The New Metropolis
Two short documentaries highlight the efforts of some of America's first suburbs to reverse their long decline.
Directed by Andrea Torrice
Produced by Torrice Productions
Director of Photography: Bill Turnley
Editor: Matt Dibble, Ken Schneider
Original Score: Belinda Reynolds
Narrated by Peter Coyote (A Crack in the Pavement) and Ruby Dee (The New Neighbors)
America's "first" suburbs, those suburban communities built next to America's urban centers, were once the birthplace of the American Dream. Driven by a desire to escape the smokestacks of the central cities, and a housing shortage following World War II, thousands of suburban homes were rapidly constructed and middle class families flocked to fill them.
"All communities...will find the challenges and opportunities raised in these films informative and useful." Rob Puentes, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution
Sixty years later, many of these original suburbs are facing a crisis: a dwindling tax base, population and business loss, decaying infrastructure, increased racial tensions and white flight. Lacking policies to help reverse these trends, many towns are looking for strategies for revitalization.
Two new half-hour documentaries use compelling, personal stories to highlight these important issues. A Crack In The Pavement, narrated by Peter Coyote, features two first suburban officials struggling to fix their crumbling infrastructure and argues for regional cooperation. The New Neighbors, narrated by Ruby Dee, tells the inspiring story of two ordinary people, one black and one white, who have successfully made racial integration the centerpiece of revitalizing Pennsauken, NJ.
Grade Level: 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2009
Copyright Date: 2009
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-882-1
"This remarkable documentary series by award-winning filmmaker Andrea Torrice is suitable for academic, public education, and community organizing use. It takes us inside the older, inner ring suburban communities, often overlooked by policy makers, and special interest groups, as a key to building healthy cities, suburbs, and sustainable regions."
Carl Anthony, Founder, Earth House Center
"All communities, old and new, will find the challenges and opportunities raised in these films informative and useful."
Rob Puentes, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution
"[The New Neighbors] is a fascinating story of one particular place that embodies a wider national phenomenon and a deeper truth - that community organization can shape a neighborhood for the better and for the common good...A Crack in the Pavement recounts the problems and shows how a coalition of first suburbs in Ohio are now trying to halt the drift to the distant suburbs and reclaim public policies interest and investment. Compelling arguments are made for regional growth policies and land use planning...[The New Metropolis] as a whole provides a detailed account of the rise of first suburbs, their problems of current decline and imaginative attempts to make them viable, livable, and sociable. A must see for those interested in urban issues."
John Rennie Short, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Author, Alabaster Cities, Cities and Nature and New Metropolitan Realities (forthcoming)
"A Crack in the Pavement is a masterful documentary that raises the visibility of the issues facing first suburbs today. It convincingly puts a name and face to the real problems of suburban decline such as population loss, infrastructure decay, and fiscal stress. We see that the harmful consequences of uncontrolled suburban sprawl impact central cities and first suburbs. A Crack in the Pavement is a call to action and should be viewed by all federal, state, and local policymakers with an interest in the future of sustainability and American communities. This will be a great resource for students and faculty of urban and public affairs for years to come.
The New Neighbors is essential viewing for anyone who cares about the future of American communities. This important documentary details the role that stable racial integration plays in combating suburban decline and sprawl. The story of Pennsauken, New Jersey--masterfully told in The New Neighbors--serves as a national model for suburban renewal. Highly recommended."
Dr. Thomas Vicino, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University, Author, Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia
"These concise, touching films are just perfect for the history, sociology, politics, or social policy classroom."
Matthew Lasar, History and Politics, UCSC
"The New Neighbors really resonated with me. I saw the strengths and challenges of my own community in the film, and was surprised to learn that such important work was being done."
Frank De Lucca, Mayor, Linwood, NJ
"The New Neighbors [is an] excellent case study that explores how the dream of integration can become a reality and how residents themselves were able to fight sprawl and the decline of the first suburbs. This documentary is a powerful example of effective citizen action in addressing one of the more serious problems facing urban America. A Crack in the Pavement [provides] a good introduction to the problems facing the first suburbs and the policy decisions that have caused sprawl and the resulting impact on these communities. [The film] portrays vividly the impact of urban sprawl that local officials must deal with and why this is an issue that we should all pay more attention to."
Philip Star, Executive in Residence, College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University, co-Editor, Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods
"Both mini-documentaries show the impact of regional coalitions and the benefits of working together for change. For urban-studies college classes and community groups."
Carol Holzberg, Booklist
"Both [short films] make clear that government policies that once fueled the growth of these suburbs have now put them in jeopardy. They also raise questions about urban sprawl...These documentaries would work very well in the classroom...The voices we hear are those of community leaders and, in the second film, citizens who care enough about their town to get involved. They sound like people we know, and we can easily understand the problems they face...Faculty from various departments may find one or both [films] to be useful supplements to class readings."
Sandy River, Texas Tech University, Educational Media Reviews Online
includes scene selection and SDH captions.
The film's website
Excellent 20-page educator's guide
Excellent 24-page viewer's guide
Awards and Festivals
Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film and Video Festival
Princeton Environmental Film Festival
Race and Racism
Urban and Regional Planning
|Save Our Land, Save Our Towns|
Examines the causes and effects of -- and then remedies for -- suburban sprawl.
Subdivide and Conquer
Suburban sprawl: causes and remedies.
How growth and sprawl affect the quality of life in New England, and some possible solutions.
Valley at the Crossroads
The battle over sprawl in California's Central Valley, where 50% of America's fruits, nuts, and vegetables are grown.
Designing A Great Neighborhood
A model co-housing project, where future residents participate in the design of their own neighborhood.
Looks at the impact on a small town when Wal-Mart plans to build a mega-store there.
Edens Lost and Found
4-part series that highlights models for urban transformation in the effort to make Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Seattle into sustainable cities.
A Lot in Common
A community garden grows community as well as food, flowers and consciousness.
... more Reviews
"Both programs would appeal to urban and regional planners and students, as well as others interested in city issues."
"With The New Metropolis, Torrice sheds light on the once-perfect idea of American suburbia, showing how it is crumbling before our eyes and challenging viewers to step up and save the suburbs before it's too late."
Thomas Celona, Montgomery News
"A lot of America is falling down, and new ideas and new energy are needed to fix it...[The New Metropolis] is precisely the sort of thing that belongs in the public TV repertoire, virtually the only place where TV can shine the light on obscure but fundamental issues of American society."
Jonathan Storm, Television Critic, The Philadelphia Inquirer