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About the Films

aptNow airing on public television

Release Date: September 6, 2009

Produced and Directed by Andrea Torrice

Each Episode is 30 minutes

America’s "first" suburbs, those suburban communities built next to America’s urban centers, were once the birthplace of the American Dream. Driven by a desire to escape the smokestacks of the central cities and a housing shortage following World War II, thousands of suburban homes were built and middle class families flocked to fill them.

Sixty years later, many of these original suburbs are facing a crisis: a dwindling tax base, population and business loss, decaying infrastructure, increased racial tensions and white flight. Lacking policies to help reverse these trends, many towns are struggling for their survival.

Using compelling, personal stories to highlight these issues, The New Metropolis is a two-part documentary series that explores the challenges our older suburbs now face, and points towards solutions for their revitalization. Both films illustrate how the plight of first suburbs is critical to the overall health of our metropolitan areas.

The film's experts call for new strategies and policies that promote intentional (or stable) integration and balanced growth — and ensure that our limited resources are spread so that both older and newer communities can thrive and prosper.

Episode 1: A Crack in the Pavement
Rebuilding America’s First Suburbs

The film opens with 1950s home movies that capture the optimism felt by millions of families a generation ago, when they moved out of cities in search of the American Dream: single family houses and open space. Archival footage and commentary by experts detail the rapid construction of America’s first suburbs, part of the post-war boom. The Eisenhower Administration supported suburban development through massive government programs that built roads, bridges and sewer systems across the country. New highways paved over farms and undeveloped land, transforming America into the suburban nation it is today.

This film then looks at the current precarious state of many older, first-ring suburbs by profiling two suburban officials from Ohio. The public officials take viewers on a tour of the challenges their communities are now facing. The federal and state money that helped establish these communities is gone – redirected toward new development in ever-expanding suburban rings. Their hometowns are strapped for cash. Their roads, sewers and bridges built years ago now need to be replaced or repaired. Government programs to help these communities maintain themselves are virtually nonexistent. As Madeira city manager Tom Moeller poignantly says, “What do you do with an abandoned community?” Yet just a few miles away, a new ring of suburbs is attracting federal investment, along with new residents.

Ordinary people and experts give insight into how federal and state transportation and housing policies favor new growth over revitalization. They explain how government policies are contributing to the decline of the first suburbs. Unchecked, these policies will eventually pose the same economic problems for every ring of development over time. The film also highlights some of the environmental consequences of these policies, most notably the loss of farmland and open space, water pollution and global warming.

A Crack in the Pavement then points toward solutions, and highlights the successes of regional government in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. There, a regional agency plans for the region’s future growth. Tax sharing and new mass transit have helped revitalize the region’s older communities, and curbed uncontrolled growth.

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People in the Film
Kimberly Gibson   Bruce Katz
Kimberly Gibson
Director of the First Suburbs Consortium of Ohio

  Bruce Katz
VP of The Brookings Institution
Tom Moeller   Carla Chifos
Tom Moeller
City Manager of Madeira, Ohio
  Carla Chifos
Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Urban Planning

Myron Orfield   Richard Ellison
Myron Orfield
Author and Law Professor at the University of Minnesota
  Richard Ellison
Mayor of Elmwood Place Village, Ohio

Episode 2: The New Neighbors
How one town created a vibrant, integrated suburb

The film opens with 1950s home movies and family snapshots from Pennsauken, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia, giving viewers a quick history of suburban development. Springing up after World War II, the nation’s first suburbs were “dream towns,” places where returning GI’s and many middle-class families could realize the American Dream of home ownership. But it was mostly the white middle class who were able to embrace suburban living. Access to the new housing tracts was largely controlled by discriminatory federal and local policies, including exclusionary zoning and mortgage companies’ redlining practices.

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement fought to overturn housing discrimination, and Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act helped protect the rights of minority families to live where they choose. Many families bought property in the first-ring suburbs, close to city jobs. Meanwhile, new business and residential development continues to move farther from metropolitan centers. Despite federal laws, many suburban towns continue to segregate along racial and class lines just as urban centers did decades ago.

The film anchors its story in personal portraits of two unlikely community leaders. Harold Adams moved his family to Pennsauken in the 1990's for the schools. As more people of color bought homes in the area, many older white residents put their houses up for sale. A black real estate appraiser by trade, Harold saw firsthand how rapid turnover and changing demographics were starting to push Pennsauken towards decline.

Lynn Cummings, a white housewife, and her family had been part of the 1960's wave of Pennsauken expansion. Glancing down her street one morning, Lynn noticed a ring of “For Sale” signs on her neighbors’ lawns. She suddenly saw that white flight had hit home and decided to do something about it.

The New Neighbors follows Lynn and Harold as they learn what it takes to pursue integration. Building an integrated community involves a multi-tiered process known as “intentional integration.” They identified an integration specialist from the Fund for an Open Society to help rethink their strategy and focus on their housing market.

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People in the Film
Angela Glover-Blackwell   Harold Adams
Angela Glover-Blackwell
President of PolicyLink
  Harold Adams
Pennsauken resident, real estate appraiser, & co-founder of Neighbors Empowering Pennsauken
David Rusk   Lynn Cummings
David Rusk
Urban policy consultant
  Lynn Cummings
Pennsauken resident and co-founder of Neighbors Empowering Pennsauken
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