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The Pruitt–Igoe Myth: Movie Screening and Discussion

On June 11, MAS presented a standing room only, free screening of the acclaimed documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, generously hosted by BAM, in partnership with the Brooklyn Borough President and the Brownsville Partnership.

The film depicts 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. Comprised of 33 buildings, Pruitt-Igoe was one of the country’s most storied public housing communities before it fell into chronic disrepair and was eventually dramatically demolished.

Participating in the discussion following the film were Chad Freidrichs, the film’s director; Richard Baron, co-founder and CEO of affordable housing development firm McCormack Baron Salazar and former public interest lawyer active in the 1960s in St. Louis; Joseph Heathcott, associate professor of urban studies at the New School with extensive knowledge of the history of public housing in the United States; and Gerald Thomas, managing director of the Brownsville Partnership, who moderated a Q&A following the film.

Together, the panel answered questions from the audience about the dynamics that led to the financial and eventual physical abandonment of Pruitt-Igoe, the lingering feelings of former residents, and the local and federal policies that shaped the public housing experience. The panelists pointed out that New York City has managed to retain its public housing assets, ensuring that the city has housing choices for people unable to afford market-rate housing. However, New York City’s Housing Authority is continually challenged by shrinking maintenance budgets, long waiting lists, and neighborhoods that must continue to cope with higher rates of poverty than the rest of the city.

Co-hosting the screening with BAM, MAS, and the Brooklyn Borough President was the Brownsville Partnership, a Brooklyn community-based collaborative initiated by Community Solutions to develop a coordinated approach to revitalization in Brownsville, which has the highest concentration of public housing buildings in the country. MAS is providing planning support to the Partnership and the Brownsville community, to identify ways in which planning, urban design and cultural interventions can make the neighborhood more healthy, safe and economically vibrant.

This screening was part of MAS’s on-going community engagement program, to foster urban literacy and to advocate for a livable city for all New Yorkers.

For those who were unfortunately turned away once the theater was full, the Pruitt-Igoe Myth is now available on Netflix and can also be ordered from the film’s website.