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Howard Husock
The Myths of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth « Back to Story

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I refer anyone aghast at the obfuscation of racism and the conservative arguments in this piece to commentary by Rowan Moore, in his article 'Pruitt-Igoe: Death of the American urban dream' in the Guardian online, 26 Feb 2012.
Socialists immediately become defensive when the failures in their implementation of their ideologies are pointed out... Yes, these types of housing are very common in certain parts of the world, namely in Eastern Europe. But look at Russia and look at us. A whole world of difference, and who wants to live in Russia?
Please. I watched the documentary and it just shows what everyone who has driven by public housing in their city knows - anyone who would live in public housing cares for no one but themselves, which results in them being sub-human. It has always been that way. It will always be that way. They care not for human life and they are a reason this nation is collapsing.
Re-reading my comment, it comes off as kind of sarcastic. Really, I'm just adding my two cents. I honestly do think it's interesting that two people can see the same film and focus on different points.
You make some good points, but it's interesting that you overlooked what were, for me, the two most striking points in the film:

1. That the main reason for the failure of Pruitt Igoe was not directly the manintenance or the admission policies, but the declining population of St. Louis (in part driven by the same Federal Housing Act that created Pruitt Igoe), and the accompanying loss of revenue. Pruitt Igoe was built for a population boom that never happened.

2. That, at least in the begining, Pruitt Igoe *was* a community, and there are still people who remember it fondly, even after everything that followed.
Thanks, Benjamin, for those excellent, in-depth comments.
PART FIVE (and end)

Regarding Myth VI: [Absent public housing, there would be little likelihood for blacks of better physical housing and] gradual movement up and out of poorer neighborhoods [i.e. desegregation]. (Added text within brackets is mine -- BH.)

Husock argues that this myth is a product of the "snapshot fallacy: [the belief] that the conditions observed at a given moment are permanent unless policymakers act," and that, contrary to myth, "the conditions for improvement [i.e., the prospect of better quality housing and desegregation] were NOT absent in the poor black neighborhoods of 1950 St. Louis." In marshaling his arguments here, he invokes the presence in pre-Pruitt-Igoe of "the housing ladder" -- a concept of Husock's that he has more fully explained in a terrific monograph he did for the Reason Foundation in 1996 (which is still available online), "Repairing the Ladder: Toward a New Housing Policy Paradigm."

Frankly, I didn't quite get this section of his essay until I went back to reread the monograph (which I had printed out a few years ago). If I understand Husock correctly, by invoking the "housing ladder" concept in this instance, he's saying (among other things) that a market-based housing system provides the right context -- the opportunities and the incentives -- for both "minority" tenants and "minority" small property owners alike to improve their own situation (e.g., either "move up" to better local housing or better local properties) and/or eventually "move out" (integrate into the larger society). In contrast, public housing developments actually remove many of these opportunities and, furthermore, also wind up creating disincentives instead! So, when a large public housing complex replaces a traditional neighborhood, for instance, there are now fewer opportunities/incentives for upwardly mobile tenants to improve their housing (get a better apartment or house) and/or increase their wealth (e.g., purchase a one-, two- or three-family house, improve the property -- especially through some form of sweat equity -- and increase their wealth). These poor people now live, basically, in a monopoly environment where only a public agency can (at least theoretically) improve property (and, even then, it's only after an expenditure of an incredible amount of time and effort on the part of the public agency). Before Pruitt-Igoe, Husock argues, the area possessed a useful "housing ladder." Post Pruitt-Igoe, however, there are rungs in the housing ladder -- the bottom ones no less -- that have been removed!

Husock also seems to argue that the government's creation of perverse housing incentives is, more or less, an inevitable result of housing being produced via a political process, rather than through an economic process.

While I can't speak about St. Louis and have only anecdotal evidence regarding various NYC neighborhoods, nevertheless both personal experience (e.g., seeing mixed-income, mixed-race/ethnic group neighborhoods being replaced by less mixed-income, less mixed-race/ethnic group housing projects) and various readings seem to lend support Husock's arguments above.

Again it seems to me that some of the strongest support for Husock's argument come from the materials relating to the 2007 exhibits on Robert Moses. It's seems that time and time again the "project planning" approach (using the Jane Jacobs term) has produced price-tagged projects that were no more integrated -- and eventually even less integrated -- than the neighborhoods that they replaced.

Regarding the argument about the seeming inevitability of the government's creation of perverse housing incentives, this seems to me to be made more understandable by Jane Jacobs' book, "Systems of Survival." In this book she argues that humankind has produced two different ethical systems -- which are also mindsets or ways of looking at things: 1) the "guardian syndrome" (growing out of the hunting and gathering way of life) and 2) the "commercial syndrome" (growing out of an agricultural, manufacturing and trade-based way of life). While each ethical system is valid within its own sphere, when a syndrome is used in the wrong sphere it is likely to produce a "monstrous hybrid." Thus, when the government (the guardian mindset) operates in the commercial sphere (the housing market) it seems pretty inevitable that it will produce a monstrous hybrid.

(Timothy Lee recently wrote about the problem of monstrous hybrids with regard to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in his "Forbes" blog.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Regarding Myth VII: Housing conditions [in poor neighborhoods] were so deplorable that the only steps that could make life better [were public ownership along with] demolition and relocation. [ More limited government initiatives are inadequate.]

In terms of St. Louis and Pruitt-Igoe, Husock argues that, generally speaking, conditions in St. Louis weren't really as bad as depicted and were already improving before the construction of Pruitt-Igoe anyway.

Again, while I can't speak about St. Louis and have only anecdotal evidence regarding various NYC neighborhoods, both personal experiences (e.g., living in and visiting areas that were cleared as "slums," etc.) and various readings on the subject seem to me to lend strong support to Husock's argument's above. And yet once again, the 2007 exhibits and catalog on Robert Moses (along with various related panel discussions too) seem to provide lots of evidence to contradict this "progressive" myth. For instance, it's interesting to see how often and how vigorously people at the time disagreed with the idea that the conditions in the areas designated as "slums" were so deplorable that demolition and relocation were necessary.

But the question remains, however, what about those instances where conditions are indeed deplorable and unacceptable? Husock suggests approaches like housing-code enforcement and useful and modest public works (like the public baths that were constructed in nineteenth century NYC tenement districts).

One exemplary government initiative along these lines seems to me to be NYC's law to require central heating (and hot water) in tenement buildings. Landlords were compensated for the improvements via rent increases or tax abatements. The tax abatement portion of the program, by the way, was the original version of the J-51 program, which in later years became more problematic as it helped finance conversion of lofts from light industrial to residential -- which to me illustrates the problem of keeping a good government program "pure."

It seems to me that this program was terrific for a variety of reasons. The problem was a genuine and serious one -- apparently "cold water" flats were actually dangerous because tenants in such apartments were often heating their apartment or hot water that in ways that were dangerous to themselves and fellow tenants. The solution did not involve vast demolition, etc., but the modest modernization of otherwise sound housing -- which happened to be a large portion of the existing housing stock. Because of the relative modesty of the solution, it could be done via tax abatements or modest rent increases and was affordable to both landlords and tenants. Plus, this solution didn't wipe out communities and neighborhood life but reinforced them instead.

By the way, Jane Jacobs wrote about this program in "Death and Life . . . " in the chapter entitled, "Gradual Money and Cataclysmic Money," This is because one conscientious landlord, who also happened to be a local Congressman, actually had difficulty get loans to finance the work because his properties were located in an area that had been blacklisted. Also interesting is that Jacobs mentions that this Congressman's family owned six local buildings -- another example, perhaps, of the "housing ladder" and of a local resident owning local housing.

Benjamin Hemric
Thursday, March 29, 2012, 12:35 a.m.
P.S. (to PART FOUR) -- Here's a a link to the aforementioned on-line exhibit, "Public Housing: New York Transformed -- 1939-1967."

To me it almost seems like a set of exhibits for Husock's arguments -- even though the organizers seem to me to be believers in the myth.


Regarding Myth V: The physical conditions [of housing, like small-sized apartments and the lack of private toilets, are a crucial] gauge of the health of a community. (Added text with brackets is mine -- BH.)

I like the quotes from Herbert Gans -- great arguments that are very nicely put!

As Husock has noted elsewhere "(Jane Jacobs's Legacy," July 31, 2009), Jane Jacobs' work also challenges this myth. ("Also not fully appreciated is Jacobs's celebration of neighborhoods like Boston's North End . . . In other words, [Jacobs was saying] poor neighborhoods could be good neighborhoods.")

One of my favorite Jane Jacobs quote along these lines is in the "Introduction" to "Death and Life . . . " Jacobs is discussing a conversation she had about the North End with a friend who was a Boston planner. She discusses the conversation in detail and then says, "Here was a curious thing. My friend's instincts told him the North End was a good place, and his social statistics confirmed it. But everything he had learned as a physical planner about what is good for people and good for city neighborhoods, everything that made him an expert, told him the North End had to be a bad place."

It seems to me that Jacobs also makes similar arguments against this myth at various points throughout "Death and Life . . . " particularly in her discussions of East Harlem and the South Village and Back-of-the-Yards.

In "Death and Life . . . " Jacobs also challenges the fetishism of professional "housers" (for things like "light and air," low densities, etc.) in Chapter 11, "the Need for Concentration [aka "high densities"]." There she writes the following: "When observers like Lewis Mumford and Catherine Bauer could not avoid noticing that some very successful areas of cities had high densities of dwellings and high ground coverages [i.e., lack of "open space"], . . . they took the tack (Mumford still takes it) that the fortunate people living in comfort in these popular places [e.g., Park Avenue?!] are living in slums, but are too insensitive to know it or resent it."

2) Robert Moses was a big believer in this myth, and he used it to level many good neighborhoods in NYC. That this was indeed a myth was made graphically clear, albeit apparently unintentionally, in the exhibits and "catalog" (actually a collection of related essays) about Robert Moses that were done in 2007. I say "apparently unintentionally" because the organizers (through their captions and essays, etc.) seem to be true believers in the myth -- yet the materials they've presented seem to contradict the myth. For instance, at the Moses exhibit that was devoted to housing, there were photos of neighborhoods that were to be leveled as "slums" and in these photographs the areas actually looked pretty nice. Standing in front of them, you could hear visitors, again and again, ask incredulously, "that's supposed to be a slum? Today it would be considered a dream neighborhood!"

Off hand, I don't remember if these photos made it into the "catalog" (but I'm guessing they did), and I don't have the catalog handy at the moment. But for those who are interesting in seeing for themselves what many of these "slum" neighborhoods looked like just before they were demolished one can visit the on-line exhibit, "Public Housing: New York Transformed -- 1939-1967." This exhibit is sponsored by the LaGuardia Archives at LaGuardia Community College and has been online for a couple of years. It was curated, I believe, by Joel Schwartz, who wrote a book that was cited in the catalog of the Moses exhibits as an important inspiration for the exhibits.

In another comment I will try to post a link, but if the link doesn't go through or doesn't work, just type the following words into a search engine like Google or Yahoo: Schwartz exhibit LaGuardia New York City Housing Authority.

To be continued.

Benjamin Hemric
Monday, March 26, 2012, 8:15 p.m


Regarding Myth III: A large part of the failure of Pruitt-Igoe is due to the fact that St. Louis itself, like many other postwar American cities, was also failing.

If I remember correctly, this myth was also forwarded in discussions about the book and exhibits on Robert Moses in early 2007 (and, maybe even, by some of the same people too). What this myth ignores is that during the postwar decline of American cities, while some areas of cities stagnated or declined, other areas held their own or even improved -- and a very good argument can be made that publicly-owned housing, both in design and in concept, has been a force for stagnation or decline, rather than revitalization. (Noting the differences among urban districts and understanding why were, of course, central points of Jacobs' "Death and Life of Great American Cities.")

Regarding Myth IV: Slums [and/or segregated housing are] are an inevitable feature of ["regular"] urban life [or what I would call "market urbanism"], absent [vigorous] public [intervention]. (Added text within brackets is mine -- BH.)

I think Husock's articulation of this myth and the arguments and evidence that he has presented against it (both here and in his other writings) are insightful and important. The arguments of the "progressives" have been, essentially, that slums are the inevitable product of market forces (e.g., exploitation) and that the only way to truly address the problem of urban slums is through a standing, large-scale program of publicly-owned housing for the needy. What Husock argues (if I'm understanding him correctly) is that "Yes, there have indeed been periods when the marketplace has been overwhelmed. (For instance, this happened during periods of massive immigration in the late 19th century and early 20th century.) But, eventually the marketplace adjusts and conditions improve. However, the "alternative" publicly-owned housing approach has shown itself to be even less capable of handling the problem. When given the chance, it has been able, at best, to address only a small portion of the problem and, even at that, it has inevitably exacerbated the problem rather than ameliorated it.

To be continued.

Benjamin Hemric
Friday, March 23, 2012, 9:05 p.m.

Regarding Myth I: The failure of Pruitt-Igoe, and public housing generally, was not a fault of concept, but of implementation.

The filmmakers seem to be arguing that public-owned housing can be done better than it has been done in the past and that the problems with early publicly-owned housing can be fixed to create "Publicly-owned Housing 2.0." Howard Husock, on the other hand, is arguing that while, of course, publicly-owned housing can be done better than it has been done in the past, there are still significant problems that are inherent with the very concept of publicly-owned housing (as opposed to a market-based housing approach). I agree that the advocates of publicly-owned housing seem to be overlooking, or minimizing, the problems that are inherent with publicly-owned housing (and overlooking the advantages of a market-based approach to housing).

In addition to the fact that, as mentioned in the essay, private owners of housing (rental or owner-occupied) are going to be more careful with their own property than renters, bureaucrats and politicians are going to be with publicly-owned housing, I also think it's "easier" (all things being equal) for many different owners to take care of a relatively small number of properties each, than it is for a large centralized (and inherently unaccountable) bureaucracy to take care of a number of large complexes. Yes, I know there are economies of scale (as exhibited, for instance, in large privately-owned middle- and upper-class complexes). But it seems to me that the largest part of the benefits of economies of scale can be realized in even relatively small (compared to a public housing authority) housing portfolios.

And, as Jane Jacobs would was wont to point out, at a certain point there are also significant dis-economies of scale, too. In very large organizations it is often hard to get proper feedback; hard to find financing for entire complexes; hard to fix large complexes where everything fails all-at-once (because the large complex was built all at the same time); etc. That's why at a certain point even large private companies can find themselves at a disadvantage (e.g., "bloated," "cumbersome," etc.) and they try to reinvent themselves to be "lean and mean." And all this is especially true with regard to bureaucracies consisting of here-today-gone-tomorrow "owners" (e.g., politicians), not always competent political appointees, and of civil-service and/or unionized everyday bureaucrats, who are in charge of large complexes consisting of poor renters (who have less money and power as consumers to successfully counter "I-don't-know-what-I'm doing" or "I-don't-care" bureaucrats/owners).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Regarding Myth II: Poor maintenance was the result of deliberate under-funding.

The essay points out that this is a myth for two reasons.

1) Publicly-owned housing is, irrespective of the design, inherently less desirable (except for the very poor) than market housing -- making it hard to attract and retain renters with enough money to pay for adequate maintenance.

I agree. "Frozen" publicly-owned housing, no matter what the design, is going to be less desirable than "malleable" privately-owned housing (except for the very needy). Who wants a large public bureaucracy as a landlord/managing agent? What percentage of upwardly mobile people want to live in a complex that is, and always will be, frozen as housing for the needy? As a result, except in bad economic times (or where the private market place has gentrified a surrounding area), publicly-owned housing will always have trouble attracting and retaining renters who can pay enough to have the buildings properly maintained (which was the original concept).

Also, publicly-owned housing is inherently more expensive to maintain, as private owners are more cost conscious (less likely, for instance, to indulge in superfluous and expensive to maintain elevators, etc.) and they can more easily find cheap labor, do the labor themselves, or barter with tenants to have them do the maintenance (e.g., paint an apartment) themselves.

2) In the case of Pruitt-Igoe, Congress passed the Brooke Amendment, which made a bad situation even worse.

To be continued.

Benjamin Hemric
Thursday, March 22, 2012, 9:25 p.m.

If I've read Howard Huscok's excellent (as usual) essay correctly, he is saying that the documentary, "the Pruitt-Igoe Myth," actually fails to disprove what it claims are the myths surrounding the failure of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex -- and, instead, the documentary winds up perpetuating six (if I've counted them correctly) alternate myths of its own. Since I haven't seen the documentary, I can't really comment on the film itself, but a lot of the arguments/myths that are mentioned are similar to those that have been made about public housing in New York City, which I'm more knowledgeable about, so I'd like to comment about these myths from the perspective of long-time New Yorker (and, also, a fellow admirer of the work of Jane Jacobs).

First, however, I think it might be useful to distill and enumerate in one list what I understand to be the myths mentioned by Howard Husock in his essay. I've also added an additional myth gleaned mostly from a trailer for the documentary that I was able to view on-line (although this myth may have also been mentioned in the essay in a part that I didn't completely understand). So there are a total of seven myths in all.

Myth I: The failure of Pruitt-Igoe, and public housing generally, was not a fault of concept, but of implementation.

Myth II: Poor maintenance [as one example of poor implementation,] was actually the result of deliberate under-funding.

Myth III [this is my addition from the trailer]: A large part of the failure of Pruitt-Igoe is due to the fact that St. Louis was also failing.

Myth IV: Slums and/or segregated housing are an inevitable feature of urban life [and, what I would call "market urbanism"], absent vigorous public intervention.

Myth V: The physical conditions of housing are a crucial gauge of the health of a community.

Myth VI: Left to themselves, poor physical conditions [and segregated housing] would be a permanent feature of urban life.

Myth VII: The only steps that could make life better for the inhabitants of slum housing were [public ownership with] demolition and relocation. More limited government initiatives would have been inadequate.

Since the review of this documentary raises a number of very interesting issues and my comments may be long ones, I'd like to break up my comments into a number of parts.

To be continued.

Benjamin Hemric
Thursday, March 22, 2012, 7:35 p.m.
I don't think the goal was so much to foster dependence as it was to have a society in which the morally and intellectually superior ruled with, as nearly as possible, dictatorial power. So, we've got various forms of mandated compassion and generosity which are neither and which troubles those who espouse the policies not at all.
"In crafting Aid for Dependent Children (the public-assistance program of the era), policymakers believed they were giving priority to households of the greatest need—never considering that this might encourage families to become needier."

The above really says it all - but it was considered in reports authored by, among other, Patrick Moynihan (the last un-corrupt Democrat) in the 60's and 70's. But, government dependence was the goal, since dependent people generally vote for one political party - Democrat. I recall welfare workers chasing fathers from the home in the late 60's and early 70's.

The fathers in these communities was eventually displaced, and grandmothers were called in. However, the generation of grandmothers is gone. However, power comes with the destruction of the community, and ensures that those in power, upon which the communities are now wholly dependent for support, will forever maintain that power. That generations are lost means nothing to these evil evil people!
Pruitt-Igoe and other public housing projects were covered in Tom Wolfe's book From Bauhaus to Our House, which was mainly about modern architecture.
conservatives are racist at heart. your agenda will not allow you to deviate from the script that enriches you and your benefactors. i am a one of the former residents in the film. you didn't seek my opinion or insight. that's because,your not interested in the truth,just a narrative that perpetuates your income and standing before your masters...big money...greed!!!! in a formal discussion, i will eviscerate you or anyone you choose to offer up.i bet you identified with the racist from blackjack that characterized all blacks as trash people.why didn't you make mention of the obvious racist components that destroyed lives and up to a viewing and spew this crap. you will be summarily
To James Burnham:

Actually, early residents of public housing were white (largely Italian from Carroll Gardens), black and latino. My mother and father grew up in Gowanus Houses in Brooklyn. Their school pictures are filled with kids of those three races and they all lived in public housing.

As the article stated, the downward spiral in public housing came when (1)the management of public housing became insanely inept, and (2)the residents allowed to live in those units were poorer, less educated and vastly unemployment.

The residents who could leave, of all races, left the projects and found better places to live. The people who were too poor to leave stayed there. Its the same way now. Those that move up the economic ladder will leave public housing, but those that don't become lifetime residents.
'Howard 'wrotoe, "Government-sponsored housing does work, and it works well, when the resident population respects and observes the mores of society."

Surely one of the differences between private and public housing is that government-as-landlord does not have many of the rights which private landlords have, even in cities with the strongest (so-called) tenant protection laws.

Which is to say, private landlords are better able (as well as more motivated) to remove disruptive tenants.

As bad as Priutt-Igoe's architecture may have been, I just can't see blaming the hardware for the dismal social conditions within.

Excellent article. Once the "vision of the anointed", to quote Tom Sowell, is established, no objective and concrete evidence is going to change it. As the author states, despite the trillions of dollars spent and the millions of lives destroyed, “real socialism was never tried.”
What happened to the Federal program that set up private entrepreneurs to construct public housing, available for Section 8 tenants, and guaranteed an 8% ROE with a 25 year amortization and a 25 year guarantee of availability for public housing? We have one such complex in our city which is well maintained because all maintenance expenses are deducted from gross revenue before the 8% guarantee kicks in. At the end of the 25 year period, the property reverts to private ownership, the mortgage is paid off, and the community would have benefited from 25 years of well maintained public housing.
There are many reasons for the Pruitt-Igoe disaster and I do not pretend to know them all. However, having lived in St. Louis for over thirty years now I can tell you that once property goes rental in this city it is doomed. And that is the case whether it is private or public rental. My own neighborhood is now on the cusp of a rolling disaster of property turning to rental and the consequent influx of crime and degradation that it brings. I would suggest a review of Colin Gordon's, Mapping Decline (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)for a clear eyed look at what has driven St. Louis' population of almost 900,000 in 1950 to just over 300,000 today while the metropolitan area has grown to over 2.5 million.
Brian Richard Allen February 19, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Why would anyone have any doubt than if you put hundreds of bums in the instant slums all public housing projects immediately become, they immediately look and produce the statistics expected from a concentration of bums?

Residents make slums, not architects.
Government housing projects such as Chicago's Cabrini Green have followed the same path. They replace a horizontal slum with a vertical one and end up tearing it down.
I am surprised that you do not discuss the design of Pruitt-Igoe but focus on the fact that it is publicly-owned.

People --any demographic -- do not maintain things they don't like. It appears that no one liked the design -- renters or general public -- so of course no one paid attention and the destructive cycle in occupancy accelerates.

That's not to say that there were other alternative more focussed ways to intervene in whatever was perceived then to be the problem.

But I wonder if the government in that era had called for public baths and stepped-up code enforcement etc etc (small targeted improvements) and you would then complain anyway? You just don't like government. Yes often thst's the correct insight. But It seems to me that City Journal (in general) gets an awful lot correct but then so heartbreakingly-often it goes too far in its anti-government tune and misses the beat.
Being a swedish social democrat living in Stockholm I find this article very interesting and thought-provoking. I'm sorry Don, I don't think Sweden is much of a role model in this discussion. The so called 'million-program', where Sweden erected one million public apartments in the style of Pruitt-Igoe in the sixties, is generally considered a failure, both architecturally and socially. Nevertheless I'm not convinced the solution is to 'leave it to the market', rather I think cityplanning requires MORE of political intelligence, courage and above all long-sightedness. Today when so much demographic data is produced, when we very well can figure out if and by how much a city will grow, it's almost ridicoulus that we in Stockholm once again find ourselves with a huge shortage in housing. So even if I'm the first to admit that the social democrats had very much of a 'big-government hubris' back in the days, we now have a government that too naively rely on the private sector - the market can't be expected to have a forty year horizon on what will generate profit, when investors act on information in quarterly reports. Cityplanning is to complex and important to just leave to sort itself out.
Howard is absolutely right. The projects Don is considering in places like Denmark should not be compared to projects in the U.S.

Denmark, Sweden and even Austria are largely homogenous in terms of their populations. They do not have nearly the cultural and racial diversity of the U.S. If you want a more pertinent comparison in Europe check out what is happening in the projects in France's banlieues. You can see similar problems with a blatant disregard for societal norms and all the attendant criminality that comes from that.

One thing to consider, The early residents of housing projects in the U.S. were not "people of color" but members of what used to be called the "white ethnic" working-class . They used the projects as a stepping stone to improve themselves and their families. They moved out. In short, the program "worked" for this group of people.

The next folks to move in were largely African-American and Latino. For a variety of reasons, these groups have not been able to use the projects as a stepping stone. To generalize, the War on Poverty created an entitlement culture and, at the same time, created a sort of trap for these families. Fifty years later and you have generations of people who only know project life. There is a sort of sick ghetto pride that was never prevalent when the projects were first built in the U.S.
Response to Don:

Government-sponsored housing does work, and it works well, when the resident population respects and observes the mores of society.

That's definitely NOT what lives in much of the public housing here in the United States.
Move the public housing population from, say, St. Louis, Detroit, or Newark to the equivalent projects in Scandinavia, and the latter will become a violent, out of control war zone within three months.

Not to go off-topic, but I believe related to the above, are the violent crime statistics that came out of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans 'enjoyed' one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. Following Katrina, tens of thousands of city residents were evacuated to other large cities around the Gulf, mostly in Texas. The violent crime rate in those cities (murder, armed robbery, rape) skyrocketed)! Interestingly, and tellingly, the violent crime rate in New Orleans did NOT drop. It appeared that the remaining residents just picked up slack. And no, you won't read about this anywhere in the mainstream press.

Therein lies the problem.
Fortunately, the era of massive, government housing projects seems to have wound down with, here in the U.S. with public housing's greatest achievement being the injection of the term "implosion" into the common vernacular. That may, or may not, have been a blessing since, denied the self-aggrandizing assumptions that supported the creation of housing projects lefties were necessarily forced to seek their nobility fix elsewhere. Hence the housing crash.

But since those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it the era of big, government-supplied housing shouldn't be allowed to slide into the memory hole.

Youtube should be helpful there since the spectacle of large buildings disappearing in an eye-blink, common currency in cheesy Japanese monster movies, is rare enough in reality that the experience may never completely lose its horrifying fascination. With 9/11 behind us it's just too easy to view one of those many video clips and imagine yourself falling with such a building to be smashed to strawberry jam and rags as the dust clouds billow. Not exactly the image you want in people's heads when you try to convince them to fund such ideas.

More important to policy-setters is the sort of article that anchors these comments. A measured, thoughtful critique lends credibility to the view that public housing is a bad idea and, given the forcefulness and anger of proponents of public housing such as Don, that credibility's important. One needs confidence in one's ideas when confronting the unreasoning anger that accompanies temper tantrums. Articles such is this one provide that confidence.
P-I like all the other similer projects was/is an appalling waste of extorted tax dollars who's end result is multi-generational parasitism...
Having grown up in St. Louis, I remember Pruitt-Igoe well... A grand ideal that turned into a disaster. From what I saw, those who lived there hated it. I had occasion in 1965 to go into one of the impressions, even after all these years, are: "disgusting" and "tragic." Reminds me of going into East Berlin after The Wall came a German friend told me, "when no one owns anything, no one takes care of it..." Public housing is a lofty ideal, but the reality falls far short.
Most of this irrational rant against public housing policies is arrant and self-evident nonsense. Government sponsored housing does not work? Go to Vienna and take a look. Go to Stockholm. Go to Denmark. I lived in St. Louis before and after Pruitt-Igoe was built. Right from the start it was foreseen by many of us that the project was a disaster in the making. This could be inferred from the architecture alone. That, the uprooting of established communities, and above all government neglect in the managing of the projects, produced the consequences the author laments. But none of these things is intrinsic to public housing per se, as is clearly evident in many of the public housing projects in Europe. There are just too many counterexamples to the author's mindless anti-State ravings for me to take him seriously.