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.


THE TEAM:

TOM DESCH (Producer/Director) was raised among the cornfields of Herscher, Illinois (population 1,600) and he credits his upbringing in this rural community on the fringe of Chicago’s influence as the inspiration for his films that take a look at our relationship with our environment- both the natural and the built. Recently, he produced, wrote, and directed An American Home which tells the story of the B. Harley Bradley House- a structure that helped launch the career of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The film garnered him a regional Emmy nomination for outstanding achievement in writing. His multiple roles as a producer/writer/editor on The Lively One, Shifting Sands, and Everglades of the North earned him two more Emmy nominations. Everglades of the North helped inspire a National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois. In addition to Walkable USA, Tom is currently working to complete the PBS documentary The Field which follows the decades-long debate surrounding a proposed airport for Chicago’s South Suburbs. When not making documentaries, Tom is a sucker for architecture tours, and he lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood with his lovely wife Victoria and two of the cutest dogs in the world. tom@housepaintermedia.com

PAT WINIEWSKI (Producer) a former steelworker from Chicago’s South Side is a two-time Emmy nominated documentary filmmaker that has produced and directed numerous films for PBS. Her award-winning work has aired on stations from coast to coast and screened at film festivals around the country. She recently completed The Lively One which tells the story of an unlikely hero in the sport of drag racing. In 2016, she produced and directed the environmental documentary Shifting Sands. That film helped inspire an Act of Congress to change the designation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore into a full-fledged National Park. In 2013, Pat produced Everglades of the North, a national PBS documentary about the demise of one of the largest freshwater marshes in North America. When not making documentaries, Pat enjoys entertaining her grandchildren with her husband Geno in their home in Valparaiso, Indiana. forgoodnesssakeproductions@gmail.com