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‘The Pruitt-Igoe Myth’ exposes wrong lessons learned from Pruitt-Igoe

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth started in St. Louis

(Editor’s note: This article was originally published at examiner.com.) “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” (affiliate link) examines the demise of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis. The housing project was supposed to help lift people out of poverty.  It lasted 18 years before the city decided to demolish it because of a lack of maintenance, low occupancy and high crime rates.

Pruitt-Igoe represents “the death of the idea that we can solve complex issues with single-handed solutions,” said Keith Bartholomew, associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah College of Architecture and Planning. Bartholomew was part of the Salt Lake City Public Library and the Utah Film Center’s panel after a showing of the film on Oct. 19, 2011.

The demise of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project has been blamed on everything from isolation to big business to uneducated residents. It was a complex set of problems that really caused the failure of the project.  After the building was finished, the provision made for its upkeep proved to be inadequate.

“Day one of a building’s opening is simply the first day of the rest of its life,” said Roger Borgenicht, panel member and executive director of ASSIST Inc., a community design center.

Rules that no able-bodied man could live there isolated children from their fathers and created a large living space of single women that attracted other men to the area. The exodus of people from the city to the suburbs created funding issues as the complex and the city of St. Louis began to lose residents and the associated rent and tax revenues.

The Pruitt-Igoe myth that the project was a failure of a good-intentioned government has been extrapolated to other large government expenditures. Yet, the project’s failings were not because of the government’s intervention.

Pruitt-Igoe is just one example of public housing. As a child, I lived with my mom and sister in the projects in California. You can read about my personal experience in “My Life in the Projects.”

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