Thursday, July 19, 2012


Last week I recommended an amazing real estate movie for you, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.

Here is another great film, probably the best I have ever seen on the land use and zoning process.  (As if there are lots of them produced on this subject anyway....)

WINDFALL is the stunning movie by director Laura Israel about what happens when "green" energy comes to a small upstate New York village not prepared for the consequences.  Wind power sounds like a clean and renewable energy source that can also bring some needed income to the needy farming community until the local residents start learning about the real details.

I cannot praise this movie enough, with special kudos to all the residents of Meredith, New York who decided to participate in the film.  The pain this controversy caused to the small and previously tight knit community is obvious on the screen.  But the residents who lived through this ordeal have a story to tell and they surely make the case extraordinarily well.

Wind power sounds great until you start to examine the effects on residents who live near wind farms.

Each of those wind turbines weight 600,000 pounds.

Each is the size of a twelve story building---and sometimes even taller.

The blades turn upwards of 160 miles per hour and kill birds and bats which are naturally drawn to the motion and the sounds of the blades in astounding numbers.  Watch this Fox News report on the subject which claims "1,000 environmentally protected birds are killed each day."

 The noise these turbines generate 24/7 can literally send chills up your spine, a low frequency grinding sound like a dental drill.  Listen to this video for an example.

What happens when a turbine catches fire, or collapses in a storm?  Could your local volunteer fire department put out this inferno?

A windfarm is just that---HUNDREDS of these massive turbines all spinning at once.  The sight is mesmerizing but also a bit unnerving.

WINDFALL should be required viewing in Seattle where green energy has become a mantra much like rooting for the always losing Seattle Mariners.  If more people REALLY understood wind power far fewer people would so zealously embrace it.  Even NPR agrees in a movie review for WINDFALL.

This film details the land use process where advocates of wind power meet opponents who each have their own agendas.  Meredith is a poor (even dying) dairy farm community 160 miles north of New York City in desperate need of income and wind companies offer royalties and cash payments to families barely getting by.  But life near these wind turbines is harsh and mentally exhausting.  The scenes of the film involving the shadows these massive turbine blades cast on communities is simply chilling to behold.

Plus the size of wind turbines continues to grow.  These commercial turbines are not the size of little windmills in the Dutch countryside circa 1800.  These machines are huge, literally the size of urban skyscapers, 12-16 stories high and growing.

I loved WINDFALL and highly recommend it to green energy enthusiasts but also real estate investors and developers who want to see the land use and zoning process up close and how it REALLY works.

I watched WINDFALL through Netflix Streaming but it can be found at local libraries and through for purchase.

MUST SEE FILM!  I want to watch more from director Laura Israel.  She's good.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

It's rare I get to see one great real estate documentary a year, let alone two in one week.

The first I'd like to recommend to you is The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, a stunning documentary on the infamous St. Louis public housing project that went from international celebrity to national disgrace over just ten short years.

I became aware of Pruitt-Igoe (pronounced PREW-IT EYE-GO) when I began exploring the career of famous Seattle architect Minoru Yamasaki.  Most known today for being the designer of the doomed World Trade Center in New York, Yamasaki is still fondly remembered today for a host of conceptual 1950s and 1960s era projects such as the Rainier Tower in Seattle with its distinctive "pencil point" base built in 1977.

Pruitt-Igoe was Yamasaki's second major project as an architect, ultimately becoming a personal disaster for him and a failure that shadowed the soon to be world famous designer for the rest of his life.

Built in 1954 with great fanfare, the massive 33-building public housing complex was designed on a 57-acre site in downtown St. Louis.  More than 2,870 apartments were built for mostly poor African Americans who had migrated north after the Second World War for the great jobs boom that never happened.

Pruitt-Igoe in its day was the best government could offer in public housing.  The apartments with their massive windows were called "Poor People's Penthouses in the Sky."  Some tenants actually had working kitchens with refrigerators for the first time.  The initial residents of Pruitt-Igoe loved the place because where they had come from was much worse.

But Pruitt-Igoe was maintained with the rents of the tenants and it became clear within a year few people actually wanted to live there.  The occupancy rate peaked at 91% in 1957---and quickly began to fall from there.

Fewer rents meant less maintenance.

Property deterioration led to fewer tenants, creating a vicious cycle.  Without maintenance everything began to fall apart and left to rot.

By 1971, only 600 people lived in the decaying and crime ridden complex.  Public areas between the buildings had become a "no-man's land" of gangs, drug dealing, and violence.  Snipers in vacant apartments protected the local drug trade from rivals and the police.

On March 16, 1972, the first Pruitt-Igoe building was imploded with great fanfare.  The pictures taken that day were soon famous around the world.

By 1976, the entire site was cleared and left vacant.  Today, much of the site is still that way.  All of the buildings in the photo above were destroyed except for the small church near the center.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth by director Chad Freidrichs is a documentary as good as they get.  The film tells a fascinating real estate story but, in the end, it's a human tragedy as well.


I watched the film through Netflix Streaming.  Local libraries also carry the film.  You can buy The Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Amazon too.


A reader sent me this link to YouTube with many amazing images of Pruitt-Igo.  Highly recommended.