Pruitt-Igoe

Pruitt-Igoe

Pruitt-Igoe 1920 1280 Holly Salvatore

Make me a high rise
under the guise of equality
make me a project
torn down long ago

under the guise of equality
make me a mound of broken windows
torn down long ago
on the coldest day in April

make me a mound of broken windows
as your brother bleeds out, shot
on the coldest day in April
make me a last lunge, a last breath

as your brother bleeds out, shot
in the thin dark
make me a last lunge, a last breath
of sirens as you run

Context: 

Pruitt-Igoe was a housing project built in the 1950s in St Louis; it was demolished in the 1970s, after two decades of rapid decline and isolation, enforced by systemic racism. At its inception, it was billed as an urban renewal project. Low income residents in the city’s center would be bought out by the federal government and relocated to public housing. The slums would be demolished and important real estate made available to business interests. Thirty-three high rise apartment buildings would occupy nearly 60 acres just north of the city, offering wide, green lawns, electricity, indoor plumbing, larger living spaces, elevators, and the finest modern architecture. The federal government would pay for construction, but after that the residents were on their own. Mostly white, middle income city-dwellers fled to the suburbs, while mostly black, low income residents remained. There was little money for maintenance, and soon the lawns were overgrown with wide patches of dead weeds, trash was piled up, urine-scented elevators stopped and stalled between floors, broken windows winked in the glare of the city, and crime remained unchecked. Pruitt-Igoe became an island — feral and isolated. The project that was to be a fresh start and a place to build community had become yet another tool for segregation in a city with a long history of racism.

By the 1970’s, things had gotten so bad at Pruitt-Igoe that the police did not respond to calls there, and the housing authority had given up. In 1972, some of the buildings were demolished in a widely televised event. The last of Pruitt-Igoe fell in 1976, and the site remained vacant, trash-strewn, and overgrown until 2016, when it was bought for a new urban redevelopment project.

Header photograph © Andrew Hall.

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