The rapid economic polarization of American life has been largely marked by tales of “the one-percenters” and their mind-boggling accumulations of wealth and extravagance, while those on the other end of the spectrum, the bottom 1%, remain unseen and unheard. City Heights, a subsidized housing community in Covington, Kentucky, built in the 1950s on a secluded hillside, epitomizes the isolation, invisibility and utter lack of upward mobility experienced by those at the bottom of America’s socio-economic spectrum. Its outdated project-style housing block construction, surrounded by chain link fencing, reflects the social stasis of this and other similar communities.
Yet in the midst of this engineered inequality, hope and imagination still thrive. While educational, cultural, employment and other opportunities are scarce, City Heights youth still dream about becoming doctors, nurses, chefs, police officers or entrepreneurs. City Heights sought to capture this spark through the language of photography. A small group of high school students assembled to interpret their world using cameras to capture images over the course of eight weeks. The youth documented and shared images of their everyday lives, following a series of simple visual and topical prompts. After a significant body of work was created, additional community members viewed and responded to the images in a series of conversations, putting words on the impulses behind the photographs they selected. While they found clear evidence of the vagaries of life in a subsidized housing community, they also saw joy in daily experiences and futures filled with promise.