The high-rise public-housing projects that stood as monuments to failed federal policy and desperate urban poverty through the second half of the 20th century are nearly gone. Conceived in the 1930s as visionary solutions to the problem of deteriorated tenements, by the 1960s the modernist towers were viewed as “warehouses” for the urban African-American poor. St. Louis’ reckoning was among the earliest and most spectacular: The 1972 photograph of the implosion of one of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe towers marked “the death of modernism.” It was another three decades before Chicago’s most notorious projects, Cabrini Green and the massive Robert Taylor Homes, were torn down.
Left behind is an urban landscape shorn of almost all remnants of public housing’s brutal history. In St. Louis, 33 acres of the original 57-acre Pruitt-Igoe site have become an urban wilderness, a dense forest just north of the city center.
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