Over a hundred people were in the John Edson Anglin Performing Arts Center Friday Night, Jan. 16 to watch a screening of the documentary “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” and attend a panel discussion hosted by three ECC faculty members and two former residents of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis.
Pruitt-Igoe, a housing project managed by the St. Louis Housing Authority, was built in the early 1950s by an award-winning architect. While it was intended to revitalize the city, by the 1970s the housing project had deteriorated into an infamously crime-ridden slum. In that decade it was torn down, which received international attention.
Panel Members included three faculty members: Russ Henderson, Assistant Professor of History, Wendy Pecka, Coordinator of the Psychology/Sociology Department, and Bill Cunningham, Associate Professor of Sociology. Two former residents of Pruitt-Igoe also participated, Roxanne Ashley and James Thomas.
Henderson lent his historical expertise to the discussion, mentioning interviews he conducted with former residents of the housing development while he was a student at Washington University, among other observations. According to Henderson, the decline of Pruitt-Igoe started in earnest in 1959 due to a sudden flood of new residents caused by a nearby tornado – leading to the Housing Authority eliminating screening of new tenants – instead of in 1955 as the film says. He also discussed the construction of the complex itself.
Pecka spoke briefly, sketching the psycho-social theory underlying the lives of those profiled in the film.
Cunningham, a resident of St. Louis, discussed current attempts by the city at revitalization, as well as his hopes for something better. “Hindsight is easy once you watch a film like this,” he cautioned.
Of the two former residents, John Thomas gave an introduction in which he reminisced about his youth. Roxanne Ashley spoke fondly of her time at Pruitt-Igoe, saying that although it had a reputation as a haven for crime, it wasn’t a constant occurrence, and claims she never personally witnessed anything. She emphasized that there were “good times” at the development, and that there was “unity”.
A Q&A session followed. One man claimed to have been a St. Louis city police officer during the time period discussed and gave a speech about the public housing developments from his perspective.