Transforming CHA: New Lights on Dark Passage

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Many evenings I have been very apprehensive as I made my way home to the Harold Ickes development from my daily pastime of caring for my granddaughter, who lives nine miles away. Traveling north on South State Street has been a disturbing experience of watching darkness engulf the Chicago Housing Authority buildings along the State Street Corridor.

Along those blocks from 54th to 21st streets, where a large segment of the city’s public housing is located, residents moving about become mere shadows without true shape or form. Buildings also are not truly defined as shadows blend one into another.

Children’s laughter from a night-time game sometimes bursts from the semi-darkness; the children do not realize their invisibility from a passing vehicle. Gloom and foreboding create the face of hopelessness that looks out onto the world.

These images have survived for over 30 years. These scenes were landmarks boasting nothing, producing a misleading representation of the whole population. Finally, the demolition of select buildings has given way to empty, dark areas and the disruption of familiar sights and street guides.

One cold evening in December 2000 about 7 p.m. after dark, while traveling home as usual, I noticed as I passed the Dearborn Homes development that I could see people’s faces as they moved about the grounds. Then I noticed that I wanted to keep looking because somehow it looked good over that way.

I refocused my vision and said to myself, “Why, it looks like Hollywood.” I wondered if some company was shooting a nighttime scene for a movie.

As I reached the southern boundary of Harold L. Ickes Homes, I realized that floodlights had been put into place on the reverse side of the regular streetlights, making the buildings look desirable for living.

But the best part was yet to come, as I approached my building from the rear, it was almost as bright as day. I didn’t have to search around the area to check out the shadows and narrow places. I recognized neighbors who sat in their cars and exchanged waves of holiday greetings.

I changed my steps as I walked along the path to the entrance. No need to hurry. I would be able to truly see the steps and anyone approaching. Even the stairwells have a new type of lighting fixture – one that is not easily destroyed or removed. I could finally be pleased because of what this would mean for children’s safety. No unexpected encounters with strangers in the dark stairwells. More visibility aids security and lawfulness.

Of course, the new lights are not solely for the benefit of the residents, or you could look at it two ways. Any attempt at improving the quality of life for residents is affected by elements both within and without.

On Jan. 29, CHA CEO Terry Peterson held a press conference on the grounds of Hilliard Homes to reveal the extent of CHA’s commitment toward improving the quality of life for all residents in as many ways as possible. He revealed a budget for a wide range of quality of life improvements already in place and on going.

“Last year, new boilers and elevators have replaced old and worn out ones in some developments,” he said. He also explained that it takes a lot of money to maintain important everyday quality of life improvements.

Speaking specifically of the new lights and their worth, Peterson expressed his plans to improve lighting for all CHA housing developments, naming Hilliard, Ickes and the State Street Corridor as well as developments on the west and north sides.

“They will compare to the flood lights used throughout the city in alley ways and other darkened areas where people have to pass through, Peterson reported.

All in all, the new lights are a good thing for children, adults, seniors and the “quality of life improvements” on-going within CHA public housing.

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