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Proposed: Pruitt-Igoe
4 May 2015
Published To

Pruitt-Igoe was a public housing complex on the North Side of St. Louis, built with the goal of ameliorating slum conditions in the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood. Completed in 1955, the 57-acre complex of 11-story high-rise apartments was hailed as a breath of fresh air and as the future of public housing. Residents of Pruitt-Igoe praised the buildings as safe, clean, and far superior to the conditions they had been living in before. In 1957, population at Pruitt-Igoe peaked at 91%.

By the mid-1960s, however, conditions in the towers became incredibly poor and population was significantly low. The hallways were conducive to mugging, facilities and utilities were not maintained, and the grounds became extremely dangerous. There were few streets that allowed emergency vehicles onto the grounds (the architects wanted a lot of green and walking space), and as conditions worsened, authorities would not even respond to calls to Pruitt-Igoe as they would have bricks and bottles thrown at them from the upper levels of the towers. Reasons given for the decay of Pruitt-Igoe have included irregular or nonexistent maintenance from the its inception, a lack of funding, poor ventilation, and architecture that was conducive to illegal activity. In 1972 demolition began on the buildings, with two being demolished. The final tower’s demise was highly publicized in 1976.

Today, the site where Pruitt-Igoe stood is mostly forest--Michael Allen of the American Culture Studies department at Washington University noted that tours traveling through the foliage is the only reason a path remains through the site. When one enters the site, you pass a small sign that says “Do not enter.” However, no one is there to stop groups that go through, and from my observations, I do not think it is likely that someone would care. Walking through the site, one can observe trash and abandoned belongings in the woods, such as shoes, old suitcases, and an old Christmas tree. The curb of one of the main roads is still visible. Today, Pruitt-Igoe is known around the world as one of the worst public housing disasters in history.

Pruitt-Igoe is arguably one of the most significant locations in St. Louis. It acts as a symbol of white flight, of poverty, of a dying central city--all of which are issues that have defined St. Louis’ past and with which the city continues to struggle--yet it did not get a cake. This reminds us of the recurring theme that pervades St. Louis, that of having a selective memory when it comes to St. Louis history. Many of the locations that were chosen commemorate places or events that have a rich history. It is concerning, however, that places such as Pruitt-Igoe, that have such a shameful history, are not remembered in the same way. If Pruitt-Igoe was chosen as a site for a cake, I believe that it would illuminate a more complete, accurate history and representation of St. Louis. All history is our history--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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