The Pruitt-igoe Myth: An Urban History Reviews
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.
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.