A powerful story of why government good intentions can fail

"Machines for living:" for various c...

Image via Wikipedia

lawrence serewicz (@lldzne) has shared a Tweet with you:  “TheEconomist: A new film takes a look at why the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis failed http://t.co/mlpkVylc” –http://twitter.com/TheEconomist/status/125511829412777985

I recommend this story, but also the academic article it is based upon to anyone thinking the occupy wall street movement can effect change without thinking through how it will be delivered in the long-term.

The projects were constantly hamstrung by competing financial demands. At the same time, as the project was being run by local government, the funds for carrying out maintenance or to support residents with rent arrears was also limited.

The Econmist piece, refers to an article by Katharine Bristol, shows that the myth is often more acceptable than the reality.  Moreover, the Economist article itself shows the need to go beyond the headlines and the myths to look at the sources.  Bristol presents a powerful analysis of the issue.  http://www.pruitt-igoe.com/temp/1991-bristol-pruitt-igoemyth.pdf  Yet, one wonders how many will read Bristol in comparison to the number who will read the Economist piece and ultimately the number who will see the film. In that sense, the film presents a powerful tool that is under appreciated and how much the American public, in particular, relies upon the visual and therefore abstract symbols to understand its realty.

In a sense, the Bristol article helps us see how the myth controls our vision of the issue because it fits our preconceived notions.  By accepting the mths, because they fit our views, we miss out on the deeper understanding of what is happenning.  We then have to ask ourselves how often do we challenge our own belief of events to understand the reasons for why we act.

At the same time, given the context of the Occupy Wall Street movements, it presents a good analysis of the tensions within the American political system in which state and federal programmes often create unintended consequences in their inability to harmonize their goals.  The local housing authority did not have the resources to sustain the project because of the demographic shifts which undermined the city’s tax base.

A sober reminder of the limits of federal government and a powerful reminder of what happens if people can no longer actively control their own destiny.  The project ended up harming those it was intended to help.  Perhaps most poignantly, the myth continues despite such evidence and analysis as presented by Bristol.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
This entry was posted in Government, local government, localism, public housing, public sector and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.