Robert Taylor On Line


Robert Taylor Homes still exists – on the Internet.

The last building in the Robert Taylor public housing development was demolished in 2006.

Just a few dozen replacement units have been built, and most of the hundreds of thousands of people who lived in Robert Taylor’s high-rises over the decades have scattered all over the globe.

But on the social networking site Facebook, a ‘fan page’ for Robert Taylor has more than 2,300 members at this writing, with about 100 more added every week.

On the outside, Robert Taylor Homes was known mostly for the violence fueled by street gangs and drug dealers. Newspaper stories and television features about Robert Taylor almost always included descriptions of dark, dirty hallways and tenants desperate to get out. But for Robert Taylor Homes’ ‘fans,’ the high-rise buildings were home, a place to form community and build lifelong relationships with neighbors.

Even though there are frank discussions of the crime and violence, the most popular posts are those that recall good times.

On Valentine’s Day this year, someone posted the following message: “Y’all remember people used to sell icy cups? I have not had one of those since the buildings have been gone.”

More than 100 people made positive comments about this post. Many were similar to this one, “We had ice cups in all flavors because I loved them things.”

Another fan wrote this, “Shout out to Mrs. Jackson from my building. She made the finest icy cups!!!”

In some ways, the Robert Taylor fan site is like a web site for people who graduated from the same high school or who grew up in the same small town. They plan reunions, get in touch with long-lost friends, and reminisce about old times.

Sometimes, reading the comments on the Robert Taylor Homes fan page reveals that the things which were so terrifying to outsiders were not so frightening to those who lived there. A darkened hallway was an opportunity for games of hide-and-go-seek and ding-dong-ditch, or just to lie outside and stare at the sky.

What makes the Robert Taylor site different are the conversations about what happened to their community. Most people can go back to their home towns, even if things have changed dramatically from the time they left.

The former Robert Taylor residents currently have only empty fields where their homes once stood. Once the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation is completed – whenever it’s completed – the new mixed-income developments planned for the vacant land will have different names and mainly different residents.

On Jan. 16, the Robert Taylor fan page administrator posted the following question: “How do you feel about public housing being torn down and in which way did it affect your life?”

More than 50 people responded, most with comments that placed the blame for the demolition on the behavior of residents:
Resonda wrote, “If everyone missed the projects so much then people should have stopped what they were doing and they would still be standing.”

On March 20, Charrie wrote, “You cannot deny that some of the children and adults were out of control and when the government saw this, it was a ripe opportunity to come in and take over. Look at the Cabrini-Green building where the residents BOUGHT the building from CHA and had ownership!! That DID belong to them and they had the right to do what they chose to, but it was for the best. There were some destructive behavior going on and in a sense, we destroyed ourselves and our community!”

This discussion was sad for me to read. No one talked about how the CHA’s Plan for Transformation wasted millions of dollars on ‘good neighbor’ programs and ‘service connectors’ that even they now admit didn’t work. No one talked about the CHA’s failure to build promised mixed-income housing in a timely manner, which would have allowed residents to return to the community.

Instead, it seems that most of the former Robert Taylor residents blame themselves for the demolition of the high-rises. But it’s fair to say that the Robert Taylor fan site – and many more sites dedicated to other developments and individual buildings – wouldn’t exist in the first place unless the conventional wisdom about public housing was wrong. That a fan page for Robert Taylor exists at all indicates that the bonds of community formed by tenants were not so toxic as the powers that be would have us believe.

“They can take our neighborhood but they can’t take us,” wrote one of the Robert Taylor fans.

The existence of the Robert Taylor fan page is a sign post for how quickly we are rushing down the Internet superhighway and what our destination will look like.

It is difficult today to get an education, look for a job, apply for job and do many other basic things without going on line. Almost everyone knows how to check out videos on YouTube and send e-mail.

In addition to the standard desktop computer with a wire connecting to the Internet, you can get on-line with a laptop that picks up a wireless Internet signal, through your phone, or through a new digital-ready television.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly three out of four Americans now have Internet access at home, and even more – 78 percent – consider themselves “Internet users.”

This may be progress, but like most things in this country, it is progressing unevenly.

The FCC found that African Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, senior citizens and those who live in rural areas are lagging behind everyone else in Internet usage. The FCC was particularly worried about the number of people who don’t have access to a high-speed broadband connection, which is needed to use most web sites and see videos.

Just 40 percent of people whose family income is below $20,000 a year use broadband regularly, no surprise since the cost of broadband at home ranges from about $37 per month to more than $46 per month.
Incidentally, that’s why you are reading this story in print rather than on-line.

Residents’ Journal is a news source for low-income people all over Chicago, and while most of our readers are as ‘Internet literate’ as anyone else, they are a population that cannot afford to get access at home.

For the moment, print is still a more reliable way for our readers to get and store their news and information.

Maybe not for much longer, however.

Residents’ Journal may go on-line if the FCC has its way. Just a month after the FCC released this report, the agency produced their solutions to the problems they identified.

On March 16, the FCC presented the US Congress and the American people with “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan.”

The FCC plan aims to reduce prices for broadband service and make it available everywhere. The FCC plans to pump out billions of dollars to make broadband universal and affordable.

The FCC’s proposal has attracted little attention amid the efforts of President Barack Obama’s administration to give everyone access to affordable health care reform, the wars we are fighting overseas, and the ongoing financial crisis.

But as the Robert Taylor fan page proves, the Internet is a way for people to maintain that sense of community which is so elusive in this new age.

Public housing tenants have always known how to forge and maintain their own bonds of community – especially when others told them their community didn’t even exist in the first place.

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