Pruitt-Igoe was the name of a massive public-housing project in St. Louis that’s become a byword for urban planning failure. How massive? The development’s 33 buildings took up 57 acres on the city’s north side and at one point had as many as 12,000 residents. The chief architect on the project was Minoru Yamasaki, who was later responsible for the World Trade Center, in lower Manhattan.
How much of a failure? At the time that the project’s demolition began, only 2,500 people still lived there. Living conditions had gotten that bad. The array of news footage, vintage film clips, still photos, and newspaper clippings that director and co-writer Chad Freidrichs has gathered makes plain just how bad, as do the interviews he’s conducted with a half-dozen former residents and a trio of academics.
Footage of the first buildings being imploded, in 1972, appeared on network newscasts and became a staple of stories about urban decay. The images remain shocking 40 years later. In a cruel twist, the Gateway Arch was near Pruitt-Igoe and can be seen in many views of the project. Even more shocking may be the fact that the project had opened to residents just 20 years before it was torn down.