Pruitt-Igoe National Park

I am a landscape architect deeply interested in the urban environment, and more specifically the post-industrial, post-occupied urban environment. I have been to the Pruitt-Igoe site twice in the last year, each time drawn to the power of the vegetation. I think it would be obscene to build something on the site, both because of the wonder of the existing wildness and the tumultuous social history. The site is unique, both in terms of public housing and of wild urban woodland. It was one of the first modern public housing towers built as a result of the 1937 and 1949 Federal Housing Acts and similarly one of the first to come down, setting an early precedent for what was to come. But unlike those that have followed, it has yet to make the full transition from "slum" to tower to HOPE VI-style housing. Instead, the particular circumstances have left part of the site open, unassigned, unregulated, and thus, ripe for imaginative potential.

As pure wild urban woodland, the site and the city willfully neglect the cultural stories associated with the Pruitt-Igoe lands. It still retains its name, and thus, is inextricably linked to the 33 11-story modernist towers that once stood on the site. But in all other ways, the forest has taken over. The old substation, the one remaining light pole, the manhole covers do not stand a chance against the aggressive, individualistly-minded volunteer trees. These are resilient species, currently, the only species tough enough to stand up to the stigmatized ground.

I have submitted two proposals to this call for ideas, both seeking to balance the ecologically significant novel ecosystem with the cultural sensitivity demanded by the site. This one, inspired by the landscape architect Julie Bargmann, imagines the site becoming our next National Park.