In his eighth chapter of City of Rhetoric, David Fleming presents the argument between two diametrically opposed poles: the public and the tenants of Cabrini Green. The chapter titled “Home: 1230 North Burling Street” expands upon two important perspectives when it comes to the Chicagoan community. Though they widely differ, both perspectives offer insight to how the environment can improve, as Fleming later on in the chapter points out with the RMC (resident management corporation) or with a change in outlook.
In first place, the general perception consists of a negative point of view. Outsiders believe Cabrini Green is an uninhabitable place to live, and they think even worse of the people who actually live in these apartments. Fleming mentions that the black Chicagoan community is seen as incapable of taking care of themselves; they are perceived to need the external help of, typically, the Caucasian ‘superior’ (149). Outsiders indubitably see the black tenants of Cabrini Green as incapable of creating sustainable and safe homes.
On the other hand, the tenants of Cabrini Green widely disagree and differ from the public perception. Obviously, there are still those inhabitants who would prefer nothing more than moving out and finding somewhere else or better to live. However, for the large part, Cabrini Green’s residents simply want to live in peace in their apartments because that is where they have built a home, and where they feel comfortable. Fleming utilizes the example of Cora Moore, who expressed the feeling of long-term family created within the apartment building and served as a beacon of light for the rest of the residents (173). The tenants are proud of where they are from, are entirely incapable of making homes for themselves, and do not want to see their homes fly to the wind of destruction and oblivion.
Fleming writes of a useful organization abbreviated as RMC in Cabrini Green, specifically in 1230 North Burling, that helps the residents take positions of leadership and keep the site from being a dangerous one–the go-to assumption of the outsider. And it is not that the latter is wrong; the leaders of the town had to take matters into their own hands to keep gangsters from stirring up trouble in their home turf (Fleming 169). But because of this, 1230 North Burling has become an exemplary area of Cabrini Green in which its black women have performed as guidance and kept their place safe and productive enough to be considered a home for and by anyone.
However, these tenants are still deemed just short-term inhabitants of their homes. Public housing is seen as a temporary thing, a stepping stone to get to the next stage of one’s life. The residents of Cabrini Green do not appreciate this label. People assume they are poor and want to get out of said living situation. However, Fleming insists Cabrini Green’s inhabitants want to be considered just as human as the next person in a rich, white town. Even if they did not ask for it in the first place, these tenants have homes in Cabrini Green, and they want their permanence in the public housing complex established.
In this chapter, the word ‘empowerment’ is thrown around a lot. This is where the change of an outlook mentioned in the introduction comes in. Fleming suggests, in favor of the public housing residents, they be entitled to the right of staying in their communities without the risk of them getting demolished and the right to move elsewhere freely, for example a predominantly white neighborhood (166). The tenants, from this perspective, should find themselves able to inhabit comfortably wherever they feel realistically fit for.
Fleming’s argument raises a stake in modern-day society because the author informs us that what we see on the outside is not necessarily the same thing as on the inside. Fleming makes a clear distinction between what the public thinks from what the actual residents feel like in the chapter: he divides the two perspectives into sections where each opinion is established. Even though the public perception means something, the residents’ point of view means more. After all, they are the ones who live there. In the end, all these tenants want is a choice. The choice to be able to live in their homes in Cabrini Green, 1230 North Burling Street, in peace, or the choice to move out into whichever neighborhood they feel their lives take them next.
Check out this spectacular website about Cabrini Green, if you want a better glimpse into the life within. All of the images were acquired from there.