Skip to main content

Watching "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” in a packed theater this afternoon was much more than a movie-going experience: It was a history lesson, a fact-finding mission, a therapy session and a séance, all rolled-up into an 83-minute documentary and a 45-minute discussion with the producers.

The documentary, written by Chad Friedrichs and produced in St. Louis, chronicles the rise and literal fall of America’s poster-child for failed public-housing projects—the North-St. Louis. Pruitt-Igoe development, whose life span was from 1952 to 1975. The money shot seen ‘round the world is the dramatic implosion of the dilapidated 11-story buildings that, at their peak, housed 11,000 people.

But that iconic image is far from the whole story. And that’s what “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" is about.

Unfortunately, what many people see in the implosion film and still photos is a public-housing project gone terribly wrong—and, as a result, a reason to mistrust government and to justify their disdain for “welfare” programs and poor people.

What the film shows us is something very different. Using fascinating archival photos, news footage and home movies from the Pruitt-Igoe years—along with emotional interviews with people who lived there—the filmmakers give us a look at Pruitt-Igoe that has been hidden, forgotten or deliberately ignored for many years. And they explore the socio-economic trends and policy decisions that essentially doomed Pruitt-Igoe from the start.

Probably most surprising—for someone like me, who didn’t live there—was the nostalgia expressed by several on-screen interviewees. One wistfully remembers her first Christmas in Pruitt-Igoe, when everyone decorated their new apartments with holiday lights, and the pristine plazas between the buildings glistened with snow. There are other fond reminiscences, too, like the memory of moving from a North-St. Louis shack into a “Poor People’s Penthouse,” where your mother can, for the first time, have her own bed and a room with a door. And the spontaneous parties and sense of community and belonging created among families with few other local connections.

But this is far from a sugar-coated documentary. Well-known St. Louis journalist Sylvester Brown gives a candid account of his childhood in Pruitt-Igoe, where to survive, he learned to fight and to assume an air of toughness. Others remind us of the punitive, “no-man-in-the-house” policy of the time, under which husbands and fathers were barred from the homes of families receiving public assistance. They explain that, in exchange for receiving welfare checks, their families had to submit to the social engineering of and judgmental attitudes of bureaucrats, who would not allow them to have televisions or telephones—or even to paint their apartments any color other than white. One interviewee shares the pain he clearly still feels over the shooting death of his eight-year-old brother, just outside the door to their Pruitt-Igoe building.

We also see excerpts from 1960s and 1970s news reports about Pruitt-Igoe, which focused on the physical deterioration of the buildings and the crime inside and around them. The impression that has lingered, both in St. Louis and nationwide, is that somehow, it was the poverty and lack of education of the residents that ruined the great social experiment that was Pruitt-Igoe.

The documentary works hard to debunk that stereotype. In interviews with several social historians, we’re reminded of the larger context  that shaped the story arc of Pruitt-Igoe: The Federal Housing Act of 1949, which created incentives for large-scale public-housing developments, while also encouraging urban flight and systemic removal of African-Americans from certain neighborhoods; the conflict between economic gain for developers and trade unions versus the social ideal of helping impoverished people; the ultimately disastrous decision to provide federal funds to build the development, but to rely on residents’ rent for maintenance; and, of course, institutionalized racism.

It’s a complicated story that has, unfortunately, been reduced to that single, iconic image for most of America, and, as producer Brian Woodman said during a question-and-answer session following the screening, “It’s an amazing story that no one knows about…We need to reopen the dialogue.”

And they did. The Q and A session with the film’s producers and two of the former residents of Pruitt-Igoe featured in the documentary was a story unto itself.  In an audience of about 400 people at this showing [the second of only three in St. Louis], between 35 and 50 were former Pruitt-Igoe residents. [They were asked to stand during the Q and A session.] One after another, they thanked the writers and producers for telling the Pruitt-Igoe story. They talked about the lives they led there—not lives of crime, but lives of going to school, working, adhering to family imposed curfews, and striving to do better for themselves and their families.

“We’re people. We had real families. We served on school boards and community councils,” said one former resident, who like others, proudly stated her address in the Pruitt-Igoe complex. “People on the outside looking in see a whole different picture.”

“Good things did come out of Pruitt-Igoe,” said another, noting that former residents regularly hold Pruitt-Igoe reunions. “Just because we came from the slums doesn’t mean that we don’t have a heart or want something better. I cherish Pruitt-Igoe as a part of my life.”

These statements added an emotional coda to the screening of this remarkable documentary. They remind us of the many ghosts of Pruitt-Igoe, the residual anger that is the legacy of segregation and punitive policies imposed on people in need, and the pride that seems to survive despite all of it.

“The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” deserves to be seen much more widely. As I learned from the spontaneous, post-screening testimony of residents who lived in and survived Pruitt-Igoe, at the very least, it’s an affirmation and vindication of their lives. But on a larger scale, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” is a cautionary tale for the 21st Century, when the myth of grand economic solutions for cities persists [and seems continually to fail], and when the war on poor people rages on.

{Cross-posted from Occasional Planet]

Originally posted to Lefty on Sat May 14, 2011 at 09:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by J Town, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  T and R for the discussion, as people say (14+ / 0-)

    around here.  My husband lived there for a few years as a child/young teenager.  He survived the experience, but I don't think that he has many fond memories of the place.

    He later moved to California and wasn't unhappy to hear that they were going to blow the place up.

    So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it, you're not helping to make this Earth a place sometimes called Hell- Stevie Wonder

    by blindyone on Sat May 14, 2011 at 10:05:45 PM PDT

  •  I wish I (17+ / 0-)

    could see this documentary. In high school I was one in a group of students being introduced to new classes in "race relations" wherein we studied "failed" housing experiments like Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini Green. Even then we recognized the built-in weaknesses of these housing developments and why they would ultimately fail. The saddest part of this? We will not bank what we learned in the 40-odd years these developments were in existence and build better urban housing for the poor. In this part of the 21st Century at least, it is plain that the poor are on their own.

    This is a good diary. I hope it gets seen by people tonight.

  •  I saw Pruitt Igoe often as a child. (30+ / 0-)

    Country folk like me passed it on the way to downtown St. Louis.  It was one of the saddest places on earth viewing it from the outside through the eyes of an empathetic child.

    The thing was, it started out with the best of intentions.  The man who designed it is the same man who designed the World Trade Center.  His original plans were beautiful, and it was meant to be a wonderful place of safety and comfort designed to replace the horrible and very segregated slums of St. Louis.  But then the government got in the way and corruption found its way into the mix.  Those buildings were all 11 stories tall, but the elevators only stopped on every third floor.  The stairwells were dangerous and dark, and the crappy light fixtures in them were destroyed immediately so that thieves could rob people trying to get to their apartments.  There was union corruption that led to shoddy work on plumbing, etc.  Any space that was occupied and guarded zealously was vandalized.  It was worse than a third world country.  The white communities from the old slums wouldn't move in there, and the blacks were forced there under awful circumstances.  If you ask anyone from Missouri who was alive back then if they remember Pruitt Igoe they don't know what you're talking about.  But if you say "The Projects" they all remember, they all know the misery and degradation that the people who lived there faced.  When Ronald Reagan used the egregious "welfare queens" slur, he was pointing back to the poor women who tried to survive in Pruitt Igoe.  He should have been ashamed of himself for that slur, but he wasn't.

    The film Koyaanisqatsi (which means "life out of balance), has a passage where you see the buildings being imploded and coming down.  Having seen that happen from close at hand, it's hard to express how much sadness and relief there was in watching them fall.  There's an eerie similarity to those imploding buildings and the falling of the Twin Towers, especially knowing that they were designed by the same man.  Watch the following YouTube from that movie showing the buildings brought down to see how this place in the heartland of America was more like something from a third world country, and eerily similar their implosion is to the fall of the Twin Towers.

    http://www.youtube.com/...

    What happened to the people forced to live there was a shame, a shame on the heads of America.  No one should be forced to live like that.  Those that did, and did it with as much grace and dignity as they could muster, deserved better.

    "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

    by Got a Grip on Sat May 14, 2011 at 11:34:09 PM PDT

    •  To Get a Grip: this is a powerful response (12+ / 0-)

      to a very compelling diary. Thanks for this! I don't have any insight regarding public housing, other than "what a waste or resources" in the case of all of this failed infrastructure, and "what a human tragedy" in a situation where people live in a context that seems hardwired for predatory behavior.

      I would love to see this documentary! Will it be traveling?

      •  The film's facebook page says yes. (5+ / 0-)

        it's been making the rounds of film festivals, and winning lots of awards. The facebook page says It's going to New York and California, and they're working on more.

        •  I'll be looking for it. I'd love to see it. (9+ / 0-)

          I hope the truth about Pruitt Igoe finally gets wide attention.  For too many years the people who lived there were slurred and used by the right as an excuse to treat the poor and defenseless as sub-human, and it was entirely unfair.  Maybe the sunshine will finally be let in and the truth will be known.

          "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

          by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 08:18:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hey Got a Grip. Your comments are perseptive (10+ / 0-)

            and informative. I sent the parent comment into Top Comments last night. Your linking the architect of Pruitt Igoe and The Twin Towers was deft and thoughtful.

            "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." John Lennon

            by trashablanca on Sun May 15, 2011 at 08:42:36 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks, trashablanca. (5+ / 0-)

              I actually did quite a bit of research not all that long ago on Pruitt Igoe, intending to write a diary about it.  It was one of the pieces of my childhood that informed the adult I would become.  My mother was born in the St. Louis slums that existed before Pruitt Igoe was built.  She was a terrible racist, as were many from the white subcultures that were part of those slums.  I never met anyone who was from those old slums who didn't have every other group put neatly in a prejudiced box in their minds.  The Irish were drunks, the Italians were womanizers or sluts, the Polish were clean but stupid, the Blacks were, well, black, etc, etc.  The old-time white folk from that area were prejudiced against anyone who wasn't like themselves.

              So when Pruitt Igoe came along it was used as proof that Blacks were lazy, shiftless thugs, nevermind that it was engineered by the government to be a failure.  I heard the slurs a lot growing up.  But it didn't square with what I saw.  Where the old racists saw "moochers" I saw people forced to live in poverty with no way out, doing the best they could with nothing and no one to help them.  When the racists sneered, I felt empathy for those people.  Some of the kids I went to school with were refugees from Pruitt Igoe, sent by their mothers to live with grandparents in the hope that they'd have a better life.  They were good kids with a hard edge, they didn't trust easily, but they were good people.  They were smart and worked hard, they deserved better than what they were forced to take.

              Racism never made sense to me, my dad's side of the family were not racists and fought against it, so my mother's racism was not met with kindness.  I resented her for it, resented the ugly shadow it cast on me.

              Pruitt Igoe had a big impact on how I view man's inhumanity to man.  So this issue is close to my heart.

              "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

              by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 10:15:16 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  For my husband's family, Pruitt Igoe (6+ / 0-)

                was a step up.  Before that they lived in the dirt floor basement of a house owned by a relative... all of them, mother and six children in the basement.

                Later, the two oldest boys (my husband was one of them) dropped out of high school and worked at a laundry and the family had more money coming in and eventually were able to move to California.

                So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it, you're not helping to make this Earth a place sometimes called Hell- Stevie Wonder

                by blindyone on Sun May 15, 2011 at 10:54:26 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I always thought the women of Pruitt Igoe (4+ / 0-)

                  were amazing women.  They staked their claim to their apartments and the defensible areas around them and they made the best of what they had.  They were tough, they fought for things to be made better.  I have nothing but respect for anyone who has to live as they did and not just survive, but do so with pride in what they accomplished.  Those that looked down on them didn't have a leg to stand on, I doubt they'd have the fortitude to overcome such obstacles.

                  "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

                  by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 12:18:19 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  The idea was noble but it failed becasue (2+ / 2-)
    Recommended by:
    Alexandra Lynch, Rick Aucoin
    Hidden by:
    foufou, blindyone

    having such a concentration of poor people in one area isn't going to improve their lives. There is also another point that others here may not like. The people there didn't own those apartments. They rented them and were living there at a reduced rate. When people don't have any concept of ownership they don't treat property as well as if they did own it.

    •  OH.. come on... (12+ / 0-)

      "When people don't have any concept of ownership they don't treat property as well as if they did own it.

      I rented when I was in college. After graduating, I rented for many years until I could afford my first house. Most of my friends and peers rented. In all the years I and my friends rented, we treated the property as if it was our own.  Believe me, these were not "penthouses" or anything extravagant.  I left my rental property in as good if not better shape then when I moved in, as did my friends and peers. We were taught that way by our parents and families.  

      To justify or rationalize destruction or damaging property because "well we do not own it"  is BS! Pure and simple!  

      So  are you saying that it is ok for a person/family who participates in government assisted housing to vandalize, or otherwise damage the rental property ,because "they do not own it"?  Hey, go ahead break the door off the hinges, or punch a hole in the wall...don't worry its not yours, somebody else will fix it!
      Is that what you are saying?

    •  My wife and I rent our apartment. n/t (7+ / 0-)

      Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... --RFK

      by expatjourno on Sun May 15, 2011 at 02:19:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There are lots of rental properties in (7+ / 0-)

      the country that do not turn into pruit-igo.  Where do you live?

    •  First of all, (17+ / 0-)

      there was such a "concentration of poor people."  Those buildings never got over 60% full.  The people that lived there felt they had no other recourse, but the buildings never were crammed full.  There was another development nearby that was built to be more like a neighborhood, and that one was always full because the houses there were more like homes.

      The people that lived in Pruitt Igoe were preyed upon by outsiders, the buildings trashed because the people that lived there couldn't defend all that empty space.  It wasn't safe for them.  All of the concentration of where people lived within the buildings was around where the elevators stopped.  The floors that could only be accessed  by the dark and dangerous stairwells remained empty and were used by thieves and drug addicts as a base for preying on the people who lived there.

      You're absolutely wrong that there was no sense of pride and ownership among the residents of Pruitt Igoe.  They took pride in their homes and the defensible area around them.  This is well documented.

      You are assigning a convenient myth to people who don't deserve it.

      "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

      by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 07:30:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Who woud design a building where the (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        snazzzybird, Betty Pinson, ScienceMom

        elevators would only stop on every third floor?

        •  They didn't. (5+ / 0-)

          Yamasaki's original designs were for buildings of varying heights with green spaces and communal areas.  It was designed to create a community.  Then the government stepped in and decided that it would be make more monetary sense to have all the buildings be 11 stories tall, the same height as the tallest building in the original design.  Then they decided, for god knows what reason, that it was too costly to have elevators stopping on every floor, so they had them only stop on every third floor.  They decided that good lighting was too expensive in the stairwells, so bare bulb fixtures were installed.  And on and on.  They cut corners at every possible juncture.  The sewer systems didn't work because they cut corners.  The trash chutes didn't work, and sanitary workers wouldn't come there to even pick up the trash if they had because they said it was dangerous there.  And on and on.

          They made Pruitt Igoe as unappealing and miserable a place as was possible and then expected people to live there.  As I've said before, it was shameful what they did there, the conditions they expected people to live in.

          "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

          by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 09:54:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  That's the myth... (9+ / 0-)

      that the documentary would like to debunk. It wasn't the poverty or the renting--there were so many external factors that contributed to the downfall. One very important factor was the economic model: Federal money paid to build the buildings, but there was no federal money for maintenance. Upkeep funding had to come directly from rent--and the rent was too low to support adequate maintenance. It was a vicious cycle, because, as poor maintenance contributed to people moving away, there was less rental money, so even less maintenance.

    •  I don't deserve a troll rating (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rick Aucoin

      for my comment here.

      •  I'm not going to give you one...but... (5+ / 0-)

        you saying renters lack...something...

        obviously leads me to ask...

        is it all renters or is it just certain types of renters?

        and you prefacing your statement with:

        "There is also another point that others here may not like"

        leads me to believe you've had this conversation elsewhere and experienced a poor reception to your opinion. before.

        I'm a renter.
        I have been my entire adult life.
        30 years, married, separated, raised two kids, and many a pet.

        I find what you stated to be borderline socio/economically biased.
        At the very least. and wrong.

        "The world is a disco ball. And we're little mirrors one and all" - Future Bible Heroes

        by anodnhajo on Sun May 15, 2011 at 11:13:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  My parents and I lived in a rented house (5+ / 0-)

      until I was eleven.  If anything, we were more careful not to damage things, because we didn't own it.  I remember my dad cautioning me that this was Mr. Frasco's house and we needed to take good care of it.  (Our landlord and his wife were lovely people, like grandparents to me.)

      Fox News is to the truth as a flaming bag of dog shit is to a packed lunch. --MinistryOfTruth

      by snazzzybird on Sun May 15, 2011 at 09:13:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My husband and I have rented (4+ / 0-)

      for all the years of our thirty plus year marriage so that we could "afford" to live in areas with better schools.

      I could show you proof that we left the property (the yard especially) in better shape than when we came in but I know that even if I showed you, you wouldn't believe it.

      My experience with about a half a dozen landlords is that every one of them is more conscientious about collecting the rent check than maintaining their own property.

      So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it, you're not helping to make this Earth a place sometimes called Hell- Stevie Wonder

      by blindyone on Sun May 15, 2011 at 10:57:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  PI was a concrete vertical ghetto- (6+ / 0-)

    When you pack thousands of poor folks into one neighborhood along with all the criminals to prey on them, your going to have out of control crime. In fact, the criminals will end up controlling the place.

    •  In fact (7+ / 0-)

      thousands of poor folks lived in the surrounding neighborhood and did not face out of control crime.  

      Pack thousands of middle class folks into a poorly designed building without maintenance resources and you're going to attract criminals and end up with out of control crime.

      Not to be irritating but your comment "along with all the criminals to prey on them" kinda bugs me for some reason.  Criminals are everywhere.  They didn't prey on the poor families who lived in low rise houses across the street.  They preyed on people living in a half empty building designed with a lot of spaces (empty stairwells, e.g.) that made it easy to prey on people.

      Why is it that a 3% tax increase for the wealthy is considered "socialism" and an 8% wage cut for the middle class is "doing your part"? MartyM

      by delphine on Sun May 15, 2011 at 10:57:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary! (11+ / 0-)

    Having grown up in suburban St. Louis, the controversial history of Pruitt Igoe and Darst Webbe is familiar.

    Your diary and the documentary go a long way towards explaining why these noble experiments failed.

    In interviews with several social historians, we’re reminded of the larger context  that shaped the story arc of Pruitt-Igoe: The Federal Housing Act of 1949, which created incentives for large-scale public-housing developments, while also encouraging urban flight and systemic removal of African-Americans from certain neighborhoods; the conflict between economic gain for developers and trade unions versus the social ideal of helping impoverished people; the ultimately disastrous decision to provide federal funds to build the development, but to rely on residents’ rent for maintenance; and, of course, institutionalized racism.

    Many used to complain about the maintenance problems, but how could low income families manage the cost of repairs when they're just scraping by to put food on the table.

    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle

    by Betty Pinson on Sun May 15, 2011 at 07:41:55 AM PDT

  •  I taught some of the kids from Pruitt Igoe (5+ / 0-)

    This diary brought back a burst of memories.  For two years during the mid-60's I lived near and taught kids from the projects (as they called Pruitt Igoe.)  I was one of five white teachers in an otherwise all black school high school (teachers and students).  Having grown up in the white suburbs of St. Louis, I didn't have a clue as to what life was like in the ghetto, never mind the projects.  Here are a few recollections.  

    Pruitt Igoe was truly horrible inside and out.  The kids that lived there were in constant danger.  One day a boy arrived to class with a large white bandage on the top of his head where a  coke bottle  dropped from a high floor had made its mark.  Another day, the school was abuzz with the story of someone who had been killed when a washing machine fell from above.

    The description in the diary about the halls and stairwells is accurate.  Only once did I ever dare enter one of the buildings.  The danger was so palpable, I left immediately.

    Understandably, the children, boys and girls alike, were tough and quick to fight—often fiercely--when attacked or to protect their brothers and sisters, friends, property or self-respect.  And yet it didn’t take much to see that they were, after all, children.  Easily hurt, often afraid, frequently confused.

    Brothers and sisters protected one another, frequently unable to participate in extra-curricular activities because they had to collect a younger sibling from grade school, escort him home and baby sit until their mother returned from work.

    There was a lot of well meaning but often misguided writing and discussion about the problems of the older cities in the 60’s, and a new vocabulary sprang up.  The poor became “economically disadvantaged,” and the kids with patchy and poor schooling were called “educationally disadvantaged.”  A large percentage of the high school students in my classes had never been taught to read and had come to believe that they were stupid or that reading was just beyond them.

    President Johnson's "war on poverty" was in full swing and we definitely benefited from it in the form of books, audio-visual equipment, student work programs, etc. There is also no question that a great deal of money was skimmed as it passed through the bureacracy, and many friends and relatives got paid for phantom jobs.  Nevertheless, in our school we were happy to have the help that reached us.

    Not all of the families in the immediate area were poor.  On one side of the projects, there were several blocks of houses and townhouses that had been restored.  They were I believe, privately owned. and that area was kept in good order by a strong neighborhood association and with the leadership of a Catholic priest and a vital parish organization at St. Nick's. I'm sorry I can't remember the priest's name because his accomplishments were impressive and he and the neighbors he worked with deserve to be remembered.

    Kids that lived in the projects (or received any kind of govenment assistance) were often looked down on by the kids who didn't.  Many considered it shameful to be poor.

    The Black Power movement appropriated “black” as a proud word to describe themselves, and ”brother” and “sister” became words of unity and support.

    Although Malcolm X’s influence could be seen in the neighborhood in a few establishments with the name Shabazz, the Black Muslim movement was in its infancy in St. Louis, and the students in our school were largely indifferent to it. Some regarded Black Muslims with suspicion and even ridicule since the pristine white robes and veils worn by the Muslim women were less familiar than the very similar, though black, robes and veils worn by Catholic nuns.

    I sometime wonder whether I was at all helpful to the kids I taught.  I know some of them did learn to read and several showed other kinds of learning and improvement.  I can picture many of them to this day.  I wonder what became of them.

    I'm glad someone made a documentary about Pruitt Igoe.  I would love to see it, but I live in Europe now, and will have to scratch around a bit to find it.

  •  A feeling of ownership (4+ / 0-)

    The most telling thing about this is that the surrounding neighborhood - low-rise tenements with the identical demographic and economic makeup did not have the crime and destruction that happened in "the projects".

    The architecture, while grand in theory, created a great deal of space that no one "owned".  Communal spaces shared by a couple of families were maintained by those families, but there was no one to maintain the corridors and stairwells and other common areas shared by 100's of people.

    Point being:  it's not a "concentration of poor people" that caused the problem.  This was a failure of architecture and social engineering, design with a fatal blind spot.

    Those of us here who have rented property and say "we kept it even nicer because it was rented" are missing the point.  "Ownership" is not about holding the deed.  Those of us who have rented apartments relied on the owners of those buildings to maintain the common areas.  If your elevator stopped working or there was a leak coming from someone's shower on the floor above, you had someone to call, whose responsibility was to fix it.  

    Couple poorly thought out design with corrupt builders and you get a disaster - a building with maintenance issues and dangerous no-man's-land areas without the resources to address them.  

    As Betty pointed out, Federal funds built Pruitt Igoe but none was set aside to maintain it.  It was assumed that rents would pay for it.  Anyone who lives in a condo knows that without association dues, there wouldn't be any money to fix anything major.  And if your condo complex was half empty, you'd be screwed if something major went wrong.

    I rented in West Hollywood in a nice (but very old) tri-plex.  We were surrounded by (at the time) million dollar homes.  The rent was relatively low so my landlord could keep tenants until he went condo, which he never did because the market tanked.

    We had fricken RATS in the attic.  I had to call the landlord many times to address the issue, and finally one of the disgusting things ran down the pipe to my hot water heater - and into the kitchen.  

    Only after a number of failed solutions was the landlord able to get rid of the rats, and I've no doubt it cost him a bundle.  I don't know what I and my neighbors would have done if we'd been responsible for dealing with the rats in our shared attic.  

    Multiply that by 100's of tenants and 1,000s of issues to be addressed.  Even tenants with money, like me and my neighbors.  

    Nothing to do with demographics.  We had a small common area that we all took ownership of, and a "landlord" with some small resources who actually gave a shit.  

    Why is it that a 3% tax increase for the wealthy is considered "socialism" and an 8% wage cut for the middle class is "doing your part"? MartyM

    by delphine on Sun May 15, 2011 at 10:48:52 AM PDT

  •  talked about Pruitt-Igoe in architecture school (0+ / 0-)

    Especially when compared to the prototype - the famous Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles, France designed by Le Corbusier - the consensus was that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of large-scale public housing, but rather it was the human element that caused the failure.  Pruitt-Igoe specifically worked well in its earliest years when it was A) full, B) racially integrated, and perhaps most importantly C) when its residents were two-parent households from the "working poor".  Pruitt-Igoe became the stereotype of "the projects" as it developed low occupancy rates, became almost entirely black, and the households that did live there were headed by single mothers on welfare.

    Middle class people, like those who live in the Unite today, carry on pretty much no matter where or how they live, while poor people - especially broken families from the underclass - flourish only in the most favorable physical environments: i.e. traditional neighborhoods with separate houses where public and private spaces are clearly defined (unlike the "towers in the park" idea that most public housing follows), that are also ideally mixed-use with services and jobs and thus people are always present.

    •  Well, I don't know what to say about (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trashablanca, foufou

      what you were taught, other than it was grossly lacking in actual facts.

      As has been stated repeatedly above, what made it not work was the fact that no one could maintain the buildings.  The government built them and then basically abandoned the people that lived there without adequate means to maintain the structures.  And since they were built poorly and with no thought to how people could possibly live there successfully, i.e., the elevators only stopping on every third floor, the dangerous stairwells with inadequate or no lighting, the sub par plumbing, etc., they had no chance of being a successful project.  They were doomed to fail by the shortsightedness of those who were responsible for building them.

      I'm sure that high-rise structures can be successful, but they have to have different circumstances than what occurred at Pruitt Igoe.

      "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

      by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 11:53:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  P-I was not cheaply built nor was it a people dump (0+ / 0-)

        It's simply incorrect to say that the city of St. Louis just built the buildings, stuffed the poorest of the poor into them, and forgot about them.

        Pruitt-Igoe was envisioned as a replacement for the unhealthy and genuinely cheaply-built 100 year old tenements that were the only things that the working poor of St. Louis could afford at the time.  It was thought that respectable families with steady incomes would live in them.  It's also incorrect to say that Pruitt-Igoe was cheaply-built.  The complex was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect who designed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and was built to a standard that compared well with present-day public housing.  

        Lack of maintenance was a major problem, but the reality is that maintenance budgets were slowly eroded by declining occupancy rates and the replacement of working poor households with welfare households, both ultimately caused by widespread factory closures.  Add to that widespread vandalism and the residents' perceptions that the common areas both inside and out simply weren't their responsibility.

        The first building at Pruitt-Igoe was demolished only 16 years after the complex was completed, and the remaining 30 buildings would all be demolished within the next 4 years.

        •  And I'm telling you that you don't know (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          trashablanca, foufou

          what you're talking about.  I'm well aware that Yamasaki designed the buildings.  But his original vision was scrapped because it was thought to be more cost effective to have them all be 11 stories tall, the communal recreational areas never built, the parkways never constructed.  And they were cheaply built, although the actual cost of building them was not cheap at all.  There was much corruption involved in the building of them, with sub-par materials used and corners cut at every opportunity.  How else to explain buildings with elevators that only stop on every third floor?  That's certainly not a feature, now is it?  Sounds more like a bug to me.

          You were taught to believe that it was all hunky dory if not for the maintenance issue, but that wasn't the case on the ground.  Having actually seen the buildings over the course of many years and known people who lived there, I can tell you that what you were taught to believe and what is actually true are two entirely different things.

          "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

          by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 12:42:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Also, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      foufou, blindyone, trashablanca

      Pruitt Igoe was never racially integrated.  It was part of the plan that it would be, but the whites just didn't want to live there.  They moved outward and created neighborhoods that reflected their place of origin: Irish, Italians, Polish, they all made their own little enclaves.  So the idea that there was some great integration in the early years is just a myth.

      My reading on what is taught in architecture classes and other disciplines that where Pruitt Igoe becomes part of a lesson plan leads me to believe that there is much disinformation spread.  There is a glossing over what the real problems were in order to fit PI into some context where it really doesn't fit.

      "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

      by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 12:04:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Husband says when he first moved in (4+ / 0-)

        around '55, there were a few white families but they quickly left.  And, he says that he trick or treated a few streets away from P-I, in a mostly white neighborhood, but those people were in the process of fleeing as well.

        So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it, you're not helping to make this Earth a place sometimes called Hell- Stevie Wonder

        by blindyone on Sun May 15, 2011 at 12:58:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, and he would have been among the first (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          trashablanca, blindyone, foufou

          to have lived there.  There was never anything that approached integration.  It wasn't even in the great plan, as the whites were to occupy some buildings and the blacks to occupy others.  Together yet still segregated.  But the whites never came so it became all black housing.

          I've read articles by architects that were taught what Visceral was taught who basically disputed the logic of what they were taught just on the basis of common sense.  What they were taught didn't match up with the statistics and facts they read and saw elsewhere.  So there are generations of architects, etc. that learned the wrong lessons that PI had to offer.  That's just wrong, and sad.

          "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

          by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 01:30:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I decided for my own blood pressure, (4+ / 0-)

            and the "health" of this comment thread, to overlook some of visceral's word choices such as "element" and "underclass".  

            I do want to see the film.  And, I appreciate your point of view in this little discussion.

            So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it, you're not helping to make this Earth a place sometimes called Hell- Stevie Wonder

            by blindyone on Sun May 15, 2011 at 02:06:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks, blindyone. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              blindyone, foufou

              I enjoyed what you had to say on behalf of your husband.  It was good to have his perspective via you here, too.  Peace to you both.

              "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

              by Got a Grip on Sun May 15, 2011 at 03:28:22 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site