The Pruitt-igoe Myth: An Urban History (2012)
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as Ruby Russell
as Sylvester Brown
as Robert Fishman
as Joseph Heathcott
as Brian King
as Joyce Ladner
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.
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.
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.
I really enjoyed this documentary and how it debunks many of the preconceptions or rash conclusions that some architects, planners, governmental figures, and social scientist come away with when looking at the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. This documentary correctly explains that the failure here is an individual set of circumstances and that this is a unique problem that does not speak for all public housing or all of modern architecture. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is the wide variety of accounts and experiences from the actual Pruitt-Igoe tenants. Surprisingly, not all of them were bad, especially people who were there earlier. This helps to better understand the people who lived there and the real reasons Pruitt-Igoe failed.
It goes on to explain how issues of race lead to poor planning and decision-making that hurt the entire city. It shows how damaging the white flight many cities experienced during the Mid-Century suburbanization was, particularly in St Louis. The federal government funded an overbuilt the project expecting continued urban growth when the postindustrial wave hit the city causing St Louis to lose a substantial portion of its population and tax base. Pruitt-Igoe did not have enough tenants to pay rent, the shrinking city had no tax revenue to take care of it and the federal government was hands off after construction. As expected, the building fell into disrepair and became notoriously unsafe. There are many lessons from this painful urban disaster, and this film does a fantastic job brining light to the subject.
This was a great documentary. It examines the reasons behind the construction of the housing project, how the public sector failed to maintain it, and its ultimate demise and demolition. The film also examines the socioeconomic and demographic changes that swept post-WWII St. Louis. It shares the stories of its inhabitants and their memories (both wonderful and tragic). I would highly recommend this to anyone.
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