sociological research, Venkatesh...has produced an ethnography of the South Side's most infamous project that challenges much of what passes for conventional wisdom...In many ways, Venkatesh's study...appears as a brief against a policy of demolition and dispersal...Forced relocations with minimal assistance would uproot the social networks painstakingly created over the past generation and represent a retrogression...The problem, in short, lay not simply with the occupants of public housing but in their relationship with the larger society. (Arnold Hirsch Chicago Tribune 2001-01-14)
The general public believes the Robert Taylor Homes are an unmistakable failure. But author Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh challenges that view...It's not that most communities are free of the social ills that infect public housing but 'that we ask more of the poor, and particularly those in public housing'...[whose] good intentions [are] thwarted by poor law enforcement, diminished federal funding, thriving underground economies and increased gang violence. (Chicago Reporter 2000-11-01)
Venkatesh wrote American Project to urge readers to get beyond the quantitative, statistical measure of the urban pathology of public housing and look at the 'collective memory' of the people who lived there. It's all too easy to disparage life in the projects, Venkatesh notes, but such thinking also disparages the forms of community, political organization, and ultimately the lives of those who made Robert Taylor their home...American Project is moving, thoughtful, and written with common-sense clarity. (Michael Corbin Baltimore City Paper 2001-12-13)
The major contribution of this book is its focus. Most of the recent books on the life of the inner city ghetto focus exclusively on the individual behavior of poor urban residents, and stress the pathology of the inner city. American Project, however, documents continuous efforts of the project residents to create community, to pool resources and political muscle to insure the continuation of basic services, and to secure democratic representation. The ultimate failure of Robert Taylor Homes was not a lack of trying, but rather that the problems faced by the residents went beyond what they could address with limited resources. (G. Rabrenovic Choice 2001-04-01)
[This] history of Chicago's notorious Robert Taylor Homes...[describes] how this once promising program fell so low and [offers] cautionary lessons for progressives who want to devise successful social policies...Venkatesh probes beyond the headlines about Robert Taylor Homes--the shootings, murders, accidental deaths, and police sweeps--and shows us how its residents used whatever resources were at hand to adjust to adverse circumstances. The brilliance of the author's approach is that he listens sympathetically to the people who lived and worked in this massive public housing development, yet he remains scrupulously objective. (Alexander von Hoffman American Prospect 2001-04-09)
The results of Venkatesh's myriad experiences are encomapped in 332 rivetting, thought-provoking pages...Completely different from the usual sociological tracts, American Project proffers a strong narrative and vivid stories. It offers its readers challenging insights into the lives of people in the government-subsidised [Robert Taylor] Homes. Above all, it stunningly portrays the transformation of a curious Indian-American "outsider" into an "insider" who gradually comes to understand and appreciate "the beauty of human condition" amidst squalor and violence. (Arthur J. Pals India Today International 2001-02-26)
American Project is a revealing look at what works (and what doesn't) in public housing--and why. Sudhur Alladi Venkatesh, one of the most promising young sociologists today, tells the story of one of America's most infamous housing projects, the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago...Based on nearly a decade of fieldwork within the projects themselves, American Project is the first comprehensive story of what went wrong in one of America's first and most famous public housing projects. By engaging himself with the community, Venkatesh gets beyond a purely academic analysis and is able to illustrate the benefits and pitfalls of urban public housing both in the Robert Taylor homes and within the larger realm of urban studies. He draws on his personal relationships with tenants, and local police officers and municipal organizations--to tell the real story of the besieged inner-city community that journalists and outsiders often never see. (Black Perspective 2001-02-01)
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That said, the author's background and training as a sociologist comes through loud and clear, and ultimately limits his book. While Venkatesh does a good job of detailing the social relationships among the players, he virtually ignores the larger political issues. Why was management so inept as to be virtually non-existent? Why did the drug/crime culture take hold, and how did the gangs transfor themselves into multi-state corporate enterprises? Most importantly, given that CHA is now in the process of demolishing virtually everyone of the buildings which form Robert taylor Homes, how do we avoid creating the same problems in the next generation of public housing.
Excellent bibliography, by the way. A very good place to dig for resources for anyone wanting to study the history of the Chicago Housing Authority since 1960.
Traditional property management services were not provided to CHA residents as a matter of right. Instead, a complicated set of rules violations (reporting income, reporting household composition), payoffs, relationship brokering, "hustle," and an underground economy emerged to get basic services (repairs, heat, security, etc.) to the residents of Robert Taylor.
In the beginning the "brokerage" was provided by the resident leadership (the Local Advisory Council)and the CHA staff. Gradually, with the emergence of the drug economy, the role was assumed by the gang/drug interests which really controlled conditions at the CHA family developments like Robert Taylor. The police and other traditional service institutions ceded their responsibilities to these interests. And public housing developments like Robert Taylor became "free crime" zones.
The CHA is presently engaged in highly innovative "Plan for Transformation" whereby all of the 25000 units of family and senior housing has been put under private management during the past year, and the CHA high rises are being vacated as part of an effort to replace them with mixed income, mixed use communities, where resident services are provided as a matter of course, and the public housing developments are to be integrated into the larger community structure of which they are a part.
It is in this area where the Venkatesh book falls short. How is the 30 year history of neglect, self help and petty crime at Robert Taylor to be integrated into this new future where marketplace services and safety will be the norm, and CHA residents will live in housing and community life which is thoroughly integrated into the mainstream economy and culture?
This book is a "must read" for anyone interested in the transformation of public housing in America's major cities and the possibilities for bringing content to the concept of "compassionate conservatism" in the redevelopment of public housing dominated inner city communities.
Don Samuelson - DSSA Lawyer, developer and private manager of CHA housing
Venkatesh provides a very detailed discussion of the infamous Robert Taylor Homes. He is sensitive and fair to those who called it home and community, but realistic as any outsider should and must be. If one only listens to the perspectives of public housing residents, particularly those displaced from distressed buildings, such as the Robert Taylor Homes, one will only get a biased account, and arrive at wrong or misguided conclusions.
Within the first several years of their existence, the Robert Taylor Homes quickly became among Chicago and the nation's worst public housing, a dubious distinction that would last until the buildings were razed several years ago. Venkatesh's historical analysis is well supported and substantiated.