Film: Pruitt-Igoe Myth
(Netflix DVD and streaming, on reserve at Ayala Library)
This film chronicles the failure of public housing in America against the backdrop images of falling buildings. Some say it signifies the failure of social welfare
Opponents of public housing hailed the image as an emblem of welfare state dysfunction, or the supposed incivility of the poor black inhabitants. But beyond the
reified image and floating slogans, what really caused the failure?
This innocent but complex question is the point of departure for the documentary film. Challenging the axiom that Pruitt-Igoe was a place doomed from within, the
film’s narrator says, “Little was said about the laws that built and maintained it, the economy that deserted it, the segregation that stripped away opportunity, the
radically changing city in which it stood.” Using archival material and original interviews with former residents and scholars, the film constructs an accessible yet
substantial history of the project. (Shapiro 2012).
At the end of your documentary review, connecting the film to course content, please address these questions.
1. What was the purpose of Pruitt-Igoe? How many buildings and how many units?
2. Who was it designed for? Why did only poor people end up living there? According to the film, how did the Federal House Act contribute to the concentration of poor
people in Pruitt-Igoe?
What does Valerie Sills mean when she says it was a “poor man’s penthouse”?
3. Many residents have horrible memories of living at Pruitt-Igoe, but some reflect on it as a time of promise and hope. What is the reason for these two viewpoints?
4. How did the decline in St. Louis contribute to the conditions at Pruitt-Igoe?
5. What is the Pruitt-Igoe “myth”?
6. What played the largest role in the project’s demise?
7. Why was Pruitt-Igoe an image-making project for St. Louis from the start? (rather than an architectural project)?
8. Which of the resident’s stories impacted you most? Why?
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