Housing America part 2: The tale of St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe

By on February 7, 2019

From MultiBriefs:  The tale of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing estate is perhaps the most widely told tale of public housing in the U.S. It has become part of the country’s urban mythology and serves as a pivotal vignette in the longer history of the evolution of housing policy in the U.S.

That story did not have a happy ending. A colossal project that dominated the city of St. Louis when it was built in 1954, it stood for less than three decades. Its demolition live on television in 1972 became a pop-culture moment that marked a watershed in what was seen as a failed experiment in public housing. Perhaps that makes it a good place to start.

Pruitt-Igoe and the mythologizing of urban America

Pruitt-Igoe is often cited as the project that came to define urban America. And that is part of the problem. The powerful visual symbol of its end became something to be pointed to during the long demise of the concept of public housing in the U.S.

Despite the high hopes and exhilaration when the first tenants moved in from the St. Louis slums, its apparent failure continues to give ammunition to those who believe public housing is doomed to fail. A utopian experiment and grandiose folly never to be repeated.

One of the most accomplished tellings of this story is Chad Freidrichs with his film “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.” Friedrichs tells of how what seemed an “oasis in the desert” became in only two decades a battleground where even police feared to enter. However, Friedrichs refuses to accept the narrative that the architecture, or the very conception of the project itself, was to blame. Instead, he pans out to the wider forces that led to the downfall of these 33 ill-fated towers.

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About Dede Hance