The title refers to the area between North and Chicago Avenues and Halsted and Orleans Streets, where the (in)famous Cabrini-Green housing project once stood. I remember when the last building came down in 2011. 70 Acres in Chicago is both an oral history and an essay on the rise and fall of “the CG” or “the Soul Coast,” which one speaker describes as “one mile from Downtown, yet in a whole ‘nother economic dimension.” Long before Cabrini-Green was built, the area was a depository for the poor– until the late 1990s and early 2000s when developers saw potential for something else. Today, a “mixed income” approach exists, which as this film demonstrates has advantages but presents a different set of problems.
Ronit Bezalel is pretty clear about her views on gentrification, but she’s not heavy-handed about them. The historical perspective is a nice backdrop. The many personal stories of those who lived in Cabrini-Green make this film special; they run the gamut from funny to poignant. One thing I did not expect was the amount of nostalgia that came through. 70 Acres in Chicago suggests that maybe someday race will no longer be an issue in America, but class is another matter altogether.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-