Open Mike Eagle, born and raised in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles after college, and for the most part, he didn’t look back. He joined the hip hop collective Project Blowed, formed the trio Thirsty Fish with Dumbfoundead and Psychosiz, released his first solo album Unapologetic Art Rap in 2010, and has a forthcoming stand-up and music show, The New Negroes, on Comedy Central that he will co-host with comedian Baron Vaughn. But on his most recent album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream—a hazy, dark, powerful, and sometimes sweet recollection of the Robert Taylor Homes and their demolition, he comes home. The album reimagines the story of the Robert Taylor Homes, imbuing it with equal parts childhood fantasies, fuzzy memories, and the real-world darkness of a city that isolated, ignored, and then forcibly displaced thousands of its most vulnerable residents. This mix is perfectly encapsulated by the video for “Brick Body Complex”: Eagle plays Iron Hood, a superhero trying to warn residents that their building is coming down, fight back against gentrification, and stop the city’s demolition; in the end, at the moment when it seems Iron Hood has stopped the demolition, the cops show up to haul him off to jail.
There are so many little things that make living in Calumet Heights special, insignificant things really, but the older I get, the more I realize that little things are what matter most to me in life. My neighborhood has no great monuments except for a few charming churches where neighbors gather to give thanks each Sunday. The parks I enjoyed in my youth can’t rival their more famous cousins downtown. Our major thoroughfare, Stony Island, is a workhorse that funnels suburban commuters to the north, not one of the beaux arts visions that sprang from the minds of Burnham or Olmsted when our city was keen to flex its muscles to the world. Even the sleepy little street where I grew up, Ridgeland Avenue, is eclipsed by its more famous sibling to the west, but despite these things I couldn’t be more proud to call this place home.
“We were one of the original five black families on the block,” says Handy, who still lives in the family home. In those days, Handy says, “block clubs only did parties,” because “the neighborhood had young families with kids.” Today, most of the residents are older, and most of the children have grown and moved away. “One of the challenges when [the Ridgeland Block Club Association] started was finding a reason to exist,” Handy says, “we are trying to be more relevant in our focus for our residents.”
$1 lots from Englewood to Pullman
On February 19, President Obama—with Mayor Emanuel at his side—announced the designation of Pullman as a National Monument to a crowd of cheering supporters at Gwendolyn Brooks Preparatory Academy. For the Emanuel campaign, the announcement was a valuable pre-election coup: “Rahm hasn’t just fought for a national park in Pullman. He’s fought for new opportunity and new jobs in Pullman and for every Chicagoan in every neighborhood,” said Obama. For residents of Pullman, who have been working to have the area recognized by the National Parks Service, the moment was the culmination of a five-decade grassroots movement to preserve the neighborhood’s rich historical and architectural value.
In 1995, Henry Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Clinton administration, called Bronzeville’s Robert Taylor Homes “without question, the worst public housing in America today.” Though the homes are gone, their legacy remains a sore spot in the history of Chicago’s public housing. Continue reading