Saturday, August 4, 2012
I recently watched a 2011 documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which I would strongly recommend. The documentary uses the now infamous Pruitt-Igoe projects in St. Louis, which were demolished live on television only a few decades after they were built, as a lens to explore a wide variety of topics relevant to housing, land use, and local government policy in the mid-twentieth century.
Like many places where public housing projects were built, the documentary notes that the section of St. Louis where Pruitt-Igoe stood once suffered from brutal poverty, caused in part by slumlords who reaped tremendous profits by overcrowding tenements with newcomers to the city. To Pruitt-Igoe's first tenants, the fresh and clean apartments felt like "penthouses," as one former tenant described it. But troubles mounted. The post-World War II planners presumed that St. Louis would keep growing exponentially, as it had previously. In fact, St. Louis' industry slowed after the war, and the city's white population left for the suburbs. More than segregating the city, this reduced population in St. Louis proper eliminated the need for the projects because there was plenty of cheap housing available otherwise. The combination of failure to maintain the expensive, modernist high-rise structures and these demographic trends doomed the project. A great mix of former tenants, academics, and local politicians tell the story.
Well worth a watch.
Stephen R. Miller
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