A Reading Analysis
In the seventh chapter of his book, City of Rhetoric, David Fleming exposes the disconnect between those living in the Cabrini Green homes and those financially stable enough to live outside the housing project. Fleming delivers this exposé through discussing the Cabrini Green homes as seen by outsiders and contrasts that description with discussion of how the Cabrini Green homes are seen by residents. He then hones in on one building of the Cabrini Green homes to further paint the insider’s perspective.
From the outsider’s perspective, the inhabitants of the Cabrini Green homes are poor, incapable, and failing, Fleming explains. They are viewed as “incapable of building and sustaining their own communities” and as people that can only participate in “positions of subordination” (149). They fail, outsiders believe, at providing for themselves and their families and require the help of middle- and upper-class whites (149). The outsiders describe the housing projects as “hellish high-rises,” as they were noted in a publication from the Chicago Tribune (152). Because the outsiders view the housing projects and its residents so negatively and as inferior, they were looking forward to the plans of the homes being demolished. One woman named Verdell Wade said, upon hearing about the plans to reduce to rubble four Chicago housing projects, “I will be very happy to see them down” (157). Many other people shared similar enthusiasm to Wade; the support among the middle- and upper-classes to take down the high-rises was plentiful.
However, the support among the Cabrini Green housing residents to have the buildings destroyed was not so existent. The residents, or at least the ones represented in Fleming’s work, “feared for their future” when they heard of the plans to destroy the Cabrini Green buildings. “We deserve to own our apartments . . . It’s not a project for me, it’s home,” they argued (173). The residents, in contrast with the belittling views held by others, “are capable of speaking on [their] own behalf” (159). This quote was a response to the lack of control the residents were given over their living spaces. The housing projects were controlled entirely by people not living within them. The residents felt that if they were given some power and authority, they would be able to make well-informed decisions about what to do with that power and how to better the Cabrini Green housing developments.
The residents view their housing as a community, like any other neighborhood–whether it be in a city or a suburb. In one of the Cabrini Green buildings, the one at 1230 North Burling Street, a group of mothers took it upon themselves to form a 24/7 surveillance watch group in an effort to “protect their children and their property” (168). This group of people formed what they later called the RMC, which stands for Resident Management Corporation. The RMC sought to provide programs and services “to better the lives and living conditions of the residents of 1230 North Burling” and “to ensure a decent, safe, and wholesome environment for the residents of these apartments” (170).
Fleming brings this disconnect among the perceptions of the Cabrini Green homes and their inhabitants to the reader’s attention. If the misperceptions held by others not in the housing projects exist in Chicago, they can likely exist in the surroundings of any housing developments. Fleming helps the reader become aware that, maybe, letting residents have power and control over their living environment will allow decisions about the housing to be better- and well-informed, which can create a tighter, healthier community.
Fleming, David. City of rhetoric: revitalizing the public sphere in metropolitan America. SUNY Press, 2008.