Joined: 09 Jul 2009
|Posted: Sat Jul 10, 2010 11:22 pm Post subject: Racism and Social Planning
|PRUITT-IGOE HOUSING COMPLEX
By Mary Delach Leonard
The front-page photographs of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex crumbling to dust would become an indelible image of social failure.
Just after 3 p.m. on March 16, 1972, a demolition expert from Dore Wrecking Co. of Kawkawlin, Mich., pushed a plunger to take down the 11-story building at 2207 O'Fallon Street, the first earmarked for destruction at the St. Louis public housing complex.
At the time, the Department of Housing and Urban Development told the Post-Dispatch that the implosion was the start of an experiment to see what might be salvaged of the 35 high-rise towers that had been built in the 1950s to provide homes for inner-city residents displaced by urban renewal.
One possibility was that some of the buildings might be cut to four stories and converted to housing that would be more horizontal than vertical, according to the story published on March 17.
But in the end, nothing of Pruitt-Igoe would be salvaged, and Post-Dispatch readers would see a steady succession of photos recording the dramatic destruction. The events were so spectacular that network TV sent camera crews, guaranteeing national recognition of this massive public housing failure in St. Louis.
Pruitt-Igoe became the talk of the nation's urban planners and sociologists because it had, in effect, become a worse place to live than the slums it replaced.
Originally, the city had planned two projects: Pruitt for blacks and Igoe for whites. That plan was ruled unconstitutional, and the buildings were integrated when they opened in 1954. By the late 1960s, only African-Americans lived in the high-rises, which by their very design magnified the social problems they were meant to relieve.
The problems were endless: Elevators stopped on only the fourth, seventh and 10th floors. Tenants complained of mice and roaches. Children were exposed to crime and drug use, despite the attempts of their parents to provide a positive environment. No one felt ownership of the green spaces that were designed as recreational areas, so no one took care of them. A mini-city of 10,000 people was stacked into an environment of despair.
In his 1970 book "Behind Ghetto Walls," sociology professor Lee Rainwater condemned Pruitt-Igoe as a "federally built and supported slum." His study outlined the failure of the housing project, noting that its vacancies, crime, safety concerns and physical deterioration were unsurpassed by any other public housing complex in the nation.
"Pruitt-Igoe condenses into one 57-acre tract all of the problems and difficulties that arise from race and poverty and all of the impotence, indifference and hostility with which our society has so far dealt with these problems," Rainwater wrote.
On April 22, 1972, the day after the second Pruitt-Igoe building was imploded, a front-page story described the scene on nearby Dickson Street as the countdown began: "The hush, like that of a football crowd awaiting the outcome of a crucial place kick in the last seconds of a bowl game, was ended by sharp explosions. ...
"As the reinforced steel and concrete building crumbled into rubble a spontaneous shout arose from the spectators."
Positioned next to the story was the Weatherbird, who stated glibly: "Another Housing Boom."