A city within itself: Altgeld Gardens and public housing’s utopia | Intellect Skip to content
1981
Volume 9, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2050-9790
  • E-ISSN: 2050-9804

Abstract

Altgeld Gardens is one of Chicago’s last remaining family public housing developments after the city’s large-scale conversion of public housing into mixed-income communities. Located at the far southern edge of the city, the community today is an island of poverty, disconnected from city services, jobs, amenities and even grocery stores. In this article, I draw on architectural plans and historic housing authority documents to demonstrate that Altgeld’s current condition is a far cry from how planners envisioned the community: as nothing short of a utopian housing development capable of supporting workers and their families and indeed, inculcating an ideal, modern citizen that would justify public investment in housing for the poor. Altgeld was, centrally, envisioned as a city for children, a kind of paradise where young, low-income Chicago families could overcome poverty and model respectability. Throughout, I draw upon theories of utopian communities to argue that geographic and social isolation was the precondition for planners’ utopian imaginations, but that isolation has also, ironically, only exacerbated Altgeld’s problems over the decades. Altgeld thus offers an instructive case study, illustrating both the modernist hopes embedded in early public housing plans and their limitations. Unlike its whiter, more affluent suburban counterparts, Altgeld is a case study in what happens when communities are isolated by policy, rather than by choice.

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2022-06-01
2024-04-15
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