The Struggles of Our Cities
City homelessness, gentrification, crime and climate change are explored.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
They're having a party tonight.
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.
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]
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
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."