With one of the richest histories of any Chicago neighborhood, Cabrini-Green, once the site of one of the most infamous public housing projects in the entire country, is now experiencing a major revitalization that would have been undreamed of by residents just ten years ago. Nestled among some of the city's most sought-after neighborhoods, Cabrini-Green has long been targeted as a prime Chicago location. Now, row after row of new construction townhomes and condominium developments are replacing the rundown residences of yesteryear making Cabrini-Green a hidden gem that is still hovering under the radar. Forward thinkers are taking advantage of the neighborhood's top properties and getting in before the transition is complete and real estate prices shoot up. Already infused with chic dining spots, grocery stores and a growing shopping district, Cabrini-Green is the Chicago neighborhood of the future.
Location: About 1 mile north of the Loop
Boundaries: Evergreen Avenue to the north, Franklin Street to the east, Chicago Avenue to the south and Larrabee Street to the west
Bordering Neighborhoods: Near North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, River North, Goose Island
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Then and Now
The neighborhood that is now collectively known as Cabrini-Green was not known thusly until its latest incarnation as a public housing development, in the 1960s. Initially, around the time of the Civil War, it was tagged with a far more ominous moniker: "Little Hell."
The territory was first inhabited by a large community of Swedish immigrants that arrived to Chicago between 1850 and 1880. Swedes represented one of the largest immigrant populations in Chicago during that time, and they largely settled around the Chicago River in the Near North neighborhood that’s now known as Cabrini-Green. The Swedes weren’t alone though; they were accompanied by a large arrival of Irish immigrants, with whom the Near North was shared. But you’re probably wondering how a small Swedish enclave in the 19th century earned the name "Little Hell,"right? It actually had little to do with the relative prosperity of the neighborhood, although most of its inhabitants did suffer extreme poverty. Instead, the name was derived from the gas refinery that operated near the river, which spewed large fireballs into the sky and emitted a noxious odor of gas that plagued the nearby community. Fittingly, another popular name for the area was "Smokey Hollow."
As the Chicago economy boomed in the 1880s, so did the influx of Swedish immigrants, making Chicago the largest community of expatriated Swedes in the world. As a result, the incoming Swedes dispersed to new areas of the city, mainly Lakeview, Belmont-Cragin, and Andersonville, giving way to a new immigrant population that would rule the Near North: the Sicilians. In great numbers the Sicilians moved in, displacing the incumbent Swedish and Irish populations, which is why, for a brief period from the turn of the century to the 1920s, the area was called "Little Sicily."
With the onset of World War I, European immigration stalled, and the Great Migration of African Americans to midwestern and northeastern cities began. Chicago experienced one of the greatest surges in African American population of any American city, many of whom settled in the Near North neighborhoods. Little Sicily had been one of the most impoverished neighborhoods on the north side of the city, and with the beginning of the Great Depression, conditions worsened for the neighborhood’s new arrivals. In fact, the western portion of the Near North side, while very accessible to both the Chicago River and the city’s bustling downtown Loop, has always been a landing place for people—often migrants—that are in rather desperate circumstances.
By the start of the Second World War, city officials recognized a need to assuage the growing despair in the Near North. The city approached the problem by erecting the first public housing projects in the Frances Cabrini Row Houses that were constructed in 1942. The original Cabrini Row Houses were designed to accommodate returning war veterans and impoverished residents alike, and they housed approximately 600 families. Then, in 1958 the Cabrini extension was added to the project, adding the fifteen red and tan high-rise buildings with about 2,000 units that are what Cabrini-Green has come to be recognized as.
If the original Cabrini Row Houses were a success story for public housing and racial integration, the new extension prompted a rapid erosion of those achievements. War veterans shared the tenements with African Americans, Sicilians, Puerto Ricans, and Irish immigrants for the first 15 years, but beginning in the early 1960s, the projects became increasingly segregated. As conditions worsened, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) allowed Cabrini-Green to degenerate to a state of deterioration and disrepair. By the 1980s, Cabrini-Green had become the most notorious public housing project in the nation. However, as the industrial areas surrounding Cabrini-Green were replaced with residential, retail, and commercial businesses, the land on which Cabrini-Green sits became more desirable. In 1999, the CHA developed a 10-year plan that would effectively demolish the existing Cabrini-Green housing projects, and replace them with mixed-income housing that will be made available to former tenants of Cabrini-Green as well as new middle-class applicants.
Instead of attempting to restore any of the high-rise buildings that were part of Cabrini-Green, the CHA deemed every one to be beyond repair and has begun to raze all of them, except for the original Cabrini Row Houses, which will stay. Instead of replicating the old and now-defunct style of public housing, the new mixed-income housing will be low-rise constructions that provide residences in a wide range of prices, from government subsidized public housing (20% of the residences), to the midrange homes for $140,000, to the market rate homes (50% of the residences) that start at $300,000, seeking both to integrate and to gentrify the neighborhood. The new direction taken by the CHA in regard to Cabrini-Green is more consistent with the original concept behind the Cabrini Row Houses: a community of racially diverse and integrated affordable housing. It’s too soon to really determine whether or not the new plan is a success, but in recent years the neighborhood’s population has dramatically changed, crime has plummeted, and development is expected to be completed by 2008.
Of course, these days there’s more to the Cabrini-Green neighborhood than the infamous housing projects. In the 1990s, when word got out that the projects would be torn down and that the neighborhood would be changing, speculators starting buying up land in the surrounding streets, and in years since, much of what lies in Cabrini-Green reflects the culture of the neighboring Near North and Old Town neighborhoods. The neighborhood is now home to some of Chicago’s nicest restaurants and shops, which are testament to the changing nature of the neighborhood. Just a stone’s throw from the Gold Coast, River North, Old Town, and Lincoln Park, Cabrini-Green is easily one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in all of Chicago. A Starbucks recently opened on the corner of Division and Clybourn, if that can be an indication of the changes that are in store. And now, people are scrambling to get in line for condos and townhouses in the new developments that are emerging throughout this tiny Near North side Chicago neighborhood.
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One of the oldest parks in Chicago’s north side, Seward Park (375 W Elm St, 312-742-7895) occupies about two acres of land on the corner of Division and Orleans Streets. The park was completed in 1908 under the Lincoln Park Commission, which was established to maintain Lincoln Park and the surrounding area. Between 1999 and 2001, with the demolition of the Cabrini-Green housing projects, Seward Park was given a bit of a facelift by the Chicago Parks Department. A new playground was installed, a fountain was put in, and a large clock tower was erected on the street corner. Seward Park has much more to offer than just green space, it hosts little league baseball, two soccer fields, and even boxing, making it one of the most multi-functional parks in town. In the summer there are day camps in the park for youngsters, and on Thursday nights in August, free movies are projected in the park for residents and other local Chicagoans to enjoy. In addition, the park has a gym and separate locker rooms for men and women.
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Cabrini Green Real Estate
Things are indeed turning around in Cabrini-Green, as evidenced by the seven-acre development of North Town Village that was completed in 2002 on a site that had previously hosted public housing projects. The complex features 261 residences, 50% of which are available to market-rate renters and buyers, and the remaining homes are reserved for low-income and former public housing tenants.
An interesting fact: In an effort to reverse many of the problems that plagued the Cabrini-Green housing projects, strict rules have been put in place for the tenants of the low-income residences. Residents are required to work at least 30 hours per week, or to attend classes or job training for the same amount of time. Loitering in public spaces is forbidden, as well as loud music.
Another, more recent development in Cabrini-Green is the 760-unit development, Parkside of Old Town. This new townhome and condo development will consist of eight large buildings that will span nearly eight city blocks centered around Seward Park. Residences will be located between Larrabee Street and Cleveland Avenue, between Division and Elm Streets, stretching in an L-shape. Parkside homes will be priced between the low $200,000s and the mid $500,000s, and as with North Town Village, half of the residences will be sold at market rate, and the other half will be reserved as low-income housing.
Though these developments do represent a bold experiment on the part of both developers and the Chicago Housing Authority, it appears, at least at the start, to be a shining success. Crime has plunged and new life has emerged in the neighborhood. And since they’ve been put on the market, these new units have been in very high demand.
While the projects were a large part of this Chicago neighborhood’s character, there are a good number of luxury new-construction condos, lofts, penthouses and townhomes that have given Cabrini-Green a new lease on life. Large mid- and high-rise residences with upgraded amenities and contemporary style living spaces are available at a much higher price tag than the forthcoming mixed-income housing. In fact, some three- to five-bedroom units go for over a million dollars. The diverse mix of properties is sure to bring a wide range of inhabitants to the area, creating an eclectic neighborhood that is sure to prosper in the years to come.
Best Shopping Stops
One of the most interesting (and delicious) shopping stops in Cabrini-Green in the summer months is the City Farm (1200 N Clybourn St, 773-821-1351), located at the corner of Division and Clybourn streets. City Farm is both the gourmet food enthusiast’s alternative to Dominick’s (the supermarket across the street), and a sustainable non-profit that contributes to the community. It’s hard not to notice the big vegetable stand surrounded by sunflowers and tomatoes in August if you’re coming down this rather quiet stretch of Division Street. It was started by the people at the Resource Center, a Chicago-based non-profit that promotes recycling, sustainability, and expropriating vacant lots to use for urban farming and gardening. The folks at City Farm grow more than 30 types of tomatoes (including some fantastic heirloom varieties), and also some beets, potatoes, lettuces, and melons. Most of the produce is actually sold to some of Chicago’s best restaurants (the dining room at the Ritz Carlton used to order from them), but they also sell their veggies to the community at the stand on Division and Clybourn at cut rate. Therefore, the tomatoes you buy at City Farm, while being some of the best around, will probably cost little more than the ones you get at the grocery store across the street.
Located just to the east of the Brown Line stop on Chicago Avenue, the Paper Source (232 W Chicago Ave, 312-337-0798) is a serious one-stop shop for most creative needs. In a word, this place is enormous. Whether you’re in the mood for some origami, in need of some "thank you"cards, or just craving some pretty looking stationary, the Paper Source has got it all. It has three stories of paper and craft-like products, not to mention the stock that isn’t even on display. You can spend hours here, picking out photo albums, wrapping paper, stamps, and personal diaries. In addition, the Paper Source boasts hundreds of different types of handmade papers, in every color and style imaginable. Even if you aren’t in the market for paper goods, browsing this store is a perfect afternoon diversion.
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What’s on the Menu?
Since it opened in 1998, mk (868 N Franklin St, 312-482-9179) has emerged as one of the monsters of the Chicago dining scene. The name is derived from the initials of chef/owner Micheal Kornick, a nationally recognized chef who has been stationed in Chicago for most of his rich career. This Cabrini-Green neighborhood restaurant is large, spacious and clean. The dining room is stacked in two tiers, with a large loft-like opening in the middle that is adorned with pillars of elegant flowers. But of course, people don’t turn out in droves for the furnishings; it’s the food that keeps this place packed every night, and the food at mk is a sensational. Like many highly fashionable restaurants today, mk is classified as contemporary American cuisine with a bit of a flair for seafood. They serve sushi, rabbit, kobe beef—you get the idea. You should also be warned that it’s rather expensive, but in this case, you get what you pay for. And what you’ll be getting is one of the best meals in Chicago delivered with impeccable service.
For something a little more conventional (and lighter on your pocketbook), Kiki’s Bistro (900 N Franklin St, 312-335-5454) is the place that will keep you coming back. What Kiki’s manages to do exquisitely is to recreate the ambiance, and the food, of the perfect countryside French Bistro right in the heart of Chicago. And believe us, they do it well. Owner Georges "Kiki"Cuisance hails from eastern France and has been in the restaurant industry since the 1950s. When he opened Kiki’s in Cabrini-Green in the early 1990s, classic French bistro fare wasn’t exactly the most popular cuisine in Chicago. In a way, Cuisance was a pioneer, and as such, he is credited with perhaps the most perfect bistro in the city. The menu is very sparse (though you’ll want to order everything on it), and the food possesses a sort of traditional elegance that other restaurants can only imitate. You’ll want to order the duck, the escargot is irresistible, and the French onion soup is easily the best in the Midwest.
The more casual diner, though—the one that seeks a decent square meal for under $10—has to look a bit further than the flashy lights and valet stand. Most people will tell you, if you’re looking for good, cheap meal in Chicago, just follow the police officers and eat where they eat. Sure, there’s some truth to that, but perhaps a better option is to follow the cab drivers. In Cabrini-Green, they’ll take you straight to Kababish (939 N Orleans St, 312-642-8622), a 24-hour Indian and Pakistani joint. Kababish is little more than a hole in the wall, offering counter service from the metal Cambros full of steaming Indian specialties. The offerings rotate daily, but on any given day they’ve got all the regulars: samosas, dal, lentils, curried chicken, and paneer. Don’t expect anything fancy (food is served in plastic bowls and plates), but Kababish dishes out one of the more satisfying meals around, whether you go there on your lunch break or at 4am, after a night on the town. There are also two other competing 24-hour Indian and Pakastani restaurants in the neighborhood: Baba Palace (334 W Chicago Ave, 312-867-7777) and Zaiqa Indian Restaurant. Baba Palace serves up Pakastani specialties, the most popular of which is probably the boneless beef. While Baba Palace offers table seating, Zaiqa is counter service, and, as the cabbies will attest, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these Cabrini-Green neighborhood fixtures.
For neighborhood residents, it’s a well-kept secret that the best fine dining bang-for-your-buck can be found at the dining room of the Cooking and Hospitality Institute, the CHIC Cafe (361 W Chestnut St, 312-873-2032). Though the service is notoriously bad (these kids don’t go to school to become waiters), the food is as good as any high-end restaurant in Chicago—for roughly half the price. Cooking for the cafe is the final class that culinary students take before they graduate, and everyone’s got something to prove. Menus change daily, but are usually heavy on the French classics, as the CHIC is a subsidiary of the famous French culinary institution Le Cordon Bleu. Because this is a school, the place is closed on Saturday and Sundays, and be sure to bring your own bottle of wine if you’d like a glass with your meal.
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Night on the Town
There is nothing ordinary about Stone Lotus (873 N Orleans St, 312-440-9680), a spot that bills itself as a upscale "liquor spa."Indeed, the Stone Lotus occupies one of the most impressive lounge spaces in Chicago, and they match it with some truly spectacular drinks and impeccable service. The liquor spa concept, as it is generally understood, implies that patrons of Stone Lotus receive the same sort of VIP service that diners have come to expect at high-end restaurants. That basically means you make reservations, receive valet service, and are seated at reserved tables and waited on hand and foot. And to top it all, the place features an enormous water wall and is lit by dozens of small, homey lanterns. And the drinks? They’re beyond you’re wildest fantasies—that is, if you’re at all serious about your cocktails. The mastermind behind the drinks at Stone Lotus is exec chef and mixologist, Dale Levitski, a chef known for the Mohawk he donned as a contestant on the Iron Chef cooking show. Levitski has worked at nearly every notable restaurant on the Chicago scene and the concoctions he serves up at Stone Lotus do not disappoint. Here, food is paired with drinks, not the other way around, and you can bet that it’s all up to snuff.
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Because of its close proximity to the Gold Coast, River North, Old Town, and Lincoln Park, not to mention the Near North neighborhood that surrounds this tiny enclave, parking can be rather tricky in Cabrini-Green. Though the neighborhood itself is not as densely populated as nearby communities, the major thoroughfares (Chicago Avenue, Division Street, and Orleans Street) do experience heavy traffic during the day, so parking can be difficult. Many of the smaller east/west streets (Hill, Wendell, Oak, and Walton) are easier because they are residential rows that don’t connect to anything outside of Cabrini-Green. Of course, you’ll need to register your car with the city to obtain both a city sticker and a neighborhood parking permit—or face the expensive consequences of nightly tickets at $50 a pop.
If you haven’t got a car, don’t fret. Cabrini-Green is one of the most accessible neighborhoods in Chicago via the CTA, Chicago’s public transit system. The Brown and Purple line trains run on elevated tracks that cast a shadow over Franklin Street. There’s a station at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Franklin Street where Cabrini-Green residents can easily hop on for a ride downtown. The Brown Line will take you straight to the Chicago Loop, or north to Old Town, Lincoln Park, and Lakeview. The Purple Line is an express train that makes the same stops as the Brown Line in the city center, but after Belmont runs express up to Evanston and Wilmette. Another option, if you’re on the north side of Cabrini-Green is to stroll over to the Red Line stop at Clark and Division streets. It’s just a five minute walk, and the Red Line will take you to both of Chicago’s baseball stadiums, as well as the far north and south sides. If you’re intent on heading west using public transportation, both the #70 Division Street bus and the #66 Chicago will get the job done. Fare is just $2 per ride, so if you think about how much gas costs these days, you can really save some dough by ditching the vehicle and sticking to the CTA.
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School’s in Session
Cabrini-Green is one of the smaller neighborhoods in Chicago, but there are a number of school options available. Aside from the Cooking and Hospitality Institution, there are a number of public and private schools to choose from. In addition to the following list, you can find more information on Chicago schools at our Chicago Schools Guide.
Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago - 361 W Chestnut St - (312) 944-2725
Lakeshore Prep School - 300 W Hill St - (312) 266-2020
Richard E Byrd Public School - 363 W Hill St - (773) 534-8430
St Matthews Head Start - 1000 N Orleans St - (312) 337-9742
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It’s always nice to know where you can get those bare necessities that are part of everyday living—and here in Cabrini-Green, there are a number of neighborhood stores and resources where you can find just what you need.
Near North Library - 310 W Division St - (312) 744-0991
The UPS Store - 1235 N Clybourn Ave - (312) 335-0052
Chicago Transit Authority - (888) 968-7282
Seward Park - 375 W Elm St - (312) 742-7895
Pro Health Pharmacy - 351 W Oak St - (312) 642-543
City Farm (seasonal) - 1200 N Clybourn St - (773) 821-1351
Dominick’s - 424 W Division St - (312) 274-1706
Crunch Fitness - 820 N Orleans St - (312) 573-4300
Paper Source - 232 W Chicago Ave - (312) 337-0798
Radio Shack - 1231 N Clybourn Ave - (312) 951-9551
Sayoka Candy Store - 820 N Orleans St - (312) 787-4930
Starbucks - 1229 N Clybourn Ave - (312) 587-8537
Kiki’s Bistro - 900 N Franklin St - (312) 335-5454
Kababish - 939 N Orleans St - (312) 642-8622
Zaiqa Indian Restaurant - 858 N Orleans St - (312) 280-6807
Baba Palace - 334 W Chicago Ave - (312) 867-7777
Corleoni Pizza - 349 W Oak St - (312) 944-2461
As one of the many diverse Chicago neighborhoods, Cabrini Green offers homeowners a wide range of residential properties. Cabrini Green homes include lofts, condos and townhomes, to name a few. In addition to Chicago real estate, you can get detailed neighborhood information from our comprehensive online Chicago neighborhoods guide. With features like dining, shopping, entertainment, and resources, we’ve done all the leg work already to make your home search that much easier. Now, when a listing in Cabrini Green catches your eye, you can read all about the surrounding area and what it has to offer, all without setting foot in the neighborhood. Like a Yellow Pages, Metromix and MLS database all rolled into one, this site is your ultimate Chicago neighborhoods visitors’ guidebook.
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