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American Project

American Project

The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

ISBN 9780674008304

Publication date: 04/15/2002

High-rise public housing developments were signature features of the post–World War II city. A hopeful experiment in providing temporary, inexpensive housing for all Americans, the "projects" soon became synonymous with the black urban poor, with isolation and overcrowding, with drugs, gang violence, and neglect. As the wrecking ball brings down some of these concrete monoliths, Sudhir Venkatesh seeks to reexamine public housing from the inside out, and to salvage its troubled legacy. Based on nearly a decade of fieldwork in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes, American Project is the first comprehensive story of daily life in an American public housing complex.

Venkatesh draws on his relationships with tenants, gang members, police officers, and local organizations to offer an intimate portrait of an inner-city community that journalists and the public have only viewed from a distance. Challenging the conventional notion of public housing as a failure, this startling book re-creates tenants' thirty-year effort to build a safe and secure neighborhood: their political battles for services from an indifferent city bureaucracy, their daily confrontation with entrenched poverty, their painful decisions about whether to work with or against the street gangs whose drug dealing both sustained and imperiled their lives.

American Project explores the fundamental question of what makes a community viable. In his chronicle of tenants' political and personal struggles to create a decent place to live, Venkatesh brings us to the heart of the matter.


  • Venkatesh spent hundreds of hours interviewing residents of Chicago's Robert Taylor Holmes housing project. Poorly designed, cheaply built, and isolated from surrounding neighborhoods by an expressway, the Holmes project was doomed almost from the start...Venkatesh describes the struggles of tenant leaders and social activists who resisted the gangs and sought to improve living conditions, but he can't point to any wholesale reform in what was a fatally flawed system from the get-go.

    —Kirkus Reviews


  • Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh is William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press
  • Foreword by William Julius Wilson

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