I had the opportunity to help out again this year with the National Public Housing Museum’s exhibit for the second Chicago Architecture Biennial. The office space was used as the venue, and Archeworks the host and owner of the space co-curated a portion of the show. Housing as a Human Right: Social Construction was the title, and it reflects both the mission of the museum and key aspects of public housing the show focused on: health, policing, activism, entrepreneurial acts. I assisted with researching and coordinating visuals and writing and organizing interpretive text. The team did a wonderful job, and the opening was packed full of visitors. The exhibit has been extended through February, and it’s worth a visit.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum hosted an event soon after the opening, which addressed the current state of public housing in Chicago. Shaq McDonald, of the film 70 Acres in Chicago, led a walking tour of the nearby Cabrini low-rise apartments and the surrounding neighborhood. He talked about his memories of housing in the years before a majority of it was closed by the CHA, and about the current tension between long-time public housing residents and the new, affluent condo and homeowners in the area. I appreciated his insight and openness in walking us through his home. I was conflicted with the notion of a large group of outsiders acting as tourists, but Shaq was good about setting some ground rules. This will be an ongoing challenge for the museum: avoiding any exoticisation of public housing and “othering” of its residents.
The tour was followed up by a panel discussion of CHA’s Plan for Transformation and wider issues of the deprioritization of public housing and other support systems in cities across the United States. Shaq was joined by Roberta Feldman and Chuy Garcia, and they addressed a wide range of factors contributing to the unfortunate state of housing today. The audience was active in asking questions and bringing in additional personal experiences. While it was a frustrating topic to learn more about, it was encouraging to be filled by a room of folks who obviously want the status quo to change for the better.