pruitt-igoe is the federal housing project developed in the 1950s for the st. louis poor. i hadn’t heard of it before the documentary, but the story of this one seems similar to the story i’ve heard of projects in general. white, male, government types get together to address the issue of poverty, they come up with a housing plan, it fails. why does it fail? it’s a thorny issue. on the conservative side there would be people who would say that the government meddled in the price of housing, did a big project, etc. and it was doomed to failure because the government can’t do these things as efficiently as the free market. some on that side would also blame the residents for failing to keep up their cheap housing and have pride in where they live. others would point out that the government failed to plan for real maintenance work so the buildings fell into a state of disrepair. then there was government insistence that women not live with men in order to qualify for the low rent. the documentary has one interview with a woman whose parents broke up so that her 11 siblings and mother could get the low rent while the father moved elsewhere to make money. to me, this is a telling parable or microcosm of the whole project. 1) government fails with a backwards and silly rule (to only allow women without able-bodied men into the housing) 2) woman and man don’t earn much, have 12 kids. 3) woman and man think that breaking up for cheap rent is better than staying together and finding another way.
watching the documentary it made me re-realize that something i’ve thought about oftentimes before – there are so many things wrong with the world (or in this case, wrong with this housing project) and there is so much blame to go around, that one can make up pretty much any narrative they want and find some supporting evidence.
on the larger scale, this project was about the changing look of the city. in the 50s st. louis was projected to grow to over 1 million people. instead, it reversed course and the suburbs grew thus gutting the city. the pruitt-igoe projects weren’t well conceived, but once people started moving out of the city, they were truly doomed. of course, tangled in all of this are issues of class, race and politics. messy stuff with plenty of sad stories to go around. recommended.