The Pruitt-Igoe Myth


Sunday, Nov. 6 at 12:00pm
Washington U./Brown

It began as a housing marvel. Two decades later, it ended in rubble. But what happened to those caught in between? “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” tells the story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis residents who called it home. 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 emptied American cities of their residents, businesses, and industries. Those left behind in the city faced a destitute St. Louis increasingly segregated by class and race. The residents of Pruitt-Igoe were among the hardest hit. Their gripping stories of survival, adaptation, and success are at the emotional heart of the film, but the larger context is fully explored: the domestic turmoil wrought by punitive public-welfare policies; the frustrating interactions with a paternalistic and cash-strapped Housing Authority; and the downward spiral of vacancy, vandalism, and crime that led to resident protest and action during the 1969 Rent Strike, the first in the history of public housing. And yet, despite this complex history, Pruitt-Igoe has often been stereotyped. The world-famous image of its implosion has helped to perpetuate a myth of failure, a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public-assistance programs, and stigmatize public-housing residents. “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” sets the historical record straight and implodes the myth.

83 min.

Directed by

Chad Freidrichs

Film Category

Archival Presentations Art & Architecture Spotlight Human Rights Spotlight Leon & Mary Strauss Documentary Spotlight Mean Streets: Viewing the Divided City Through the Lens of Film and Television Race in America: The Black Experience Show-Me Cinema
With producer Brian Woodman (Washington U. Libraries curator of Film & Media Archive) and former Pruitt-Igoe residents Sylvester Brown, Billy Towns, and Tommie Towns.

Sponsored by


Center for the Humanities at Washington University and Washington University Libraries

Presented in partnership with Missouri History Museum and The Common Reader

Mean Streets is a program of The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative. With the support of the Mellon Foundation, Washington U.’s Center for the Humanities, in partnership with the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design, is engaged in a four-year initiative called The Divided City, which addresses one of the most persistent and vexing issues in urban studies: segregation.

Shown with

More Than One Thing

More Than One Thing

Steve Carver

Featuring an evocative jazz score and sharp editing, this impressionistic cinematic portrait follows Pruitt-Igoe resident Billy Towns as he discusses life in and outside the projects.

30 min.