February 29, 2012
A moving man knocked on Jacqueline Pratt's row house door Tuesday to see if she was ready to leave the ghost town.
"I'm not rushing you," the mover said, and that was good because even though this week is the exit deadline, she wasn't ready.
Outside 904 N. Mohawk St., the towers of the Gold Coast, bright with glass and steel, dwarfed the little brick row houses and a gaggle of homeless white refrigerators parked near a curb. Brown boards sealed off almost every door.
Pratt was eager to leave. It's just that she had things to do.
"Knowing I'm fixing to get out of here," she said when I dropped by, "I feel good."
In Pratt's small kitchen, all the dishes had been washed and stacked to dry. Mated socks sat on the dining table. The boxes were mostly packed.
What hadn't been handled were details involving the new two-bedroom place where the Chicago Housing Authority was moving her and a granddaughter. She'd been told she couldn't bring her washer and dryer so she was looking to sell. Now that asthma and heart problems keep her from going out, she had clothes to give away.
"To a nice ladies' shelter," she said.
The Cabrini-Green that Pratt is leaving is not the one she moved into as a young single mother with four sons. The high-rise where she lived for 32 years has been torn down, along with all of Cabrini except the row houses.
"When I first moved into the projects," Pratt said, "you would have sworn to God I'd moved to the White House I was so excited."
Not all her sons escaped the trouble that made Cabrini an international symbol of public housing's failure.
"The streets took him," she said of her oldest, but the others fared better. Her son Mark, who was helping her pack Tuesday, earned a Columbia College degree and worked for many years at nearby schools.
But Pratt's recent time in the row houses hasn't felt like the Cabrini that she thought of as home. In their final phase, the row houses lost the last whiff of their original cachet as Cabrini's elite lodging and became the refuge of residents from the demolished buildings, a corral for rival gangs and strangers.
It was just 50 or so troublemakers in the end, Mark Pratt said, down from the hundreds he worked to avoid as a kid.
"But you were removed in the high-rise," he said. "Now it's right at your doorstep. And you can't go up to them and say, 'I know your daddy, I know your mama.' They say: 'I don't know you. Why should I respect you?'"
Summer's the worst, he said, and two summers ago, the row house partying and drug dealing was nonstop.
"Like a lounge," his mother said.
Last summer, something equally troubling occurred. As many of the 438 unrehabbed row houses were fenced off, the drug dealers moved up toward a small rehabbed section where they'd previously been banned.
"Here's a golden opportunity for Chicago to take that small piece of land," Mark Pratt said, "to make it clear that nonsense will not be tolerated."
The fact that the police have let the "nonsense" migrate to the small, good part of the row houses makes him wonder whether the plan is to let those go bad too, and then get rid of them all.
What's certain is that a board will soon cover the door at 904 Mohawk. It's also certain that Chicago's deepest problems, like its poorest people, have not vanished. They've just shifted around.
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