Altgeld Gardens' boundaries are 130th Street on the north and 138th Street on the south, from the Bishop Ford Freeway on the east and the Calumet River on the west. Altgeld Gardens is located near numerous manufacturing plants, former steel mills, waste dumps and landfills. The residents have a growing concern about the number of deaths annually from cancer and other diseases that may be related to their environment.
Altgeld Gardens was named after Democrat John Peter Altgeld, who was the governor of Illinois from 1893-1897. Altgeld Gardens opened for occupancy in September 1944. Altgeld is a low-rise housing development consisting of approximately 1,400 row houses. It was built on land at the edge of the city so many amenities had to be built for the residents, such as schools, stores and medical facilities.
Altgeld Gardens contained a great deal of asbestos in its construction materials - asbestos that remained there until a grassroots campaign in the 1980s advocated for its removal. Future US presidential candidate Barack Obama participated in this campaign, and wrote about it at length in his book Dreams From My Father.
It is one of the densest concentrations of potentially hazardous pollution sources in North America. Many of the landfills that surround them are unregulated, and some of those are still being used. Since most of these landfills as well as many industrial plants are located along the waterways surrounding the area, of the 18 miles of rivers and lakes surrounding Altgeld Gardens, 11 miles of them are unfit for human consumption and recreation, though many residents still fish in them citing that “something’s going to kill them anyway.”
Over the years, Altgeld Gardens (www.altgeldgardens.com) has experienced various gang problems -- yet the community is not regarded as ridden with the sort of bloody rivalries endemic to the North Side's Cabrini Green community nor to the Robert Taylor Homes, near the historic Bronzeville neighborhood.