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High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing (Voice of Witness) Paperback – October 1, 2013
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In 1999, the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) Plan for Transformation instigated the relocation of thousands of families and the destruction of buildings that had once held such promise, especially for families who came to the city as part of the Great Migration. In the latest book from the admirable and acclaimed Voices of Witness oral-history series, we hear from public-housing residents. The majority of the narrators, each a memorable storyteller, have mixed feelings about seeing the high rises demolished, and we feel their confusion: these besieged towers were home but also the source of so much pain and neglect. As touching, illuminating, and valuable as these personal accounts are, Petty includes much more. The incredibly useful appendixes include a time line, glossary, and commentary from scholar D. Bradford Hunt and journalist Ben Austen. Also of great interest is an excerpt from a 2011 CHA report on 10 years of relocations and demolitions. This book accomplishes its mission to give voice to public-housing residents tenfold but is equally successful as a significant work of American urban history. --Annie Tully
"The importance of this book cannot be overstated. High Rise Stories is essential reading for anyone interested in fair housing. The Voice of Witness series is a megaphone for our country's most marginalized voices, opening critically needed space in the national conversation on housing reform." Van Jones, Former Special Advisor to the Obama White House, author of Rebuild the Dream and The Green Collar Economy
"When I was a kid on the south side of Chicago I’d drive by the Taylor Homes or Cabrini Green and, equipped with a head full of bleak legends, wonder: 'What’s going on in there?' Now I know. This astonishing book tells us that what was going on in there was life: loving, fighting, kindness, insanity, addiction, aspiration, terror, redemptioneverything that goes on in any human community but with the dual compressions of poverty and neglect. Audrey Petty and her team have recorded and edited these stories in a way that is joyful, novelistic, and deeply moving. High Rise Stories radically expanded my understanding of human beings." George Saunders, author of Tenth of December
"Lest we are tempted to think because the public housing towers are no longer there that they never existed, High Rise Stories captures the memories that defy demolition. The former residents are neither sentimental nor spiteful, just truthful about the ups and downs of their lives and the lives of the buildings they lived in. Petty shows deep care and respect in making sure that these histories live on, and that we listen to their wisdom."
Mary Pattillo, author of Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City
"High Rise Stories allows real residents of public housing to speak in their own voices. Their life stories are at once harrowing and inspiring, and give the lie to the myth that the projects were a monolithic hell, the people there mere victims or victimizers. The book is important reading for anyone hoping to understand Chicago in all its workings."
Ben Austen, The Last Tower
"Whatever else might be said about Chicago's Plan for Transformation, it has proved a stunningly effective disappearing act. The city did not merely demolish its high-rise public housing developments; it erased them, without regard for the identities, attachments, and histories of those for whom these communities were home. High Rise Stories is a major act of recovery and rescue. Bypassing the official narrative of enlightened urban 'transformation'as well as the social scientific folklore and magical thinking about "mixed income communities" deployed to support itAudrey Petty has done something radical: she has simply and deeply listened to residents. Her book is an extended act of neighborly hospitality. Each of the voices she has assembled is distinct. Taken together, they evoke a lost world and speak to a future in which all have an equal right to the city."
Jamie Kalven, Working With Available Light: A Family's World After Violence
"A powerful and authentic work. High Rise Stories captures the vibrant sense of community at home, as well as the challenges that existed for those who lived in Chicago's public housing developments, through a series of searing first person narratives. An important book and a very moving read." Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps
"A hard look at the consequences of poverty and flawed concepts of public housing and urban renewal." Kirkus
"The stories demand attention rather than voyeurism: though nearly all of the high rises themselves have been torn down over the last decade, the problems discussed in the book remain. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly
"A nuanced story of struggling communities, beyond the well-worn descriptions of violent, narcotic-saturated spaces." Gaper's Block
"This book accomplishes its mission to give voice to public-housing residents tenfold but is equally successful as a significant work of American urban history"Booklist
"[High Rise Stories] is informative and moving, empathetic and educational. While most of the CHA developments are gone, their influence on the demographics of Chicago life is not. As Paula Hawkins, who grew up in Cabrini-Green in the 60s and 70s, says, 'The thing is: we the landmarks. Forget a building! People are the landmarks.'" Janet Potter, The Chicago Reader
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Top Customer Reviews
Each chapter is narrated by someone who lived in Chicago Public Housing. It is their story of their experience. And reading each chapter is like listening to the Moth radio show. Some of the individuals are frustrating. Some, I’d like to reach out and hug. This book provides a real look inside the lives of the people who lived there. You are invited inside.
My conflict came with the very first chapter, Delores's story. Delores lived in public housing her entire life. Her husband was head custodian for one of the buildings and she had a good desk job with the city. She had four or five children and yet they still lived in subsidized housing paid for by tax dollars. This bothers me. She is intelligent, hard working and so is her husband. There is no reason she should have continued to have children if that fact would cause them not to be able to afford to pay for her own housing. Subsidized housing isn't cushion to work in extra kids and vacations! She had it a lot better than many, and even had a free apartment because of her husband's job. She was an activist and a wonderful citizen. Couldn't she have been an usher OUT of there to her good neighbors, since they seemed to have it going on more than some folks? They traveled to Jamaica and the Bahamas by her own admission, countless times. What is THAT?! The first priority should be getting off subsidized living and paying your own way. And she's talking about Daddy Bush coming to see them and his calling her a model citizen? That's no compliment, of course he wanted to keep blacks segregated in that hell and call it heaven. I'm sorry she bought his lie.
I am constantly defending people who rely on public assistance. I'm no stranger to it. I grew up in a roach infested tenement. My Mother temporarily needed food stamps when I was a baby, but stopped them when the need was no longer there. My friends have needed it as a means to an end, that end ultimately meaning they are self supporting. I used to bristle when people would talk about folks living a good life on welfare or any kind of public subsidizing. I would defend it and say it's not exactly living high on the hog! I now see I'm the fool.