Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New documentary shows failure of urban planning

Urban planners are very good at alluring people with their descriptions of fictional, utopia-like communities. They use colorful illustrations and lack of thought. It is at if they have watched one too many episodes of The Jetson’s, played SIMs one too many times. The truth is, forced urban planning fails.

This idea of wonderful housing for all, regardless of income, is not a new one. St. Louis began encouraging urban renewal projects with the Housing Act of 1949. This Act also encouraged moving to the suburbs via subsidies. The documentary, “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”, explores the failures of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project and urban planning. According to Pruitt-Igoe.com, "At the film’s historical center is an analysis of the massive impact of the national urban renewal program of the 1950s and 1960s, which prompted the process of mass suburbanization and emptied American cities of their residents, businesses, and industries."

Unfortunately, screening of this film is only available at cities on their tour schedule or available for purchase ($295).

In the early 1950s, construction began on the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, which included 33 buildings, all towering 11 stories each. It covered 57 acres in the impoverished north side of St. Louis. The idea was that the poor living in undesirable living conditions in the downtown area would be relocated to “vertical neighborhoods for poor people.” Other urban planning idealism was also embraced in the construction. Elevators were designed to stop at only the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th floors. This was to encourage residence to socialize while walking between floors. Maybe play a game of chess with a neighbor while bringing up the groceries?

By 1957, there was a 91% occupancy rate. By the late 1960s, the buildings had been abandoned by most and held victim to vandalism. The residents remaining were held hostage to crime. The design of the elevators made it very conducive for robbery. In 1972, the towers were demolished.

Interestingly enough, the main architect of Pruitt-Igoe towers was also the same architect of the World Trade Center towers. The WTC towers were built right around the same time the Pruitt-Igoe towers were destroyed.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History – Film Trailer from the Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Vimeo.

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