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“City of Necessity": A Vivid Look at 1960s Chicago

Robert Newman’s 1961 documentary captures the city and how it was lived, inside and out.

Chicago just published an excerpt from Ben Austen’s new book High-Risers, a work I’ve been anticipating since it started popping up in his bio information on a string of great pieces over the last few years, like this 2013 New York Times Magazine piece on housing in Chicago after the bubble and this piece from late last year on pastor and activist Jedidiah Brown.

While doing some research on Cabrini-Green, the focus of Austen’s new book, I stumbled across (via Lee Bey and Mark Byrnes) this short 1961 documentary, City of Necessity, by the late documentarian Robert Newman.

The minimal narration has a few parts that hit home about race and cities, particularly the very end, but more important are the atmospherics of the film, which convey its humanist message. As such, it’s a visually affecting portrait of the city, a moving equivalent to the city’s history of street photography.

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