One Day in the American City


The Struggles of Our Cities

City homelessness, gentrification, crime and climate change are explored.

AIRED: May 04, 2016 | 0:25:11

So--you--you rolling?

Man: Camry and Nicole interview, take one.

Uh, check, check.

3, 4, 5.

Want me to address you or the camera?

Man: Let's make sure this is rolling.

Excuse me. Is the film still rolling?

Uh, so my name's--

Man: Actually, hold one one sec.

Woman: Take one.

Narrator: Simultaneously on April 26,

thousands of people in 11 U.S. metropolitan areas

were asked to film 10 questions about the future of their city.

We uncovered many stories about our cities,

learned more about our challenges,

and found many ideas and plans for a collective better future.

Filmed entirely in one day across the U.S.,

this is "One Day in the American City."

In order to unify creative participation in this project,

we presented 10 questions

to thousands of people across the country.

This experiment in democratized filmmaking

produced diverse and profound stories and answers.

In this episode, our filmmakers will explore 3 questions

on well-known topics and issues facing our cities today.

What are our biggest challenges?

Who is our city not serving, and what is the worst thing

that could happen to our city today?

My name's Caleb Parker. Major funding for "One Day in the Americ

I'm a researcher at the Media Lab.

We're sitting in the media lab right now,

which is a center for innovation on the MIT campus.

There's about 33 labs inside the Media Lab.

I mean, its focus does new cars of the future

to the future of food, and inside of that is a group

that focuses on cities, so I'm part of that group.

It's called the city sciences,

and so the City Science Initiative

looks at big data in cities.

It looks at food in cities, uh, new places of living in cities,

uh, and mobility systems in cities.

Man: What do you see as the biggest challenges

when it comes to cities?

You know the cities of the future

are fraught with challenges.

The biggest challenge is that most of us

will be living in them.

In the next 30 to 50 years, 80% of us will be living in cities.

Woman: One of the challenges that I see is,

the buzzword right now is, like, "gentrification."

This is a traditionally African American neighborhood,

and everybody's moving out.

Man: I think, uh, Denver's biggest challenge

is the transportation

and the infrastructure for the highway.


Traffic. Traffic.

One of the biggest problems we have with the Tijuana River

and pollution along the border is the fact that we've got

thousands of waste tires that, when it rains,

wash from Tijuana back into the Tijuana River

and the watershed and the Tijuana Estuary

and eventually into the Pacific Ocean.

Man: Climate change is absolutely

the largest challenge that we are all facing.

Honestly, I think the biggest challenge

is this drought that we're facing.

Overall, we need to be serving our students better.

Man: I think the biggest challenge that

Los Angeles is facing is bringing more jobs to the city.


Political corruption is the biggest challenge.

This city is under siege, under hostage.

This is a hostage situation.

People are living in this community

right here where my church is at,

and they are not safe.

We need to find more activities for our youths.

We need to find a way to get out and reach them

a little bit better than what we've been doing.

Man: We still have an influx of, uh, illegal immigration.

I mean, right now the current administration,

they're just doing a horrible job.

Different man: We got to start from the bottom to the top.

Why are we just starting at the top? They cool.

They don't need [beep], so until we address the bottom,

it's always gonna be a problem.

Different man: Housing, transit, homelessness--

all these things are so important for officials

not only to speak out on, but to be on the ground on.

Woman: I was really taken

when I first drove into the city.

I saw an abandoned building on Cass,

and I was changed.

I'm a student of the city.

I claim to be no expert of the City of Detroit.

I am scratching the surface.

The "Ten Plagues of Detroit" series that I'm working on

right now, I've been working on it for the past 11 years.

It's part of a whole picture of what's happening in this city.

Each individual counts.

I want to tell their story, even a story of brokenness,

knowing that all these plagues I'm depicting are able

to be transformed into something that is redemptive,

something that brings light, that brings wholeness,

that brings goodness back into the city.

I don't think the city just needs

their wounds to be bandaged.

We actually need to go deeper and go inside

and find out the core of an issue

before you can actually figure out how to heal it.

Man: One of the main problems in every city

is that at some point it becomes hip to come there.

Some form of gentrification happens

which displaces people who've been there for decades.

Woman: We're all being pushed out of the city right now,

you know, to make way for the condos.

We have to make way for Google now.

We have to make way for Twitter.

Different woman: I think one of the biggest challenges

of living in Boston, especially

for young professionals, is finding affordable housing.

Boston is quite an expensive city,

and people want to live here,

and so if people want to live here,

that means that real estate prices will be driven

up and up and up and up.

Rents are going up.

Rent. Rent.

Rent. Rent.

Rent. Rent.

The rent. Look at this. This is insane.

I got, like, a closet,

and I'm paying $400 for a closet.

Alcocer: What we're asking for are basic human rights.

Housing is a human right.

It's really amazing that you could be working

and at the same time, when you get off work,

you're going back to the homeless shelter.

Man: This is not a challenge that's unique to Denver.

It's a challenge that exists in every city.

Urban planners, mayors are grappling

with how to find the kind of middle ground

because on the one hand, you know, development is good.

Growth in jobs is good.

On the other hand, you don't want that growth

to displace communities.

You want it to actually help those communities.

"Battle to live in San Francisco

for city employees."

I'm a city employee,

and this--this lady, she makes $77,000 per year

working for the city.

They're trying to find an apartment

she can afford to live in.

$77,000 a year. I'm dreaming.

These days since I've-- I've gotten my eviction notice,

I'm always, uh, keeping tabs on--on the Ellis Act

and how it affects people like myself.

I don't have a roof over my head

and a base to come from to do what I need to do

to take care of myself physically,

emotionally, mentally,

and how am I gonna take care of these students,

these special ed. students that's depending on me?


Hi, Alicia. Hi, David. This is your brother Sonny.

I'll be here-- I think you two--

I think you know that I've been Ellis Acted.

There's a big, citywide protest--

Civic Center across the street from City Hall, San Francisco.

I'm gonna be maybe on television,

or check if you can come down.



[Telephone rings]

Man: I came in prison as a Blood.

The inmates named me the General,

but, uh, folks on Skid Row, they call me the Field Commander.

Hey, how you doing, buddy?

Man: Where you been at last couple of--

Oh, I haven't seen you today.

Dogon, voice-over: Not only is Skid Row, uh,

a poor and oppressed community.

It's also one of the homeless capitals of the nation.

Like, you got more homeless people sleeping on the streets

in Skid Row, you know, than in any other community

in the nation.

Anywhere, you got between 3,000 to 5,000 homeless people

that's sleeping on the streets.

It's this organization called CCA--

Central City Association.

They came out with a-- what they call a 2020 plan,

what they want to see for downtown 2020--

you understand me?-- and we was like,

"Whoa, we don't see us," so what we did was,

we created our own 2020 plan.

We--we called it--entitled it Share the Wealth.

We wanted more affordable housing for people, you know.

Then we wanted to stop the criminalization

of homelessness.

That's what our 2020 plan called for,

and they was like, "Oh, no."

They wouldn't even--they didn't even want to talk about it,

so, OK, we was like, "All right.

We're gonna hang out at your spot."

We pushed it so much that they end up throwing in the towel,

and they finally met with us.

After all this, we met with them.

We said, "OK. Well, we can talk all day long,

"but in order to solve the problem,

we have to, you know, give the people something"--

you know what I'm saying?--

"I mean, so let's create something we can give them."

I said, "Well, give people some housing."

"We can probably work with you on that,"

so it's this hotel right here.

Let's turn around and look at it.

It's called the Cecil Hotel.

So we say, "It's empty, and it has to stay low-income,"

so we told the people at CCA,

"Let's take 400 people off the streets, homeless,

and put them in that hotel."

They was like, "Oh, that sounds like a good idea,"

so we went--went through all this work, paperwork,

you know, got it all done, went through all these connections,

got all the paperwork done, and right when it's time

for them to sign on the dotted line, they refused,

and the business owners on Main Street said

they do not want 400 pe-- homeless people

to move into a hotel on the street, right,

that it'd be like a Ho--a Hotel Homeless,

so you're just incarcerating all these homeless people

in this one spot.

"We don't want all that crime all coming out here and stuff."

You refused to put 400 homeless people that's on the block

into that hotel.

These are the same people every day

that you complain about that's pissing

on the side of your building.

These are the same people you complain about

that's sleeping outside, that's panhandling.

You know what I'm saying?

This is the time to get them off the streets

and into a hotel.

One one said, they are letting folks hang out--

the yuppies hang out on Main Street,

and not only do they hang out on Main Street.

The city came out here and put swings and benches

and card games for them to play.

We're gonna walk our street and look at some of those, right,

but then we're gonna walk down the street.

Just two blocks over, if you sit your ass on the ground,

all hell's gonna break out with LAPD.

They gonna come, and they gonna take all your property,

and then they gonna arrest you.

Man: Who are our cities not serving?

Different man: I think we're trying hard

but I think we are not serious with the low-income

and homeless population.

Man: You don't fall into being homeless.

It's just doesn't--like, you wake up one day

and you say, "Well, I'm homeless."

It takes a long time for you to lose everything.

Woman: The city struggles to serve a lot of people.

I can't say it's just not serving anybody.

I think we struggle.

We do our best, but it's a really hard population

to serve, and we don't have a lot of the resources.

Steuer: As the city attracts jobs,

attracts new business, new residents, um,

how do you figure out how that benefits

the neighborhoods of poverty, the immigrant populations?

We all have to commit to figuring out

how the economic success and social success

extends to all the citizens.

The last we formally heard from the Water Board,

it was, 42,000 households had water shut off.

We got a major city, a hub city,

with whole segments of the community

with zero access to water, fresh water.

Man: Well, I think the city--

the city isn't serving the average person.

We can't leave anybody behind,

whether it's homeless people--

we're the homeless capital

of America right now--

whether it's our high

unemployment rate

in our communities of color,

or young people who, you know, our school systems

have almost been set up to give up on.

While we're creating high-wage jobs in L.A.,

we're also creating a higher level of poverty every year.

That's a bridge we can build to make sure

that those young people fill the jobs

that right now are being filled by people

who come to L.A. from someplace else.

Man: People are moving to the city.

One of the results of that is,

cities are becoming very expensive places to live

in a lot of places and are having a harder and harder time

serving people who don't have enough money to live in cities.

[Tires screech]

Man: My city is one of the coldest,

streets so frozen, it's black ice beneath me

so slippery, it's dangerous.

I've got to maintain balance,

hoping I don't come across as savage, slipping,

but this is California, remember?

It's the Golden State where it's never sunny,

but if you look past Hollywood Boulevard

and Beverly Hills, maybe take a trip to South Central,

where it can be a full-blown shootout

on a beautiful, sunny day where I stayed.

Like, two killed from a stray, and the cop got hit,

so the suspect got split with over 100 rounds.

They took him right out,

and, you see, it's sunshine on icy roads

'cause we just trying to mimic the ways of living

in places we don't normally go.

You see, we're so busy trying to show

that the struggle ain't real, so we kill.

We kill, and we kill thugs who can possibly be our blood.

[Woman laughs]

Man: When you sell firearms,

you're--you're gonna be a target for crime.

We've had 34 gun burglaries

since I've been in business here,

and it gets--uh, gets kind of old having to come over here

in the middle of the night and sit here all night

with your storefront broken out.

Just gotten to be kind of a hassle.

I--I finally had to decide whether or not I could justify

being in the gun business anymore.

The cost of insurance is very high.

Oh, I'm favor of--of people here in Georgia being allowed

to carry guns, really, just about anywhere.

I know they recently passed a law which basically

allows a person that has a carry license

to pretty much carry a gun wherever they want to,

including churches, you know,

sporting events, shopping malls,

public gatherings, just about anywhere.

I think it's actually the most lenient law of its kind

in the United States now.

Man: A gun is based on fear.

If you pack a gun in a church, that's a contradictory

of your supposed love for God and mankind.

I--I like the law because it makes people

who are law-abiding citizens

have the right to bear their arms.

Man: Seeing all these kids around,

I want them to feel safe, and one of the ways

to feel safe is to minimize the amount of guns

out on the streets, so there's really no need for it.

I feel safe enough that the Atlanta police

are doing their job, so no guns, please no guns.

Woman, on radio: All available East Side units,

East Side units, being robbed

at 2092 Newnan Crossing Boulevard East.

Man: 470.

Grant, voice-over: I've lived in, uh, Coweta

my whole life, actually.

I live right outside of the city in Senoia, you know?

I--I love what I do.

Just in my experiences of dealing with a--a drunk

outside of a bar or inside of a bar,

in my opinion, the last thing they need is a firearm close by.

We don't need guns involved.

You can understand that you're not gonna

keep them out of there, I mean,

just like you're never gonna keep them all off the street.

If people want them, they're gonna--

they're gonna get them and--and use them.

[Music playing]

They're having a party tonight.

[Beep beep]

Woman, on radio: [Indistinct], I'll check on that.

I got to go on another call.

About 10 gunshots just went off.

Go see if we can locate the source.

[Engine accelerates]

Y'all hear any gunshots?

Yeah. I heard about 5, 6.

Where--where were y'all at when y'all heard them?

Yeah. 10-4. it--it was several gunshots

just went off.

I couldn't quite tell where they were.

I'm over here in a hall in Eastgate.

There they go.

Woman, on radio: [Indistinct]

They crowd up,

and it only takes a matter of time

before tempers start flaring.

There is more action at night, but I guess I like it more

because you have more of your serious calls,

which is what I enjoy working,

you know, and, of course, if I had to make a decision,

though, I would choose day shift over night shift

just so I could be at home at night with my kids and stuff.

Man, on radio: [Indistinct]

[Rain falling]

Woman: I don't think about it, you know?

I never came to the actual location

because I didn't want to see.

You don't lose a child and forget about it.

There are certain things I just blocked out of my mind,

like the building I lived in where he died.

I had to go past that spot every day,

you know, going in and out the house.

My children had to go through that spot every day.

This is the location where my son Jimmy was murdered

on August the 20th, 1981.

This young man and him got in a fight,

and a young girl that he had grew up with,

she gave this young man the knife,

and he stabbed him, and as a result,

his friends carried him home

because the--the last thing he said to them was,

"Take me home to my mother."

They we're told to put him down, so they put him down

in the hallway, and had I known that he was gonna die,

I would've had them bring him up--up to his room.

They wouldn't let me go to the hospital

with him in the ambulance...


and I wasn't able to have those last minutes with him.

By the time I got to the hospital,

he had--he had died...



and, oh, you know,

even though it's been so long, it still hurts.


Within two months, it'll be his birthday,

so it's gonna start getting very hard for me.


Now that I'm with Mothers for Justice

and we talk about forgiveness, I feel really good

because I'm telling my story.

Man: One of the, um, real tragedies in America

is the demise of Detroit--

the demise of the auto industry, its related industries--

and the move from a postindustrial society

into sort of an information society and economy

has left Detroit in pretty bad shape.

I guess the question is,

how do you rebuild an urban area?

On the other hand, it's very curious about New Orleans.

Now, this is a city struck by natural plight,

but we have made, uh, real strides

in sort of trying to bring New Orleans back,

and, while it's not where it was,

it still is sort of making-- making strides

to--to sort of rebound, and I think

you look at these two cities, both struck by disasters

of very different kinds, it's gonna be very interesting

to see with those two cities how we manage.

Man: After Katrina, people said

that was a dumb place to build a city.

Well, New Orleans is surrounded by one of the best

hurricane-protection systems in the world now,

but, unfortunately, it's not adequate going forward

because we're subsiding at one of the fastest rates

of any large, coastal landscape in the world.

Everything we build to protect us from storm surge

will have to be raised just because we're sinking,

but also, the level of the ocean is rising,

so the city is safe now, but it faces an uncertain future.

When you put a levee on a delta, the protected side,

the side away from the marsh, begins to sink.

On this side, the marsh is still about a foot below us--

this is the wild, wet side-- but if you come this side,

the protected side, this is what's happened

over about 4 years.

It's been sinking and sinking and sinking,

and it's at least 8 feet lower than the wetlands,

so this is gonna continue to sink,

and this is happening inside New Orleans, as well.

This--this is where that land should be, up here.

This was once a forest.

That line of dead trees-- that tombstone,

that graveyard that was once a really vibrant,

bottom land, hardwood forest that was built

on the natural levee of this bayou--

once they blocked it from the river with levees,

it blocked the life-giving sediment

that built this whole area.

For a large landscape--

Southeast Louisiana, New Orleans,

and everything around it-- this is an emergency.

Naparstek: What's the worst thing that can happen to a city?

I mean, I think bad planning is one of the worst things.

Most of the world's cities are built along shorelines

and rivers, places that are very vulnerable to climate change.

We really need to start to engineer our cities

to prepare for what's coming with climate change.

The worst thing that can happen--

I hope the worst things don't happen--

is like when we had Katrina.

Our worst thing probably would be a hurricane.

I think a hurricane, and I think apathy

because if people don't care,

then nothing will ever get done.

Negativity's always there, you know?

People here struggle, but there are good people here,

so we don't give up.

The worst thing that could happen to our city?

Ooh, probably a big earthquake.


A major earthquake.

Oh, an earthquake, the big one.

Tsunamis, the earthquakes, the hurricanes that we've seen

remind us that when we put large groups of people together

that the opportunity for kind of mass-effect,

from terrorism to natural disasters, is high,

and so I do think as the world continues to urbanize,

how to protect urban populations better,

that's--that's the worry I face.

Naparstek: I view cities as a kind of ultimate expression

of human creativity.

In a way, it's, like, one of our greatest creations

that we can make as humanity, is a--is a really nice city,

and if you look at cities that way,

then one of the truly most tragic and sad things

that we can do as human beings is with our own hand

destroy a city, um, and we've done that many times

in human history, you know, from Carthage to Dresden

to Hiroshima to Homs, Syria.

You know, we're really good at destroying cities.

Narrator: In this episode, our filmmakers found challenges

in cities across the country.

As cities grow, more and more people become affected

by these challenges.

Our filmmakers spoke with passionate citins

who shared stories of urgent and personal problems

and their desires to secure

a better future.

Some of those issues

are manmade and some natural.

Many voices were strongly charged

with the need to make sure

cities do not fail

their citizens or even

cease to exist.

In our next episode,

our filmmakers will

investigate solutions

being implemented

in cities and explore

how cities themselves are

an important technology.

They will ask the question,

what is the future of our cities in the next 20 years,

next time on "One Day in the American City."


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