The Pruitt-igoe Myth: An Urban History (2012)
Filmmaker Chad Freidrichs attempts to dispel the myths surrounding St. Louis' Pruitt-Igoe housing project by examining the rise and fall of the once-promising development within a historical context. Constructed in 1956, Pruitt-Igoe offered people who once lived in poverty the change to enjoy modern living in a convenient urban setting. But by the late 1960s Pruitt-Igoe was overrun with crime, and the following decade it was demolished. As a result, Pruitt-Igoe is often cited as an example of both failed Modern Architecture and public planning. By looking a bit deeper and examining the circumstances surrounding the fall of Pruitt-Igoe, however, Freidrichs posits that those who perpetuate these arguments may be missing some crucial components of the big picture. … More
as Sylvester Brown
as Robert Fishman
as Joseph Heathcott
as Brian King
as Joyce Ladner
as Ruby Russell
as Valerie Sills
as Jacqueline Williams
as Chad Freidrichs
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Critic Reviews for The Pruitt-igoe Myth: An Urban History
The personal stories told by former residents add a poignancy to the broad trends the film examines.
Pruitt-Igoe was the first, and most famous, example of the failure of that sort of public housing.
Myth convinces that St. Louis failed Pruitt-Igoe, and not the other way around.
Using archival footage and interviews with former residents, Freidrichs adds human dimension and historical context to what is often viewed in simple terms as a misguided blip.
A thought-provoking, cinematic picking of the bones of the scattered exoskeleton of a once-promising 'poor man's penthouse.'
The drugs, fear and violence cannot be shown but are palpable in the speakers' memories.
I quibble about facts emphasized or omitted, [but] the memorable images, valuable personal testimonies and... huge empty lot should help frame a discussion [on] urban policy.
This history is too recent to seem dry, and the film gets an added emotional punch from interviews with former tenants, whose memories mix fondness with anger and loss.
Deeply impressive and disturbing exposť of what went terribly wrong with one hopeful post-War American housing experience.
The film ends on a note of courage, and a call-to-action that we "remember," naturally, but we can't completely buy it: What Freidrichs has accomplished is a portrait of unknowability.
Given the ongoing shredding of the social safety net in America, the film's greatest service might be to remind us that programs and services for the poor have always had hostile enemies.
It's a heartbreaking alarm call for a society that desperately needs to learn from its worst mistakes.
An engulfing real-life horror story as well as a testimony to the dominance of the image in American public discourse.
Audience Reviews for The Pruitt-igoe Myth: An Urban History
History is often much more complex than originally presented. That is especially true with the heartbreaking documentary "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" about the failed eponymous housing projects in St. Louis that were built in the 1950's to house low income families who had previously lived in slums and imploded in the 1970's when it proved to be unsalvageable. Today that lot is populated only by trees, as nature seeks to reclaim the land.
Along with an excellent use of archival material to detail the horrible conditions of the slums, what St. Louis once looked like(there is a brief mention of proposed city improvements, only some of which came to fruition) and a before and after view of the projects which is stunning, the documentary makes great use of the former residents, who were scattered throughout the city after the projects closed, telling their own stories, starting with newspaper columnist Sylvester Brown in 2005 touring the vacant lot. This allows details of living in the projects to be filled in, such as the hope of the residents moving in from the slums into as one person puts it a "a penthouse for the poor." That same great view of St. Louis turns into a nightmare for authorities later when the buildings eventually became abandoned and the towers turn into lookout posts for criminals.
To the casual observer, it might seem like the idea of public housing was inherently at fault but there were other causes in play, some which the city leaders could foresee and others which were outside of their power. They thought the population of St. Louis would continue growing after World War II when it in effect it decreased dramatically due to white flight to the suburbs due to the same federal housing act of 1949 that made the projects possible, also allowed families to get a loan for a new home cheaper in the suburbs than renting an apartment in the city.(St. Louis was not the only city this happened to. It just had the perfect conditions.) As the city tax base fell apart, that gave the city less money to maintain the projects which instantly fell into a state of neglect and segregation, as jobs also migrated out to the suburbs away from where the workers lived. This gave the opponents more fuel against the projects as even the original proponents sometimes operated out of ulterior motives to clean up the city. The failure to mention mass transportation which probably also suffered is the documentary's only big misstep.
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