chicago-tour.jpgThe yellow school bus rumbles through vacant lots and past demolished buildings, full of people who have paid $20 for a tour of what was once among the most dangerous areas of this or any other city in the United States.

But for the woman with the microphone, this “Ghetto Bus Tour” isn’t just another way to make a buck from tourists. It’s the last gasp in her crusade to tell a different story about Chicago’s notorious housing projects, something other than well-known tales about gang violence so fierce that residents slept in their bathtubs to avoid bullets.

“I want you to see what I see,” says Beauty Turner, after leading the group off the bus to a weedy lot where the Robert Taylor Homes once stood. “To hear the voices of the voiceless.” Turner, a former Robert Taylor Homes resident, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Chicago Housing Authority’s $1.6 billion “Plan for Transformation,” which since the late 1990s has demolished 50 of the 53 public housing high-rises and replaced them with mixed-income housing.

Officials paint a different picture
City officials have heralded the plan. But Turner believes the city that once left residents to be victimized by violent drug-dealing gangs is now pushing those same people from their homes without giving them all a place to go.

“I have people becoming homeless behind this plan, people that’s living on top of each other with relatives,” said Turner, who has given informal tours for years before the community newspaper she works for began renting the bus in January. “For some it has improved their conditions, but for the multitude of many it has not.”

Chicago Housing Authority officials say Turner glosses over the failures of public housing. They say the 25,000 units being built or rehabbed are enough for the number of people whose buildings were demolished. “She is running out of bad things to show people,” housing authority spokesman Bryan Zises said. “She is taking a circuitous route so she doesn’t have to drive by the new stuff,” including, he adds, Turner’s own home in one of the new mixed-income communities. On the tours, Turner highlights strong, black women like herself who raised their children in the projects.

Distrust runs deep
Turner takes the group by the home of one such woman, 63-year-old Carol Wallace. When the group makes its way into the dreary looking low-slung building that has not been rehabbed, Wallace tells of her suspicions that she and a lot of people like her are going to be left out of the “Plan for Transformation.”

“Overall, I think it’s just a way of getting us out of here,” said Wallace, standing in front of the door and iron security door she lives behind. “Because they’re not letting everyone back in.” allace’s home stands in stark contrast with the nostalgic picture Turner paints of the old projects. She recalls when parents like her kept an eye on the neighbor’s kids, a time when the projects shined every bit as much as the buildings now going up in their place and lawns were kept as neat as putting greens.

Glossing over the violence?
She downplays the years of violence, saying that all those news reports distorted what day-to-day life was like. All the horror stories that you heard about in the newspapers, it was not like that at all,” she said.

But the stories loom over the tour. They are impossible to forget. By the time the city started pulling down or rehabilitating the projects in the late 1990s, each one had its own headlines that spoke to the failure of public housing in Chicago.

At Cabrini-Green a boy was struck by a bullet and killed as he walked hand-in-hand with his mother. At the Ida B. Wells project, a 5-year-old boy was dangled and then deliberately dropped to his death from a 14-story window by two other children.

And at Robert Taylor, where the illegal drug trade thrived, a rookie police officer was shot to death on a stakeout outside a gang drug base. Turner could even add her own story. She saw a teenage boy shot on the very day she arrived at the Robert Taylor Homes in 1986.

Message confounds many
Her approach had some on the tour shaking their heads. Are they romanticizing these communities?” asked Mark Weinberg, a 44-year-old Chicago lawyer. “These were drug-ridden, violent neighborhoods where people wanted to live a good life but couldn’t.”

D. Bradford Hunt, a Roosevelt University professor writing a book about Chicago’s public housing, said he appreciated that Turner told the story from the perspective of tenants but wasn’t quite sure what to make of the commentary. People got killed,” he said. “You don’t make that story up.”

Still, Turner says the city has a duty to keep the community that law-abiding citizens of public housing built up over the decades, despite their challenges. That is what she fears is being lost, and why she’ll keep giving the bus tour.

“People that come in don’t want to look across the street and see seven little black churches in a three-block radius,” she said. “What they want to see is a Dominick’s and sushi joints and a Starbucks.”

Source: AP & MSNBC

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  • Jamela

    A mess…

  • Johanna

    another sad moment in our history

  • It takes all kind to make a world. Everyone wasn’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth. If there was not a demand for her tour she wouldn’t be doing it. Has anyone ever heard of the law of supply and demand?

  • Mae

    Your right Doreen, but a tour about it! I would go too if I didn’t know better. She needs to drop the tour and build the community – not have others come to negatively gawk at it.

  • I have listen with an open mind as well as with open heart and open ears to those who think they know why I do what I do.
    The tours are a necessary vehical to show the world what Chicago is tying to hide.
    Just like Mamie Till showed her sons Emmit Till mangle body- she showed the face of racism.
    The same holds true here in America today.
    What the residents of public housing are expriencing is racism- here is a question you need to ask yourselves “Does the Chicago Police Department come into your communities and fill out contact cards on you?” Have anyone from the city came into your communities and forced you to move by the thousands?
    Mary Sistrunk is a young mther of six have moved 16 times with a Housing Choice Section 8 Voucher since 1998- there are many more Marys.
    Anyone in their right minds should be asking what is happening to the people.
    There is a 1.6 billion dollars plan (tax payer money) taking place right here in your back yards- a plan that will affect the whole world- but many of you rather keep your blinder on- This tour gives you an opportunity to see with your own eyes on how this plan is working or not.
    because guess what like the bible said- the poor will be among you always.
    And from the way the economy is going today there will be more poor than rich.
    Before anyone of you judge a book by it cover- read it first!
    A wise man once said- an injustice anywhere is an injustice every where!
    Love Beauty