Sprawl y'all 

One of the beautiful things about the Web is that it gives a shelf life to things like “The Sprawling of America,” a terrific documentary recently broadcast on PBS stations.

The show was produced by the Great Lakes Television Consortium, an offshoot of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, which produces a broad range of environmental stories that are broadcast on public radio stations.

The documentary was GLTV’s first, and the reaction has been “overwhelming,” says senior producer David Hammond.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised, both by the volume of the response, and the sentiment, which has been almost universally positive. We’ve received literally hundreds of e-mails, and almost 100 tape orders. We are just overwhelmingly happy.”

Particularly gratifying is the fact that the program has helped put GLTV on the map.

“We’ve been struggling to get some name recognition nationally,” says Hammond. “Now, all of a sudden, we’re getting our phone calls returned.”

The two-part documentary, which took nine months to produce at a cost of about $320,000, focuses in large part on Detroit. Part 1 of the documentary, “Inner City Blues,” uses Motown as a case study to demonstrate “how race and racial conflict were at the core of white flight in hundreds of cities across America.”

But race was only part of the issue. In the words of the show’s creators, “It also shows how federal programs like the Interstate Highway System, Veteran’s Administration loans and Federal Housing Administration housing loans accelerated white flight and fueled poverty inside cities.”

Part 2 covers the suburbs, from the quality of life there to sprawl’s impact on agriculture.

It’s terrific television. And if you missed it, all you need to do is pull up www.gltv.org. The entire documentary is available for viewing online.

“That was part of the experiment,” says Hammond. “Would people go to computers to watch a documentary? It looks like they are. They average person is watching for 35 minutes, which is fabulous.”

Hammond and his cohorts are now shopping around for funding to produce a new documentary that will take the issue a step further. “We want to explore the relationship between land use and transportation,” explains Hammond.

The plan is for the next piece to be more “solution oriented,” he says, with at least some attention being paid to the prospects of high-speed rail.

It is a critical issue. Many of the “first-ring suburbs” that expanded rapidly when whites first began to flee the inner city are, says Hammond, themselves now “on the edge of collapse.”

And the second- and third-ring suburbs?

They’d better learn from history before it is too late.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, the Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail cguyette@metrotimes.com

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