Ben Austen: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing

Russell Van Nest Black Lecture

Ben Austen is the author of High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing (Harper, 2018). A former editor at Harper's Magazine, he has written for Harper's as well as many other publications, including the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Wired, Elle, and the Atlantic. He is a Chicagoan.


The rise and fall of high-rise public housing is the story of America's ever-changing inner cities — and the story of the country's always uneasy relationship to poverty and race. Cabrini-Green, located just blocks from Chicago's ritzy Gold Coast, was the most "infamous" of these housing projects. Depicted constantly in the news, in TV shows, in horror films, Cabrini-Green became synonymous with crime, squalor, and government failure. For the thousands of people who lived there, it was also a much-needed home. What was myth and what was reality there? What went wrong in our nation's effort to provide affordable housing to the poor? What can we do now?

Cosponsored by the American Studies Program.
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