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Documentary Film About Pruitt-Igoe in the Making

June 13, 2008 Media, North City 12 Comments

Pruitt-Igoe and other failed urban renewal era projects are one of my personal areas of interest so when I got a request from a group of documentary film makers to help them find people to help tell the story of P-I I thought it a worthy goal. Here s their request:

Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films of Columbia, MO is preparing to produce a feature-length documentary film about the notorious public housing development Pruitt-Igoe.

When Pruitt-Igoe was built in St. Louis in 1954, it was hailed as a triumph of modern architecture and a prime example of post-WWII federalism’s ability to improve the lives of underserved citizens. When it was destroyed in the 1970’s, it represented the failure of American public housing and urban renewal. To this day, Pruitt-Igoe remains a controversial symbol of bureaucratic inefficiency, systemic racism and the struggle to solve the problem of poverty in America.

The Pruitt-Igoe Documentary will explore the social, economic, historic, cultural and architectural issues surrounding the conception, construction, expectations, degeneration and ultimate destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex.

This is a pivotal story, not only for St. Louis’s history, but for the American urban experience. We seek to remove the layers of misconception and stereotype surrounding the development’s design, funding and tenant population.

We are seeking:

Former residents of Pruitt-Igoe who have interesting stories to tell about life in the developments.

Anyone interested in contributing visual or audible artifacts (obviously photos and films are most beneficial) that would assist in the telling of the story of Pruitt-Igoe

We will begin production in July. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!

Best regards,
Chad Freidrichs

Contact: Chad Freidrichs
Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films

I think the story of the Polish immigrants who were displaced for the construction of Pruitt-Igoe is an important part of the story. I think we’ll also find individuals that have fond memories of living at Pruitt-Igoe, despite the conditions.


Currently there are "12 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tom Shrout says:

    Richard Baron should be first on Freidrichs’ list. Richard was involved in P.I.’s development and learned a ton of lessons from it to later become a successful developer of low and moderate income housing developments.

  2. Bridgett says:

    I have nothing to add except intense curiosity. I would love to see this once it’s finished.

    My mother has a friend who grew up in a cold-water flat in north city, and she remembers as a child being intensely jealous of the residents in P-I because they had hot water.

  3. john w. says:

    I was thinking of the former local college professor (SLU?) that is currently writing a book on P-I. Some other folks I regularly talk with at Drinks and Mortar meet-ups know who I am referring to. I believe he was responsible for the “Verticle City” exhibit at the Sheldon back in 2004. Of course, RFT ran a story about 2 years ago on former residents of the complex as these former residents were attending a reunion event in town. P-I is a fascinating topic even beyond the realm of architectural and social disasters, and as concerns grow about the intent of Paul McKee for the use of his vast holdings, adjacent to so much LRA land, this parcel (over 30 acres remain) could play a huge rule in the shape of things in this part of the 5th Ward.

  4. john w. says:

    Dr. Joseph Heathcott is his name.

    [slp — Yes, correct.  After talking with Joseph & others over drinks in his backyard I decided to pursue a Masters in Urban Planning. ]

  5. john w. says:

    I was just re-reading the thread posted back in July of 2007 regarding the P-I site, in the view of UR, should be developed as a sustainable neighborhood in the LEED-ND mold. I’m sort of surprised that this particular, charged site doesn’t evoke more interest from the broader community. It’s just sitting there, exhibiting unkept indigenous flora, and hosting some small encampments within.

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    Unfortunately, it’s location, location, location . . . there’s simply little or no demand for real estate in that part of town at the price it would take to build something, anything new on the site. No potential profit = no developer interest. It’s symptomatic of the city’s larger problems (and potential) – too much supply (available buildings and land) and too little demand.

  7. john w. says:

    Sorry, that should be a reference to a thread originally posted in JUNE 2007, not July. Setting aside the usual encumbrances of real estate and what affects is value (location, loc… you know), likely one of the bigger deterents to redevelopment of this site is the fact that the 33+ building foundations are still buried where they were planted so many years ago. The site preparation work (extraction or reuse) would be extremely costly. I can say that, in reference to the discussion from the UR post just prior to this one regarding urban renewal, whole neighborhood-scale developments would need to be built just to restore the level of perceived stability that would be required to allow other piecemeal additions to accrue to a marketable product. Urbanists are inured somewhat to the harsh realities of saving struggling, impoverished neighborhoods because they advocate so strongly for their salvation, and therefore are often overly optimistic regarding the prospect of redeveloping such parcels. Having said that, I also would also say that walking away with pessimistic dismissal of the prospect of redevelopment in the face of such discouraging things as Jim describes doesn’t move us any more forward.

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    I guess I’m old enough to have seen more than a few plans made, then only to see them gather dust on shelves. I’ve also lived through a few boom and bust cycles and watched some cities/regions prosper and some decline. I see opportunity in St. Louis – it’s one reason why I’m here. But I also see a tendency for our “leaders” to focus a lot of effort on grand plans and big ideas, while the more mundane, keeping what you already got in good shape, gets short shrift. It’s like the old saying – how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We’ve lost multiple businesses to globalization and we’ve lost residents to the suburbs. We have high taxes and stoplights that aren’t coordinated and a school system on the verge of collapse, but we continue to hand out tax credits to deveopers with big dreams (BPV!) that take away money from fixing these fundamental, quality of life issues. From what I little know of the P-I fiasco, it’s biggest problem, besides the way it obliterated an existing ethnic community, is that, like too many other government projects, there’s money to build something (ribbon cutting, photo op, taking credit for doing something) but there’s rarely enough money budgeted to maintain and operate things, so the cycle of neglect, decline and premature replacement is repeated over and over . . .

  9. john w. says:

    …which is why that government program should focus on creating not only diverse infrastructural development (and not just the usual I-64 expansions), but also the types of projects that encourage the transfer of ownership to the occupants and users of such projects and not leave them tethered to long-distance, bureaucratic maintenance and stewardship regimens that look great on paper but fail in practice. Liberal fiscal and development policies are only as strong as the willingness of administrators to ensure good practice, and libertarian fiscal and development policies are only as strong the willingness to recognize the inequity of pure ownership-based growth. I, too, am wary of large plans that not only overreach but are obvious bait to be later switched for the reality that is ‘nothing comes easy’. Real estate markets are not static but subject to the vagaries of ecomonic swings, and so large plans like the fatted cow that was the rendered Cordish plan for BPV were always HIGHLY suspicious, especially before the stadium was built. The suspicions proved accurate, but this site will obviously be comparatively easier to eventually develop into a commercial district appropriate to the approximity to the stadium and downtown than P-I would for the larger 5th Ward. I would argue that a starter project the size of 1-2 urban blocks typical of north city block sizes would be necessary to demonstrate the willingness of people to be situated there in numbers sufficient to suggest the stability necessary to attract the further, bit-by-bit installations that would prove the initial development successful and the larger neighborhood viable.

  10. boy o boy says:

    Is urbanism supposed to be so stuffy and highbrow? You guys speak your own language on this site. It sure would be nice if you type in the translations adter you post.

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    BPV – Ball Park Village, P-I – Pruitt-Igoe, NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard, BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything, Cordish – the developer of BPV . . . just ask – there no stupid questions!

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