Update: All of the trees and underbrush were cleared from the Pruitt-Igoe site by Northside in 2017 for a supposed three-bed hospital that was never built.
Many St. Louisans don’t realize that one of the most infamous housing projects in the country, Pruitt-Igoe, lies just to the northwest of downtown St. Louis in what was once the center of African-American culture in St. Louis. What is more surprising, is that most of the land of Pruitt-Igoe, demolished in the 1970’s, still sits empty, awaiting redevelopment.
Update: See more pictures of the Pruitt School here.
Near the Pruitt-Igoe site is Desoto Park, where my friends had a booth at a recent community fair. The fair was well attended and peaceful, despite its somber surroundings. New, seemingly well built public housing has gone up across the street, illustrating the new philosophy in public housing–no more ugly, piece of junk concrete monoliths, but rather urbanist housing that at least mimics the appearance of more affluent housing in the city and suburbs.
Above is St. Stanislaus Kostka, which despite sitting in Pruitt-Igoe’s shadow, survives as a prosperous, if “heretical,” parish serving the Polish-American community of St. Louis.
Pruitt-Igoe was a failure almost from the beginning; while it was intended as a noble experiment to remove poor blacks and whites from the notorious Mill Creek slums in the center of the city, it became an isolated, poverty wracked enclave on the Near North Side. It was so isolated from mass-transit and shopping that one family friend related a story of working as a van driver for the complex, ferrying residents to the nearest grocery store, several miles away. Pruitt-Igoe opened just as the city’s famous street-car lines were being shuttered and destroyed by the automobile industry, leaving the complex–ironically only minutes by car from downtown–a terrible place to live if you wanted to get to a job.
Update: St. Bridget of Erin was demolished in February of 2016.
Pruitt-Igoe, along with other failed housing projects, taught Americans that new, wild ideas in public housing was not the answer to poverty, and that poorly designed buildings can actually contribute to the problems they were trying to solve.