by Michael R. Allen
In May 2010, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan visited the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing project. Afterward, he shared his thoughts with St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial writer Eddie Roth. Roth produced a lovely short video combining many striking images from the Post archive with Donovan’s comments. Donovan’s statements about the Pruitt-Igoe legacy are smart and eloquent, although his insistence on the wisdom of demolishing all American high-rise public housing is questionable.
One thing that all interpreters seem to agree upon is the complexity of Pruitt-Igoe’s legacy. The differences lie in whether the design itself could have been salvaged and made to work. Rampant dismissal of the design has led to a strong and largely unquestioned narrative about the causal relationship between high-rise apartment buildings and the conditions of poverty. With almost all of the towers in this nation gone, we seem to be faced with a culture of poverty only stronger and wider than when Pruitt-Igoe’s last tower was opened in February 1956.
To learn more about the history of Pruitt-Igoe, attend one of the upcoming screenings of the wonderful documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. Screenings are scheduled for Thursday, June 2nd at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, June 4th at 12:00 noon, both at the Tivoli Theatre.