St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe public housing project was built in 1954 and hailed as the prototype for future public housing. The nine high rise apartment buildings were to be used to house both black and white St. Louisans who were displaced by urban renewal. However, within a few years, Pruitt-Igoe proved to be a major failure. A perfect storm of poor design, poor management, bad timing, overcrowding and crime led to its demise. Within two decades it was leveled, its rubble testimony to the utter failure of the social experiment. Early in 2011, a documentary film was released that traced Pruitt-Igoe’s history. Titled The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, the film shows what happened and why, while reminding viewers that by 1972 Pruitt-Igoe was home to thousands of primarily African-American residents who loved living there, and who still carry fond memories of their childhood there, but who also concede that its demise was probably warranted and that the destruction of Pruitt-Igoe represents a sad chapter for black St. Louisans and the city itself. We speak with the film’s director, Chad Freidrichs, journalist Sylvester Brown—a former Pruitt-Igoe resident—and Jody Sowell, Public Historian at the Missouri History Museum. This segment also includes clips from the film.
Contributors: Chad Freidrichs, Sylvester Brown, and Jody Sowell
Originally aired April 4, 2011