Pruitt-Igoe Belongs to Us

by Michael R. Allen

The St. Louis Development Corporation has proposed initiating a $100,000 two-year option on the 33-acre Pruitt-Igoe site for Paul J. McKee, Jr.’s Northside Regeneration LLC. During that time, the ddeveloper would have exclusive right to purchase the site for $900,000. What does this mean for the future of the site of one of the city’s most important events from the recent past?

For now, it means that the developer will be able to lay claim to the ground, and market the site as the potential location for commercial buildings. Yet the option does not stop public imagination of what could be done with the site. The Pruitt-Igoe parcel is owned by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, a public agency. Thus we are all owners of the site, and its future is a question of public interest. Most sites in the Northside Regeneration footprint are of marginal historic interest, but this one is rich with symbolism. What happens to Pruitt-Igoe’s remaining vacant land reflects our collective regard for the lives of all who lived in the housing project there.

Ahead of Northside Regeneration’s option, last summer I joined my collaborator Nora Wendl in launching the independent ideas competition Pruitt Igoe Now. Pruitt Igoe Now has solicited ideas and designs for the site’s reuse, and has attracted the interest of participants from around the world. We close the competition on March 16, and announce winners in late May. Our purpose is not to block redevelopment but to offer a powerful moment of civic reflection.

A playground at Pruitt-Igoe. Photograph courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

How do we honor the past life of the Pruitt-Igoe site through its renewal? Often historic sites connected with significant African-American experience are lost without deliberation. The list of buildings lost in Mill Creek Valley, JeffVanderLou and The Ville is staggering. The loss of public housing buildings has erased much of the postwar history of struggle and accomplishment. Pruitt-Igoe’s ruins are left as an imperfect marker of a complicated but definitive chapter in the city’s history.

WORTH READING: “Fantastic Pruitt-Igoe Design Workshop: Social Agency Lab and Neighborhood Youth” — an account of a workshop in which Hyde Park youth developed ideas for the Pruitt-Igoe site, written by a young participant.

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