* One of Time Out Chicago's Best Books of Fall 2013
"The importance of this book cannot be overstated. High Rise Stories is essential reading for anyone interested in fair housing. The Voice of Witness series is a megaphone for our country's most marginalized voices, opening critically needed space in the national conversation on housing reform." Van Jones, Former Special Advisor to the Obama White House, author of Rebuild the Dream and The Green Collar Economy
"When I was a kid on the south side of Chicago I’d drive by the Taylor Homes or Cabrini Green and, equipped with a head full of bleak legends, wonder: 'What’s going on in there?' Now I know. This astonishing book tells us that what was going on in there was
life: loving, fighting, kindness, insanity, addiction, aspiration, terror, redemptioneverything that goes on in any human community but with the dual compressions of poverty and neglect. Audrey Petty and her team have recorded and edited these stories in a way that is joyful, novelistic, and deeply moving. High Rise Stories radically expanded my understanding of human beings." George Saunders, author of Tenth of December
"Lest we are tempted to think because the public housing towers are no longer there that they never existed, High Rise Stories captures the memories that defy demolition. The former residents are neither sentimental nor spiteful, just truthful about the ups and downs of their lives and the lives of the buildings they lived in. Petty shows deep care and respect in making sure that these histories live on, and that we listen to their wisdom."
Mary Pattillo, author of Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City
"High Rise Stories allows real residents of public housing to speak in their own voices. Their life stories are at once harrowing and inspiring, and give the lie to the myth that the projects were a monolithic hell, the people there mere victims or victimizers. The book is important reading for anyone hoping to understand Chicago in all its workings."
Ben Austen, The Last Tower
"Whatever else might be said about Chicago's Plan for Transformation, it has proved a stunningly effective disappearing act. The city did not merely demolish its high-rise public housing developments; it erased them, without regard for the identities, attachments, and histories of those for whom these communities were home. High Rise Stories is a major act of recovery and rescue. Bypassing the official narrative of enlightened urban 'transformation'as well as the social scientific folklore and magical thinking about "mixed income communities" deployed to support itAudrey Petty has done something radical: she has simply and deeply listened to residents. Her book is an extended act of neighborly hospitality. Each of the voices she has assembled is distinct. Taken together, they evoke a lost world and speak to a future in which all have an equal right to the city."
Jamie Kalven, Working With Available Light: A Family's World After Violence
"A powerful and authentic work. High Rise Stories captures the vibrant sense of community at home, as well as the challenges that existed for those who lived in Chicago's public housing developments, through a series of searing first person narratives. An important book and a very moving read." Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps
"A hard look at the consequences of poverty and flawed concepts of public housing and urban renewal." Kirkus
"The stories demand attention rather than voyeurism: though nearly all of the high rises themselves have been torn down over the last decade, the problems discussed in the book remain. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly
"A nuanced story of struggling communities, beyond the well-worn descriptions of violent, narcotic-saturated spaces." Gaper's Block
"This book accomplishes its mission to give voice to public-housing residents tenfold but is equally successful as a significant work of American urban history"Booklist
"[High Rise Stories] is informative and moving, empathetic and educational. While most of the CHA developments are gone, their influence on the demographics of Chicago life is not. As Paula Hawkins, who grew up in Cabrini-Green in the 60s and 70s, says, 'The thing is: we the landmarks. Forget a building! People are the landmarks.'" Janet Potter, The Chicago Reader
An oral history of life in the public housing projects of Chicago, where thousands of low-income black families lived from the 1950s until their demolition, which began in 2003 under an optimistically titled "Plan for Transformation." As part of a nonprofit Voices of Witness project, Petty (English/Univ. of Illinois) led a team that recorded more than two-dozen former residents of the projects, selecting 11 for inclusion here. The transcripts have been edited into coherent first-person narratives, and in some cases, the identities have been changed. The stories they tell are often alarming, filled with racial prejudice, police corruption and brutality, gang shootings, drug addiction and teen pregnancies. Though the buildings were run-down and rat-infested, many of the speakers have fond memories of a place of community, where neighbors knew each other and children played under watchful eyes. The speakers range in age from 20 to 83, and their time in the projects may have been decades or just a few years, but their voices often seem similar. Many have a common thread: feelings of displacement and regret over loss as they struggle to make new lives in unfamiliar places. Some people are on their way to a better life, studying for a career; others are finding that a prison record is tough to overcome. Following the individual narratives are a series of fact-filled appendices: a timeline of significant events in black history from 1865 to the present; a glossary of terms related to Chicago gangs, housing programs and regulations, plus a descriptive catalog of the major Chicago housing projects; an essay from Harper's on the history of the Chicago Housing Authority; an excerpt from D. Bradford Hunt's cultural history, Blueprint for Disaster (2009); and excerpts from the Chicago Housing Authority's progress report on its "Plan for Transformation." A hard look at the consequences of poverty and flawed concepts of public housing and urban renewal.