Building Pruitt-Igoe in Ahmedabad

#slumredevelopment #slum #slumredevelopmentahmedabad #urbanplanning #urbandesign #urbanrenewal #Pruitt–Igoe #PruittIgoe #ahmedabad #gujarat #FSI #AMC

Even if we don’t have matching chic architecture, the kindness of our local real estate developers has ushered in buildings with unpronounceable Western names across Ahmedabad.

Thankfully, my own haute couture vocabulary and pronunciation are matching to an average Rickshaw driver, so I am able to navigate the city without bothering about how Moulin rouge is pronounced. But, as the trend continues, I am tempted to join in this linguistic celebration of becoming modern.

As my contribution to urban renewal that is marching down our streets, I suggest a new name for the next high-rise scheme that some kind-hearted builder will be constructing soon for lifting our poor slum-dwelling brethren into the sky by redeveloping a slum into a high-rise building.

Pruitt–Igoe is the most fitting name for the slum redevelopment scheme that I can think of, as it has wonderful exotic sound to it. The only problem is, this name has a specific reference for architects, but as it’s a community with vocalising skills of a giraffe when it comes to a societal issue, I must do the duty of conducting a Pruitt–Igoe appreciation session for you.

US cities of mid-twentieth century were facing the same problems we are facing today. Densely populated cities had migrants arriving and settling down in slums that made cities look ugly and unkempt. With rising prosperity, city elites found slums to be inconvenient eye-sores and public policy-makers came out with the same brilliant idea that has struck their Indian counterparts now.

Just as our policy-makers feel today, the then mayor of U.S. city of St. Louis, Missouri opined that “We must rebuild, open up and clean up the hearts of our cities. The fact that slums were created with all the intrinsic evils was everybody’s fault. Now it is everybody’s responsibility to repair the damage.”

The solution arrived at by US policy-makers was also to replace slums with high-rise towers that will free slum-land for better use. So, Pruitt–Igoe was constructed as a massive complex of thirty-three eleven story towers in St. Louis, and was celebrated as “Slum-surgery”.

The story of Pruitt–Igoe continued onwards as a breakthrough in urban renewal and beyond. But, unfortunately for us, the book of history our policy-makers seem to be learning from has its last chapter missing.

As time passed, the high-rise building occupied by the poor started going down the predictable path. Poor occupiers unable to afford maintenance, the towers started becoming run-down. Regular breakdown of elevators became the primary cause of deterioration of the habitat that soon turned Pruitt–Igoe into a dangerous, crime-infested neighbourhood. In two decades, decay and lawlessness of Pruitt–Igoe had reached a point that government had to bring it down using explosives.

The Pruitt–Igoe project stands as a warning for those who think that poor people can occupy and prosper in a high-rise that is bound to require constant maintenance.

I am sure that I have stated the obvious that is known to every architect and urban designer, but the fact that our policy-makers are forced to feigned ignorance to the obvious tempts me to quote Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of Pruitt–Igoe.

Learning about the ultimate fate of Pruitt–Igoe, he said, “I never thought people were that destructive.” It is a statement for a context, but the bigger and bitter truth is, more than the poor occupiers of vertical ghettoes, it holds truer for our builders who are destroying our cities in pursuit of their personal wealth-creation.

Minoru Yamasaki also has a rare distinction of having designed one more icon that too was brought down, this time by people flying aircrafts into it. Elites find ways of exploiting the oppressed in the name of helping them, but ultimately society has to bear the cost.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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