For centuries, cities around the globe developed in basically the same manner. Commerce, housing and socialization all existed within a short walk. The rise of the automobile in in the 20th Century, however, led to a dramatic and fundamental shift in how we designed and planned communities especially in the United States. Interstates, bedroom communities, and shopping centers became the norm, and today many Americans can no longer easily walk to a corner store, workplace, or a local watering hole. Most Americans realistically function in society only by car. This change in how we live has come with great consequences. Studies have shown that our dependence on driving has cost us our money, our health, and our natural environment. It has made our neighborhoods less equitable, and even undermined our sense of community. How did we get to this point and what can be done?
The hour-long documentary film WALKABLE USA will tackle these questions through a hybrid approach of human-interest story, history lesson, and walkable design primer. At the film’s center is city planner and urban designer Jeff Speck. Speck, along with his mentors Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, is considered one of the leading voices of New Urbanism, a movement which promotes alternatives to suburban sprawl and urban disinvestment. Central to Speck’s design philosophy is the power of people walking. His work aims to shift the design and scale of cities from the car to the individual.
These changes result in safer streets, and in older “legacy” communities they can help reinvigorate neighborhoods where many could not imagine such transformations taking place. One such place is downtown Hammond, Indiana. While the city continues to boast a solid industrial base, its once thriving downtown is now a shell of its former self as it suffered a fate known to city centers throughout the country. However, Hammond has reason to be hopeful, as the community is working with Jeff Speck to redesign its downtown into a thriving, walkable space. WALKABLE USA will use Hammond as an in-progress case study of Speck’s work as it unfolds. Filming will take place over the course of several years as the city implements his designs and its downtown gradually transforms.
While Hammond acts as the film’s core example, it will also examine walkable design principles implemented in cities across the country including Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; New Albany, Indiana; Lowell, Massachusetts; and many others. It will be through these completed projects that the viewer can see what the future may hold for Hammond, and perhaps, their own communities.
WALKABLE USA is being produced in association with the Center for Independent Documentary and upon completion it will be made available to American Public Television for distribution to PBS stations throughout the county.