Jan 11, 2016

Pruitt-Igoe

*Baconfest 3 begins Wednesday January, 13 @ 5:30 at the Central Library (Dutton Theatre). Join us www.calgary.ca/baconfest

Back in the 1950’s, housing of all types was a big issue. In the United States affordable rental housing projects were tied to urban renewal efforts and as history has shown, to disastrous results. The biggest failure arguably is Pruitt-Igoe.

Pruitt-Igoe in the mid 1950’s was seen as the prototype for rental housing for the future. The influences in the concept and design were heralded around the world as the model for meeting the growing population housing needs in inner cities. The story is compelling, fascinating and deeply tragic. The neighbourhoods destroyed, the landscape scarred and even a quarter century after it was demolished, still largely a barren landscape on the north edge of one of America’s great cities.


Pruitt-Igoe soon after completion. Thirty two, eleven storey buildings of what was intentioned to be affordable rental housing.


Imagine, 32 eleven story buildings stacked up like dominoes, built circa 1955, blown up by 1973. And ground so contaminated with PCB’s it cannot be used for residential uses without huge clean-up costs. It was not just the lands where these buildings sat that ended up vacant. Dozens of blocks adjacent to the land sit empty today.



This video highlights an attempt by housing authorities to make things better.  By blowing up half of each building it was hoped the reduced density would be the solution to the ills that plagued this project from the outset.

The video presentation is a fascinating look and the project from the perspective of the residents. The affectionate tones many former residents use when they speak of their memories is surprising. Yet the legacy of Pruitt-Igoe helped build a new way forward. One of the more rewarding experiences I have had, was working on the Hope VI housing projects, where new housing was developed mixing the incomes of the residents and providing services and training to help people succeed. And in St. Louis we led the nation in using this terrific federal program (President Bush tried to kill it).


Pruitt-Igoe as it sits today, the Mississippi River in the background with downtown St. Louis. The only activity on the lands, a school built 15 years ago. The impact of demolishing the apartment buildings on the surrounding neighbourhood was considerable.  Today the City is working to rebuild this area of the city.

So the lessons of Pruitt-Igoe were not in vain. Lessons pertinent to any discussion on the subject of housing and in particular affordable housing. And we are not isolated here from the misconceptions you will see in this film.


Just this week, St. Louis City Council passed a rezoning to set a new direction for the remaining 34 acres of vacant land. Join us next Wednesday the 13th at the Dutton Theatre for Baconfest 3. I’ll kick it off with some visuals and information, then the film, and I am certain some fascinating discussion.

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