Urban Fold

The "Perfect Storm" that Caused the U.S. Public Housing Fiasco

Architect Ray Gindroz says that a perfect storm of factors - economic change, crushing policy decisions, and over-reaching ambition - brought about the disaster of public housing in the U.S. like Pruitt-Igoe.

Gindroz reviews the new documentary "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth", which tells the story of the infamous St. Louis public housing project built in 1956 and demolished in 1976:

"The "actors" in this tragedy are real: the residents who lived through the experience. They describe their living conditions before Pruitt-Igoe was built, their joy at moving into the project, and the wonderful, magical place it was at the beginning. Then, step by step, they tell us what it was like to live through its decline: the loss of maintenance, resulting in urine-soaked elevators and rotting garbage at entries; the lack of jobs, resulting in the loss of hope and criminals moving into this unmanaged place. The story ends in fear and death."

But Gindroz uses the film as an opening to discuss what public housing was such a failure, including the rote repetition of the high-density block form in areas where such a form made no sense:

"Often their campuses spread across sites equivalent to several blocks of a traditional city. These concentrations of public housing stood apart from neighborhoods. The "project" replaced the "neighborhood." It lacked the diversity, human scale, and mix of uses that had made traditional neighborhoods function."

Thanks to Robert Steuteville

Full Story: Remember Pruitt-Igoe

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