Aerial view of Dan Ryan Expressway (1964)

Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway passed right through the predominantly black residential neighborhoods on the city’s South Side. Over 3200 parcels of property were demolished in so-called “blighted” areas that were eligible to be improved by urban renewal schemes. Many of the residents affected by the land clearing were relocated to high-rise government housing projects. When the Robert Taylor Homes opened in 1962, the complex featured 4,415 units scattered in twenty-eight identical sixteen-story edifices. It was the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) most ambitious project at the time, deemed the world’s largest governmental housing complex. The high-rises stretched for two miles along a narrow strip of land wedged between State Street to the east, and the Illinois Central Railroad and Dan Ryan Expressway to the west.. This 1964 photograph accentuates the physical isolation this complex located a mere five miles south of the Loop (visible in the background). Large grassy plots surrounding each building were intended for recreational purposes. In this image, however, they appear devoid of human activity. Though many residents initially welcomed construction of the projects, and regarded their new homes as improvements, in time they became centers of poverty and crime. The physical isolation from the surrounding community and dehumanizing regimentation imposed by the project architecture contributed the decline and fall of this social experiment. This photograph, perhaps produced in 1964 to convey the modernity and progressive of the expressway and the housing project, creates quite the opposite impression when seen in retrospect—of the sterility and isolation of the projects and of the disruptive effect of the exceptionally wide expressway that paralleled existing railroad lines.

 

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“Aerial View of Dan Ryan Expressway, Northeast from 51st Street.” Photograph. 1964. Chicago History Museum, ICHi-23505