Destroyed in a dramatic and highly-publicized implosion, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex has become a widespread symbol of failure amongst architects, politicians and policy makers. ... See full summary »
Destroyed in a dramatic and highly-publicized implosion, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex has become a widespread symbol of failure amongst architects, politicians and policy makers. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth explores the social, economic and legislative issues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America, and the city centers in which they resided, while tracing the personal and poignant narratives of several of the project's residents. In the post-War years, the American city changed in ways that made it unrecognizable from a generation earlier, privileging some and leaving others in its wake. The next time the city changes, remember Pruitt-Igoe. Written by
This is a fascinating and excellent documentary about the collapse of a public housing high-rise project in St. Louis, MO. Pruitt-Igo, a massive block of high-rise apartments was supposed to offer hope to the poor living in dismal slums. It was typical of similar disasters in other cities, for example Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor in Chicago and ones in the Bronx.
At first the residents were happy to be able to move out of the slums which were being torn down and into the modern, clear, cheerful apartments of Pruitt-Igoe. Former residents who were there at the beginning in the 1950's remember with nostalgia being able to live for the first time in a clean, bright apartments. Evidently at the beginning the residents got along splendidly. The architecture of these high-rises has been criticized for being inhuman and blamed for causing the monstrous social problems which ensued, but evidently at first the architecture didn't effect people that way. Children played safely in the halls and moms communicated freely between apartments.
There were from the beginning some rather annoying glitches, the biggest of which was a rule that men couldn't live in the apartments. This meant that husbands had to either live apart from their wives and children or stow away in their wives' apartments. It's hard to see why rules like this were created, but easy to see what the ultimate effect would be. Poor families would be split up and an epidemic of out-of-wedlock births would follow. But that would be farther down the road and there are numerous other forces contributing to the epidemic of out-of-wedlock births.
Another short-sighted rule was a law that forbid increases in rent. Since rent went to maintenance there wasn't enough money to maintain those huge high-rises. Elevators jammed, the stairwells became toilets. Jobs left the city and population left at the same time. Whites fled to the suburbs leaving Pruitt-Igoe almost entirely black. The towers became shabby and dilapidated. Vandals and criminals moved in and in a couple of decades what started out as a bright and noble crusade to help the needy crashed to the ground in flames.
The film wants to blame the particular conditions of St. Louis at the time for the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe, but although those conditions were the proximate cause of the catastrophe, the entire plan was built on quicksand from the beginning. Because it was a huge government project which required huge amounts of money to maintain there was no way that such a project could be successfully centrally planned and still function. It was just too big, there were just to many false assumptions, and just too many political considerations at work.
This is true for public housing everywhere. Almost anywhere you go you'll find that public housing, whereas it might not be as bad as Pruitt-Igoe, is still a breeding ground for crime and social dysfunction. Though the film makers try to deny the obvious, government attempts at social engineering are doomed to fail by their very nature. Lumbering government bureaucracies can't adapt to changing conditions. Rules and regulations created by bureaucrats look good in theory but are unworkable in practice. The idea that an entire dependent class might be created as a result of the best of intentions was never considered by the planners.
In some cities, like Chicago, the black out-of-wedlock birthrate is now approaching 85%. Some could argue, with just cause, that it is the nanny state programs of the Great Society that are directly responsible. Only a liberal big-government project could fail in such a spectacular way.
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