film night: the pruitt-igoe myth

“wars of nations are fought to change maps. but wars of poverty are fought to map change.” ~muhammad ali

i saw a great indie docu about the infamous 33 bldg public housing complex in st. louis, mo. designed by the same architect behind the original wtc. i did some research on the topic of public housing projects as an ugrad and remembered these looming buildings mentioned over and over in the literature i went through. it seemed coincidental that i happened to come across this screening just as i was laying out plans to revise and concretize some of my old writings and research. the director and a former resident’s presence at the screening made for a richer experience.

i was disturbed to learn some things i didn’t know about public housing. one resident who lived in these projects as a child reported a social worker giving her family the choice between subsidized housing with the requirement that her father leave the state vs. no public housing and the opportunity to live in an intact family of 14. old footage of these monolithic buildings recalled the feeling of modernist slabs of concrete i was captivated by on a visit to chicago, so distinct from my everyday landscape.  public housing funds were provided for the pruitt-igoe complex with many parallels in other cities. the result was quite consistently a colored space and a form of architectural containment. disinvestment in critical maintainance caused the structures to fall into sharp disrepair.

i was affected as i am always by tragedies along the rust belt. to live in a space where industry died longing for some faraway high time seems so harrowing to me; industrial heyday skeletons spewn about. this is something distinct from what I’ve experienced in the mostly coastal cities i’ve resided in (though its quite apparent a few hours north of me in penitentiary peppered upstate ny). i was also taken aback by the nationally broadcast demolition of a portion of the complex.  hey let’s blow up a defacto black milieu on tv. let’s project the explosion further than the north side of st. louis for all to see.

what i appreciated about the film was the humanization of the residents; giving them voice to speak of home on a personal level getting past architecture and urban planning criticism, discussions of zoning and “revitalization,” macro level discussions that don’t consider the human level. i felt the project was conceived through a caring lens. i’ll never mind the audience member who suggested that what’s behind the pruitt-igoe saga is more of a class issue than a race issue. it was a striking film and much needed archiving of an era in recent history. check the pruitt-igoe myth site for local screenings. it’s at ifc for a few more days in ny. rip pruitt-igoe (1954-1972).

[air photo of pruitt-igoe looking like dominos, photographer unknown, taken 3/3/68]


~ by cyrah on January 22, 2012.

4 Responses to “film night: the pruitt-igoe myth”

  1. What a wonderfully contemplative and deeply reflective review. Sounds like an amazing piece of work. Thank you for shedding light on this film. I look forward to seeing it.

  2. “Poverty never created immorality poverty created want,” said a sociologist who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the Pruitt Igoe situation.

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