Ryan Flynn, freelance photographer, Cabrini-Green buff
In 2005, Flynn moved into his condo in the Old Town Village West mixed-income development across the street from Cabrini-Green. With a camera and a paintbrush, he began documenting the demolition of the notorious high-rise housing projects on Cabrini-Green.com. The 31-year-old recently posted a time-lapse slide show of the methodical razing of 660 West Division Street, completed late last month. (People still reside in the few Cabrini-Green buildings that remain.)
Many people look at the burnt-out, boarded-up windows of Cabrini-Green as an eyesore, but you see beauty.
With the demolition, the veil has finally been torn back. After all these years of people being terrified of what goes on in these buildings, wrecking crews are revealing stuff like children’s rooms with rainbow paintings on the walls. You’re seeing that these were actual family apartments, not just crack dens.
Have you ever been inside?
I took a tour recently with another blogger whose cousin is a resident. There had been a shooting the night before on the tenth floor, but we didn’t have any problems. The buildings have so much character inside. It’s literally written on the walls: Many residents wrote their names and the names of all their deceased relatives, as well as random gang tags and graffiti that I couldn’t decipher.
As a condo owner, are you happy about Cabrini’s demolition?
I have mixed emotions. When I purchased, I was aware that it wasn’t the best neighborhood. Other neighborhoods didn’t have as much room to grow as this one did. So I’m looking forward to the day when it’ll be a nicer ’hood. On the other side of the coin, I’ve met a lot of people who used to live in Cabrini—some of whom are now my neighbors—and have fond memories there and who are really sad to see it go.
So no gentrifier’s guilt?
Well, [Laughs] I feel bad about people who were displaced and really had no other options. But I love the idea of mixed-income developments. I’ve made great friends with some of my neighbors, more so than when I lived in Lakeview and never talked to my neighbors.
What complaints do you hear from Cabrini-Green residents, current or former?
That the story of Cabrini-Green is always the story of the bad things that happened there. They want people to know that there were a lot of great people and families that lived there. It was a strong community. That fact gets forgotten.