In a previous post, I cited an article by Katherine Bristol titled "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" detailing the tortured history of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project and how it fits into larger narratives. There is also a new documentary film by the same name that is wrapping up screenings across the country this month that tackles the same themes.
The goal of this film is no small feat considering the power these myths hold... Catch a screening if you can.The Pruitt-Igoe Myth tells the story of the wholesale changes that took place in the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis.At the film’s historical center is an analysis of the massive impact of the 1949 Housing Act, which built Pruitt-Igoe and other high-rise public housing of the Fifties and Sixties. This critical piece of legislation also initiated the so-called urban renewal program and prompted the process of mass suburbanization, which emptied American cities of their residents, business and industry.Those that were left behind faced a destitute, rapidly de-industrializing St. Louis, parceled out to downtown interests and increasingly segregated by class and race.The residents of Pruitt-Igoe were among the hardest-hit. Their gripping stories of survival, adaptation and success are at the emotional heart of the film. The domestic turmoil wrought by punitive public welfare policies, the frustrating interactions with a paternalistic and cash-strapped Housing Authority, and the downward spiral of vacancy, vandalism and crime, led to resident protest and action during the 1969 Rent Strike, the first in the history of public housing.And yet, despite this complex history, Pruitt-Igoe has often been stereotyped, with help from a world-famous image of its implosion, and used as an argument against Modernist architecture or public assistance programs.The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight, to examine the interests in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation, to re-evaluate the rumors and the stigma, to implode the myth.