The idea that any person should live somewhere is hardly new. Even the ancient Athenians painfully solved the problems with housing for the poor, and, it must be admitted, since then mankind has not made so much progress in this matter. Only in the 20th century, against the background of the rapid growth of the population, the right of everyone to a roof over his head was fixed in most of the Constitutions. And, as usual, there were many adventures.
The United States has become one of the world's pioneers in the massive construction of public housing for the poor. There, already in the 19th century, housing assistance programs began to be created, but they got down to business only after the Great Depression. President Roosevelt in his "New Deal" paid special attention to the construction of social housing, and already in the first half of the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of square meters were provided to the poor - for a purely nominal rent.
I must say that Roosevelt's houses turned out to be very nice. These were single-family cottages of three or four rooms, with a front garden and a backyard, with hot water and a bathroom. They cost mere pennies. To obtain the right to rent social housing, a family had to present proof of their complete poverty. Petty clerks and well-paid workers wept tears of blood: they were too rich to live there! As a result, an employee or a miner paid twice as much for a broken-down apartment with one sink on the floor, while the unemployed was basking in a hot tub.
For a very long time, social housing in the United States on average was much better and of higher quality than commercial housing. But, of course, there were still not enough cottages for all the poor people. Therefore, in the late 40s - early 50s, cottages and townhouses were abandoned. The state began to build huge complexes of social housing - entire districts with their own infrastructure: roads, hospitals, schools, shops and, of course, high-rise buildings with comfortable and cheap apartments, where they began to relocate the poor from the slums.
One of such complexes was the grandiose Pruit-Igou project, created in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1954, he solemnly opened his many doors to new residents. Thirty-three eleven-storey buildings, united into one zone, with recreational green areas around, with small but cozy and well-equipped apartments, with spacious common areas.
Yamasaki Minoru, a young, up-and-coming Japanese American, became the architect of the project. He adopted the principles of Le Corbusier: modernity, functionality, comfort. The first floors of all the towers were set aside for the joint needs of the residents; there were basements, bicycle storage, laundries and other services. On each floor there was a long and wide gallery, which, according to the author, was supposed to become an area for communication between residents. It was planned to hold parties here, children were supposed to play here in rainy weather, here you could just walk if you were tired of sitting in four walls. Not long before that, the principles of segregation (the separation of white and black populations protected by law) were abolished in Missouri, and the complex was supposed to become not only a symbol of social prosperity, but also an outpost of internationalism, tolerance and brotherhood. He was given the name "Pruit-Igou" - in honor of the hero of the Second World War, black pilot Oliver Pruit and white member of Congress from Missouri William Igou.
“Poverty is contagious, ” Balzac wrote, but the authors of the noble social project never seem to have thought about the meaning of this warning. Even then, leftist ideas prevailed in educated society, and the fact that a poor person is certainly a victim of the cruel capitalist world was considered an axiom.
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the homeless a roof over his head - shouldn't these rules be obligatory for every decent person? The history of the second half of the 20th century, a century of great social transformations, has shown that these wonderful rules should be applied only after thorough thought.
After the Pruit-Igou complex opened its doors to the poor - single mothers, elderly ladies in straitened circumstances, students from poor families - many interesting things immediately emerged:
- it turns out that unemployed drinking and single mothers sometimes raise sons who cannot serve as a decoration of society;
- elderly ladies who find themselves in cramped circumstances will prefer to live at least on bread with their grand-nephews, at least in an almshouse, but not where the little son of a single mother shoots their own strangled cat in their face;
- Students from poor families do not like being raped in an elevator, and students prefer to study rather than lose their teeth, figuring out who is the coolest on the staircase.
Soon the entire white population left Pruit Igou, and now 99.8% of the complex was inhabited by black residents. Educated and at least something black-skinned, however, also preferred not to stay there - their racial solidarity was enough until the first two massacres at the entrance.
Of the two district schools, the territory of which the complex belonged to, almost all smart teachers soon quit. It's hard to talk about Hamlet and square roots when your students openly masturbate on the front desk for aesthetic purposes.
It turned out that in the modern world, many poor are not victims of circumstances at all, but people who do not want to work, as well as observe the norms of law and decency. Living among more successful people, they willingly or unwillingly adjust to the course of life around them, sluggishly, but are included in some kind of useful activity and, at the very least, look back at the law. And the most idiotic decision was to send such people to live surrounded by others like them. Almost overnight, the complex turned into a virtually independent marginal state, where the concept of property rights was worse than that of the Bushmen, where a person who tries to earn a living honestly is treated like a sucker and where violence is a virtue.
Already in the fifth year of the complex's existence, only 15% of residents paid the minimum rent that was necessary for repairs, garbage disposal, electricity and water supplies. After another five years, the number of paying people dropped to 2%.
A corner of social paradise has become the worst ghetto in the United States. The galleries were the scene of carnage, and there were always teenage gangs hanging around. There was no light anywhere: the bulbs broke a few minutes after screwing in, since it was easier for the gangs to go about their business in the dark. In the elevators, while they were still driving, they committed gang rapes. An unwary girl or woman was pushed into the freight elevator, scum was packed in, the elevator was stopped between floors, and sometimes the screams of the raped woman could be heard throughout the building for literally hours. The police came only during daylight hours, they officially refused night calls, as they could not ensure the safety of their people. Only in rare cases, when it was necessary to detain any gang as a whole, did the special forces stormed one of the towers. During the day, you could still appear in the entrance or on the street, but after sunset, everyone locked the doors tightly and did not poke their noses out, no matter what happened.
It was during the Preuit Igou years that St. Louis took the honorable third place among the most life-threatening cities in the United States (and still holds it). In the mid-60s, "Preuit Igou" looks like an ideal location for filming a zombie apocalypse. The facades are gaping with broken glass. The area around the houses is littered with mountains of garbage - the janitors have long refused to service the complex. From top to bottom, the corridors covered with obscenity are dimly lit by lanterns tucked into an anti-vandal net. Here, 75% of all drug traffic in St. Louis settles, so on many stairwells you can see the twisted figures of lying people crawling into their ugly nirvana. It is possible that some of them are dead. There are no prostitutes on the streets - it's too dangerous; local girls go to earn money in more respectable areas (every third resident of the complex was detained for prostitution, and every second man had a criminal record). The area stinks terribly; the smell intensified many times after a sewer burst in one of the towers and the building was flooded with sewage from the roof to the basement.
Architect Yamasaki Minoru long ago deleted from his resume the mention of Pruit-Igou, a project that was supposed to bring him worldwide fame. Today, with the same success, one could admit that it is you who are the architect of hell, who designed all of its famous boilers.
In 1970, St. Louis's Pruit Igou social housing complex was officially recognized as a disaster area. Yes, there was no flood, no fire, no tornado - everything is much worse here. None of the projects for the reconstruction of the complex and the rescue of its residents have been recognized by the city administration as effective. Communications are crumbling before our eyes, it is not possible to carry out repairs and reconstruction taking into account local peculiarities. And the authorities make the only acceptable decision.
Residents begin to be resettled, sending them to other social housing - usually one or two small houses in relatively decent areas. Then the police and the army conduct a raid on the evicted tower, catching homeless people and drug addicts there, the tower is surrounded by a cordon, and it is blown up.
Two years later, "Pruit-Igou" is a row of pits filled with construction waste, over which grass with chamomiles is hastily sown. And St. Louis now solves the problem of "Pruit-Igou children." These are dozens of gangs and several thousand thugs, connected from childhood with a joint experience of survival in a very wild urban jungle.
It was the problems of social housing complexes that made prosperous philanthropists understand that only money and other benefits cannot improve the existence of people who were somehow thrown out of cultural life. Even compulsory education for all is not a panacea. And only by constant contact with the bearers of a different cultural paradigm can the spirit of the slums be exterminated, and even then this process will be slow, stretching over several generations.