The Time the Federal Government Built a Flawed Housing Project and Tore It Down 20 Years Later
On the 50th anniversary of the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe, it’s nearly impossible to understate the failure of the St. Louis public housing project.
Famed architect Minoro Yamasaki, who would go on to design the World Trade Center, received praise for his vision of the 57-acre property where Pruitt-Igoe once stood, even though his original plans didn’t exactly come to fruition. The property had significant structural and design problems (including “skip-stop” elevators that encouraged stairwell crime by only stopping on select floors) and it’s widely accepted that the housing project only exacerbated the ills of poverty and substandard housing.
Pruitt-Igoe represented complete racial and economic segregation. The building was dominated by single mother households that symbolized the collateral damage of public assistance. This was described by sociologist Lee Rainwater, in his book Behind Ghetto Walls: Life in a Federally-Subsidized Slum, “Only those Negroes who are desperate for housing are willing to live in Pruitt-Igoe.” When imploded, the buildings weren’t even two decades old.
The problems that toppled Pruitt-Igoe do not go nearly far enough to capture the deeply mistaken assumptions about government housing policy whose bad ideas continue today.
After clearing seedy areas, housing reformers who pushed for Pruitt-Igoe assumed that the neighborhoods they replaced were irredeemably bad and required what Architectural Forum magazine called, in 1957, “slum surgery.” In reality, the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood—like Chicago’s Bronzeville, Detroit’s Black Bottom, and New York’s East Harlem—contained small businesses, community institutions (such as a St. Louis hospital financed by African-American philanthropy) manufacturing, and, most notably, owner-occupied homes. Of the housing units
Article from Reason.com