The Pruitt-igoe Myth: An Urban History Reviews

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Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
January 29, 2012
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.
½ January 6, 2013
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.
½ June 21, 2012
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.
½ August 2, 2015
I thought it was one of the best documentaries I've ever seen and it also happened to be extremely insightful into the general human condition of that era.
½ August 26, 2014
This should be studied in every school, not only in the US, but in every country. I strongly feel that those in power are creating a global Pruitt-Igoe project.This is an important film on many different levels.
November 3, 2013
Further evidence as to how we came to be as a society. Really captivating.
September 24, 2013
I really liked this documentary. Great for sociology majors! Excellent look into all perspectives on this....lets you get a good perspective on urban sprawl, projects, inner city living, and a great array of personal stories. Sad story but definitely interesting...if you like documentaries....definitely put this on your list!
July 28, 2013
Interesting enough to hold my attention to the end, but unless I dozed off for a second I can't for the life of me recall that they ever established what the "myth" was. Also slightly dissapointed that they didn't even discuss some of the building design flaws that DID contribute to it's ultimate decline. OK as far as "It's 2am andI can't sleep what's on Netflix" documentaries go.
May 15, 2013
Great documentary about what went on in the Pruitt-Igoe projects. The story revealed many of the policy flaws and lack of long-term planning involved in the enormous buildings. I read about them in urban planning school, but it's nice to see them up close in video.
March 24, 2013
Frightening that the government has that much control and uses it to prey upon the poor and the uneducated to keep them poor and uneducated. Quite devastating really.
½ March 16, 2013
Documentary may lack solutions, but still provides a valuable understanding about why a housing project failed.
March 13, 2013
I think the film is fantastic. The narration explains every element that could have lead to the downfall. Links with some conversations about Robert Moses here in New York. What makes a city? and Who are these mega blocks not as effective as one would assume? They take away from shared spaces and sense of community. They create cold seclusion.
½ November 27, 2012
Excellent doc about a place that's always intrigued me.
½ September 25, 2012
It's impossible to watch this film and not be affected. Simple, well produced and powerful. Perfectly edited.
½ August 29, 2012
Beautifully produced documentary about a fascinating subject. The cinematography is haunting and the interviews are priceless snippets of a history soon to be forgotten. The only bad thing I have to say about this film is that it re-used its footage a little too much, with some shots making as many as three appearances.
½ August 1, 2012
Gives an intimate, rarely-seen, human perspective on federal housing projects, the ups and downs as experienced by the affected "beneficiaries." Doesn't give any easy answers to the problem it depicts, but an excellent study with much food for thought about the motivations and blind spots of the groups who made Pruitt-Igoe happen, be they altruistic, political or economic.
March 18, 2012
See it for history. See it for issues of urbanism, architecture or economics. But see it, though not complete, very well done.
March 1, 2012
An important doc. Filled the house at Webster last night.
Harlequin68
Super Reviewer
January 29, 2012
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.
January 29, 2012
i love rotten tomatoes god bless
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