Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Glorifying the Ghetto

Just when you’d thought you’d heard everything, comes Beauty Turner (pictured above), a Chicago woman obsessed with romanticizing the inner city projects that the city of Chicago has begun tearing down.

"I want you to see what I see," says Beauty Turner, after leading the group off the bus to a weedy lot where the Robert Taylor Homes once stood. "To hear the voices of the voiceless."

Turner is a former Robert Taylor Homes resident, and has been one of the most vocal critics of the Chicago Housing Authority's $1.6 billion "Plan for Transformation," which since the late 1990s has demolished 50 of the 53 public housing high-rises — including Cabrini-Green — and replaced them with mixed-income housing.

City officials have heralded the plan. But Turner believes the city, once accused of leaving residents to be victimized by violent drug-dealing gangs, is now pushing those same people from their homes without giving them all a place to go.

"I have people becoming homeless behind this plan, people that's living on top of each other with relatives," said Turner, who has given informal tours for years before the community newspaper she works for began renting the bus in January and charging tourists $20 for the ride. "For some it has improved their conditions, but for the multitude of many it has not."

Chicago Housing Authority officials claim that Turner is glossing over the failures of public housing. They say the 25,000 units being built or rehabbed are enough for the number of people whose buildings were demolished.

"She is running out of bad things to show people," housing authority spokesman Bryan Zises said. "She is taking a circuitous route so she doesn't have to drive by the new stuff," including, he adds, Turner's own home in one of the new mixed-income communities.

On the tours, Turner talks about the strong, black women like herself who raised their children in the projects.

"This is where people lived, played, stayed and died here, just like in your area. ... Children played here," she tells the students, academics, activists and residents of Chicago and surrounding suburbs who take the tour — most of them white and visiting a part of Chicago they've only seen on television or from the expressway.

She downplays the years of violence, saying that all those news reports distorted what day-to-day life was like.

"All the horror stories that you heard about in the newspapers, it was not like that at all," she said.

But the stories loom over the tour. They are impossible to forget. By the time the city started pulling down or rehabilitating the projects in the late 1990s, each one had its own headlines that spoke to the failure of public housing in Chicago.

According to reports, a young boy, at Cabrini-Green was struck by a bullet and killed as he walked hand-in-hand with his mother.

At the Ida B. Wells project, a 5-year-old boy was dangled and then deliberately dropped to his death from a 14-story window by two other children.

And at Robert Taylor, where the illegal drug trade thrived, a rookie police officer was shot to death on a stakeout outside a gang drug base.

Turner could even add her own story. She saw a teenage boy shot on the very day she arrived at the Robert Taylor Homes in 1986.

Her approach had some on the tour shaking their heads.

"Are they romanticizing these communities?" asked Mark Weinberg, a 44-year-old Chicago lawyer. "These were drug-ridden, violent neighborhoods where people wanted to live a good life but couldn't."

They were also home to many, many dysfunctional people who made it next to impossible for the beleagured decent residents to forge a decent life. The really strange thing here is a woman waxing nostalgic over those concrete tombs that were the Housing Projects built in the 50's & 60's, while opposing a $1.6 Billion rennovation project that not only upgrades the housing stock in the area, but promises a home for all of the people displaced by the demolition of those Housing Projects...and ironically enough, the woman waxing nostaligic about the Housing Projects, HERSELF, lives in one of the newly renovated residences!

Well, at least they're making money on the bus tour. That's Capitalism in action!


Anonymous said...

I think what Beauty Turner is doig is great!
Too many other people who never lived in public housings are telling the stories of what is happening to the residents doing this plan.
But no body knows better than someone who lived there such as Beauty.
Plus she worked with a prominent Professor and Sociologist y the name of SUDHIR VENKATESH from Columba University who just happen to agree with what she is saying.
Plus she have the whole world talking about public housings again
go head on with your bad self Beauty!

JMK said...

The problem here is that the woman who is waxing nostaligic about the Housing Projects (Beauty Turner), HERSELF, lives in one of the newly renovated residences.

The verdict is in. Cities acroiss the nation are dismantling the giant slab Housing Projects erected during the 50s & 60s in favor of more low-density housing units.

Anonymous said...

You are just mad that you didn't come up with such a unique way of drawing attention to a very important issue that concerns numerous of low income people lives!
If it was ten of thousands of rich people being moved around you could bet that all of the news media would have been on top of it fromthe start
like they should have been concerning the poor last I looked this is still
the land of the free, snd the brave.
And guess what Beauty is one of the "BRAVE" Keep it up, keep America on her toes! and the torch that the lady of liberty hold burning.

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