Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

This superb documentary follows the creation, rise, decay, and demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St Louis. At the time (the mid-fifties), the project was revolutionary, intended to provide safe and healthy affordable housing for the urban working class. The complex's construction was based on the assumption that the urban population would continue to boom. Instead, white flight and the construction of suburbia drove those who could afford it out of the city, and jobs followed. Those who couldn't get out - many of them poor and black - were abandoned in Pruitt-Igoe. Without sufficient money for upkeep, the complex quickly descended into disrepair, becoming a violent and unsafe place for the residents.

My thoughts:
A complex look at a complex subject, but easily accessible through the range of social experts and former residents of Pruitt-Igoe, as well as pictures and video from the period. This documentary goes beyond the idea of assessing blame to explore the many ways that system failures combined to first create Pruitt-Igoe and then destroy it.

Discussion Points:
  • What impact has redlining and segregation had on creating "bad" neighborhoods?
  • How does the neighborhood one grows up in impact life chances? How might it cause internalized bias?
  • Explore the diverse reactions former residents had to their neighborhood - some loved it, some hated it, some feared it.
  • Do we as a society have social obligations to relieve extreme poverty? Can we ever attribute blame for poverty?
  • Apply broken windows theory , labeling theory , and/or Merton's theory of deviance to this situation. Is any theory fully explicative?

Documentary website here
Running time: 83 minutes
Streaming on Netflix: Yes

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