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The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
February 28, 2011 3:47 PM   Subscribe

"Completed in 1954, the 33 11-story buildings of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development was built as an attempt to address the housing crisis the poor faced in St Louis, Missouri. Only twenty years later, at 3pm on the 16th of March, 1972, the buildings were leveled, declared unfit for habitation because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions, coupled with rampant crime. The story of Pruitt-Igoe is a tragic urban fable, a complicated and loaded story of ambition, hubris and failure." (src)
"The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" is a documentary directed by Chad Freidrichs that dives into the complex history of the famed housing project (YouTube or Vimeo trailer). RustWire has an interesting interview with the documentary's creator. More information from Architizer, Homo Ludens, and Magical Urbanism. Be sure to check out the collection of pictures from the area and from the documentary in the creators' Flickr stream. [via Archinect and Mefi Projects]

Why they Built the Pruitt-Igoe Project. Photographs of Pruitt-Igoe residents and the surrounding neighborhood from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

A few of you might recognize the buildings from the movie Koyaanisqatsi (along with the well-known Philip Glass song).

Bonus: On-the-ground footage of one of the buildings being destroyed.
posted by spiderskull (29 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
In related news, the population of St. Louis is near its 1870 level and has fallen 63% since its peak in 1950. In a sense the housing crisis has abated somewhat.
posted by jedicus at 3:54 PM on February 28, 2011


Oh this looks right up my alley.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:56 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


In related news, the population of St. Louis is near its 1870 level and has fallen 63% since its peak in 1950. In a sense the housing crisis has abated somewhat.

That St. Louis city's population has declined is not terribly surprising, but I was surprised to see, from that same chart, that the population in St. Louis County has declined 1.7%, whereas St. Charles County is up 27%. So people are now fleeing the suburbs for the exurbs? Weird.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:06 PM on February 28, 2011


Paging Pruitt-Igoe....
posted by Morrigan at 4:10 PM on February 28, 2011


DiscourseMarker: "So people are now fleeing the suburbs for the exurbs?"

See also. Apparently it never gets white enough.

Something similar is true in Chicago, at least; Oak Park is no doubt considered "dangerous" by the Schaumbergians. But it's weird, too... the waves of gentrification chase the bad parts around (never too far south, of course), lapping up to the shores of Humboldt Heights...
posted by Rat Spatula at 4:14 PM on February 28, 2011


DiscourseMarker: That St. Louis city's population has declined is not terribly surprising, but I was surprised to see, from that same chart, that the population in St. Louis County has declined 1.7%, whereas St. Charles County is up 27%. So people are now fleeing the suburbs for the exurbs? Weird.

According to Wikipedia, it is the wealthiest county in Missouri, and one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. Amongst other things going for it, it's the home of the first federally approved American Viticultural Area (eight months before the Napa Valley AVA).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:15 PM on February 28, 2011


So people are now fleeing the suburbs for the exurbs? Weird.

***

Not really. I'm in my early thirties, and I grew up in that sort of situation.
posted by Leta at 4:15 PM on February 28, 2011


So people are now fleeing the suburbs for the exurbs? Weird.

Since many people now work in St. Louis County, the exurbs are really the suburbs.

It may also have something to do with the fact that non-whites are moving away from the city as well, so the racists have to keep moving further away to keep their distance. I see Rat Spatula has already linked the prior post on that subject. It's definitely worth a look for anyone who missed it.
posted by jedicus at 4:16 PM on February 28, 2011


So when are we going to be able to see this? Are more screenings planned than are listed, or will I be able to buy it at some point?
posted by enn at 4:23 PM on February 28, 2011


Great write-up and great discussion so far. Just to clarify: while Chad (the director) and I have been regular MetaFilter readers for, oh, must be going on 7 years now; he has not, to the best of my knowledge, coughed up $5 for an account. This might be what makes him take the plunge.

(Side-Note: it was on either MetaFilter or Memepool on either March 19th, or 20th, 2002 where I first heard of the subject that would become the title character in our first film. I never thanked y'all for that, so let me do so now.)

posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 4:32 PM on February 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


This looks really, really good. I've always wondered why there was a lack of easily-findable information about the Pruitt-Igoe project. I suppose many people would like to forget its existence.

I'm desperate to see this film! I'm with enn, how can we get our eyeballs on it?
posted by zsazsa at 4:41 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The suburbs-to-exurbs thing is everywhere. My ex's parents swore up and down that their nearly crime-free neighborhood was "going downhill" and that this explained their decision to buy a brand new house in a place that was going to be an hour's commute from where they both worked. That was in Cleveland. Their area was down to "only" 75% white when they left, because middle-class blacks (mostly) were also moving out of the city.

I hope I'll get to see this, too, anyway. I'd heard about this in one of those arguments that basically insisted that if they'd had the good sense to build everything Beaux Arts, that would have fixed it, and I was slightly skeptical of that at the time but never really thought to look it up. (I admit, I am not particularly fond of Beaux Arts myself, so.)
posted by gracedissolved at 4:51 PM on February 28, 2011


Dailymotion has the Pruitt-Igoe sequence from Koyaanisqatsi here.
posted by maudlin at 4:53 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


doodooduhDOOduhdoo doodooduhDOOduhdoo

aaah aaah aaah aaaaah aahhhhh
posted by p3on at 5:06 PM on February 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Great write-up and great discussion so far. Just to clarify: while Chad (the director) and I have been regular MetaFilter readers for, oh, must be going on 7 years now; he has not, to the best of my knowledge, coughed up $5 for an account. This might be what makes him take the plunge.

Whoops. I'll contact the mods to edit the post. Assuming you're willing to reveal your identity, what was your role in the film?

Dailymotion has the Pruitt-Igoe sequence from Koyaanisqatsi here.
Thanks, maudlin! I couldn't find that sequence, and couldn't find my Koyaanisqatsi DVD to upload the piece.
posted by spiderskull at 5:08 PM on February 28, 2011


This reminds me I haven't watched Koyaanisqatsi in far too long. Such a masterpiece, that is.

I hadn't even heard of Pruitt-Igoe when I first saw the film. And it's kind of interesting that while Pruitt-Igoe was demolished so many years ago, it's only right now that the last high rise of Chicago's Cabrini Green is getting the wrecking ball. It would seem that the issues were quite similar, yet it took so long to really do anything about them.
posted by dnash at 5:40 PM on February 28, 2011


I'm pretty sure I'd be sick to my stomach to see the buildings that replaced the rather handsome ones being demolished after 5:30 of that Koyaanisqatsi video.

It's pretty remarkable that some people actually believed that purpose-built ghettos could have ever been a good idea.
posted by schmod at 5:59 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My neighbor's a cop. I knew him and his best friend growing up. His best friend's dad was a racist old cop who was always bitching about [sottovoce] "the niggers" [/sottovoce] and how the neighborhood was going down hill.

Now my neighbor, doesn't use the epithet, but is using a lot of the same arguments as his best friend's racist dad, 20 years ago.
posted by notsnot at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2011


Thing people don't get about STL when they compare it to CHI is that STL is in Missouri, which may as well be the South. Illinois has its rednecks, but it's thoroughly Midwestern. STL is a segregated, conservative, linear-thinking backwater, and it's also THE MOST PROGRESSIVE THING MISSOURI HAS TO OFFER. There's a part of the state that's still known as Little Dixie. It's the only "Midwestern" state (besides Indiana) that didn't go for Obama. Remember the Missouri Compromise? Yeah, that happened. Dredd Scott, too.

It's interesting reading this thread and the other STL thread and seeing people say that STL could have been CHI had it not frozen the borders of the city. Granted, freezing the borders doomed STL as a functioning urban entity, make no mistake about that, but the way I always heard it, the reason the railroads and meatpacking plants went to CHI was because MO was so on-the-fence about the whole slavery question, and thus it was seen as less stable. And lo and behold, it becomes the most bloody battleground of the entire civil war. So the segregation, the racism, it all has some deep deep roots.

Anyway, it's good to see my old hometown get some documentary love. Detroit usually hogs all the attention, probably because it was such an icon for so long, but the decimation in STL is as complete if not more so. Actually, there is a lot to love about that town. I mean, you can totally live the low-rent bohemian dream if that's what you're into. I have some friends, a couple, who pay like $200 a month for the bottom floor flat on Cherokee St. He's a musician, she's a documentary filmmaker, it don't take much to live in STL, and South STL is probably my favorite part of the city. Living in NYC, I always used to joke (half-seriously) that if the hipsters wanted to long for the days when NYC was cheap and seedy, they can always move west. Really, it ain't all that bad. I just never felt at home there, from day one really it was like a transplanted organ being rejected from its host.

Maybe I would have liked Chicago better.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:04 PM on February 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's pretty remarkable that some people actually believed that purpose-built ghettos could have ever been a good idea.
Obviously with a few decades of hindsight, we can look at the idea and wonder, WTF? But this is one of those things where it seemed like a good idea at the time. Residential St. Louis city suffered from a good deal of crowding and decay. The area where Pruitt-Igoe was built was a slum before being razed for the high rises. A promise of new construction to replace the slum was at least a hopeful development. Unfortunately, good intentions were not enough. A confluence of design blunders, cost overruns, underutilization, and entrenched racism left a bad taste in the mouths of lots of St. Louisans from the get go. Pruitt-Igoe was particularly notable for its accelerated decay What surprises me isn't that the concept seemed ill conceived from the beginning, but that similar housing projects sometimes lasted much longer and in some cases, managed to be run relatively successfully.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:11 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wanted to note, for those who might be interested, that Pruitt-Igoe was the subject of one of the better electronic music projects released over the past few months: the Pruitt Igoe disk released by Kangding Ray. You can listen to it here. I find it very evocative.
posted by koeselitz at 12:21 PM on March 1, 2011


It is an interesting thing, that Melbourne and other cities around the world have experienced the exact opposite of the flight to the suburbs. We had identical urban renewal projects in the 50s in inner city slums, leading to dozens of exactly the same sort of hideous modernist buildings (google melbourne housing commission flats such as atherton gardens). These flats are still inhabited by recent arrivals and needy people, but they're surrounded by gentrified suburbs with average house prices of a million dollars for not large places. Our modern poor suburbs are 50 km form the city, badly served by public transport and with limited facilities. Kinda where you would expect them to be.

I wonder what all the factors are in the differences. Surely more than racism.
posted by wilful at 4:02 PM on March 1, 2011


Thing people don't get about STL when they compare it to CHI is that STL is in Missouri, which may as well be the South. Illinois has its rednecks, but it's thoroughly Midwestern. STL is a segregated, conservative, linear-thinking backwater, and it's also THE MOST PROGRESSIVE THING MISSOURI HAS TO OFFER.
From my experience of living in STL for 5.5 years, after living in the Chicagoland area for most of my life*, the people who make the comparisons between STL and Chicago live in STL. Chicago is too busy comparing itself to New York or Los Angeles to notice STL. I think that's part of Saint Louis mythology and history, since there was a time when Chicago and STL were closely-matched rivals. Unfortunately, that time roughly corresponds to the period covering the City's separation from Saint Louis County in 1876 to that godforsaken World's Fair** in 1904. Since that time, Chicago has separated itself from its southern competitor, except in baseball, which I begrudgingly admit the superiority of the Cardinals over both Chicago teams. Ahem.

As for the latest Census results, not only is Saint Charles County growing by leaps and bounds, you also have Lincoln County growing by 35% since 2010, Warren County growing by 33%, and Monroe County in Illinois growing by 19%. Both Lincoln and Warren border Saint Charles, so I can picture families commuting to work in places like O'Fallon or Saint Peters while living in a more rural environment. Similarly, Monroe County borders the southern part of STL County, so families can live in Columbia or Waterloo or Dupo while working on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. Until gas gets really expensive, or land becomes scarce (or both), I see these trends continuing throughout this decade. Likewise, I see both the City and STL County losing residents, as their fates become intertwined enough to finally render irrelevant the city/county divide (which is, IMO, already irrelevant, but sometimes a Clue-by-Four is necessary).

*Also throw in some time in Iowa, thanks to college and hanging out in Iowa City.

**For every 100 or so references I encounter in STL for that World's Fair, I encounter one offhand mention of, "Oh yeah, the Olympics were also held in Saint Louis in 1904." Funny how the Olympics tend to get shunted aside, even though they are now more of a relevant Event than the World's Fair. Yes, I know that the 1904 Games were a bit of a joke, but they were still the first-ever Olympics held in the US. One would hope that there would be more recognition at Francis Field--only a mile or so from my apartment--than a simple plaque stating that the Games were held there.

posted by stannate at 9:38 PM on March 1, 2011


Wikipedia: "The complex was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center towers."
posted by iviken at 7:33 AM on March 2, 2011


While we're at it, Yamasaki also designed the National Personnel Records Center *. Certainly a very curious thing (though I should stress that it'd be wrong to draw any deep significance from it) that his three largest commissions met such varied, violent ends.

* About half the sources I've come across list him as the lead architect; the other half give no lead architect, and list him as one of several architects for the NPRC.

posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


While we're at it, Yamasaki also designed the National Personnel Records Center *. Certainly a very curious thing (though I should stress that it'd be wrong to draw any deep significance from it) that his three largest commissions met such varied, violent ends.

Weirdly enough, the building is still standing. The fire occurred on the top floor, and somehow stayed mostly contained to that level, despite the architect's callous disregard to fireproofing. They repaired the damage simply by removing the floor, and reducing the height of the building by one story. As if it had never happened.
posted by schmod at 12:25 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the correction, schmod, and the paper you linked to is proving to be an interesting one.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 5:14 PM on March 2, 2011


Yamasaki is certainly an interesting architect. I'd always assumed that his skyscrapers and buildings were a part of some larger overarching architectural trend. However, the reality seems to be that his firm was really, really prolific through the 1960s and 70s, and had a very distinctive signature style.

Personally, I'm quite fond of a few of his buildings (Rainier Tower probably being my favorite). Similarly, the nearby IBM building....looks exactly like what you'd think a building owned and built by IBM in the 1960s would look like.

However, the modernist-gothic thing always creeped me out -- the two styles didn't go well together. Even before 9/11, I though that the WTC buldings looked rather nice from afar, and somewhat creepy and unsettling up close thanks to all the weird angular shapes used at the top and base of the towers. Something about the angles and the ratios used always made me feel slightly uneasy.

It seems as though the unusual (ie. cheap) design elements in the NPRC doomed the upper floor, while ensuring the survival of the building beneath it. On the flipside, the WTC's "exoskeleton" made it incredibly vulnerable to a plane strike, but also likely ensured that the buildings collapsed onto themselves, rather than tipping over. Weird.
posted by schmod at 8:17 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


PS. You need to get this screened in DC. Talk to the National Building Museum about sponsoring it!
posted by schmod at 11:41 AM on March 3, 2011


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