Half of his dream was realized. Large chunks of black neighborhoods were covered with towering monoliths run by the Chicago Housing Authority. CHA row houses, such as those built in the decade after the authority's 1937 founding, were overshadowed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by huge high-rise projects that planners hoped would house many more poor families relatively cheaply. But instead of supplanting shoddy housing, the complexes became hot zones for an array of social problems.
Even as the mayor welcomed the Weston family, the idea that places like Robert Taylor Homes would be humane replacements for slums was starting to crack. Many of the high-rise complexes were poorly constructed. Unemployment at CHA developments ran as high as 90 percent, and residents were at least twice as likely to be the victims of serious crime as other Chicagoans. The concentration of the poorest of the poor transformed Chicago's public housing into a national emblem of the failures of government-run shelter.
While many of the CHA's high-rises were built at a time when the civil rights movement seemed to be striking blows for racial and economic equality, Chicago and many other cities were sowing the seeds of an underclass of mostly black citizens who seemed consigned to live their lives in these vertical ghettos. James Weston and his family moved out of the Taylor project after five years, but that was a rare example of public housing serving as a stopping place on the way to a better life. Admitting the failure of densely packed high-rises, the CHA began demolishing buildings at Cabrini-Green and Henry Horner Homes in 1995 and is razing many more.