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Last Project Standing

Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago

2015
Author:

Catherine Fennell

Last Project Standing

How the aftermath of public housing became an education in the rights and duties of belonging to the city

Focusing on a redevelopment project in Chicago, Catherine Fennell looks at the possibilities and limits of collective care, concern, and protection in the aftermath of welfare failure. Last Project Standing opens a vital new perspective on the politics of space, race, and development in urban America.

Using the case of publicly subsidized housing and its residents in Chicago, Catherine Fennell brilliantly traces the architectures of public housing decay and the so-called solutions to them as affective possibilities. Political debates over how to house the urban poor unfold as gripping ethnographic realities here, urging us to think through the materiality of sympathy.

Vincanne Adams, University of California, San Francisco

In 1995 a half-vacant public housing project on Chicago’s Near West Side fell to the wrecking ball. The demolition and reconstruction of the Henry Horner housing complex ushered in the most ambitious urban housing experiment of its kind: smaller, mixed-income, and partially privatized developments that, the thinking went, would mitigate the insecurity, isolation, and underemployment that plagued Chicago’s infamously troubled public housing projects.

Focusing on Horner’s redevelopment, Catherine Fennell asks how Chicago’s endeavor transformed everyday built environments into laboratories for teaching urbanites about the rights and obligations of belonging to a city and a nation that seemed incapable of taking care of its most destitute citizens. Drawing on more than three years of ethnographic and archival research, she shows how collisions with everything from haywire heating systems and decaying buildings to silent neighbors became an education in the possibilities, but also the limits, of collective care, concern, and protection in the aftermath of welfare failure.

As she documents how the materiality of both the unsuccessful older projects and the recently emerging housing fosters feelings of belonging and loss, her work engages larger debates in critical anthropology and poverty studies—and opens a vital new perspective on the politics of space, race, and development in urban America.

Last Project Standing

Catherine Fennell is assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University.

Last Project Standing

Using the case of publicly subsidized housing and its residents in Chicago, Catherine Fennell brilliantly traces the architectures of public housing decay and the so-called solutions to them as affective possibilities. Political debates over how to house the urban poor unfold as gripping ethnographic realities here, urging us to think through the materiality of sympathy.

Vincanne Adams, University of California, San Francisco

This book is a must-read for those concerned with public housing and its aftermath. The author has captured stories rarely heard anywhere else.

Planning Magazine

Last Project Standing

Contents

Introduction
1. Across Damen
Part I. Sympathy
“Toward a Better Life”
2. The Many Harms of Staying Here
3. Project Heat and Sensory Politics
Part II. Civics
Radio Rumors
4. Experiments in Vulnerability
5. The City, the Grassroots, the Poverty Pimps
Part III. Publics
Resurrections
6. The Museum of Resilience
Epilogue: Raising Sympathetic Publics
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index