Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Building Healthy Communities

The films in this series highlight the hard work, innovation and successes of Californians working to create a better life for themselves and their communities – a Californian vision of the American Dream. Together, these four films tackle the question: how can peoples of diverse cultures and thinking come together to redefine home, community, and civic participation in ways that lead to a sustainable, equitable and prosperous society? These are the stories of leaders from diverse ethnic backgrounds, in both rural and urban communities, seeking paths of development that build justice, democracy and quality of life.

True sustainability and healthy communities depend on positive social, economic and environmental outcomes. American society is facing a host of crisis points on all three counts: funding for social infrastructure is deteriorating as tax dollars are increasingly directed abroad, communities are facing record levels of dislocation and violence, oil supplies are dwindling, new science is showing that climate change is worse than we thought, record levels of wealth are consolidated in the hands of a few. The urgency of these and other problems calls for fresh approaches that improve many areas simultaneously. With public resources increasingly oriented overseas, local communities are taking action to improve their situation here at home. California doesn’t have all the answers, but its ongoing tradition of innovation has generated successful strategies that can help take a diverse American society forward without undermining its basis for survival.

Whether it is urban or rural communities, immigrant or low-income populations, there are many paths to building healthy communities. Among the many strategies featured, the series highlights:

INDIAN TRIBES & GAMING (Episode 1: California’s “Lost” Tribes)

California’s Indian Tribes have used gaming to recover from attempted genocide, removal from their lands and assimilation, and establish a socially, environmentally and economically sound future for their people. The income generated from gaming has enabled the construction of community health facilities, land reclamation, a return to food production, and the empowerment of Tribal members to create better opportunities.


“Basically all the land, flat land, in this little valley here belongs to other people. And we never had the property here to farm anything, because look what we got.  We got the rocks. We can’t farCheryl Lawson Calacm rocks, you know? We went from one tribal building with two tribal employees to now 9 departments, about 85 employees, plus a 600 employee casino. One of the big goals was to upgrade the standard of living for our people on the reservation and that’s happened.” – Cheryl Lawson Calac, Tribal Council Member, San Pasqual Band of Indians

Paula Lorenzo “I think that grandparents would be discontent with how we were catapulted into prosperity. It’s like throwing marbles out there on the floor, you’re trying to walk and, you know, you’re going to fall if you don’t have the basics and the background.  But we knew that we needed to be together and the tribe had to be strong. So, I think the grandparents would be proud of where we are today.  Everyone wants something better for their children and grandchildren, better than what they’ve had.  Isn’t this what America is about? It’s the American dream.  This is a part of the American dream.” – Paula Lorenzo, Former Tribal Chair, Rumsey Band of Mission Indians


COMMUNITY REVITALIZATION  (Episode 2: The Price of Renewal)

Largely immigrant community members – with the help of philanthropist Sol Price – achieved significant revitalization of the diverse San Diego inner city neighborhood of City Heights, despite all odds. A community policing project was born, neighbors helped each other rejuvenate their homes and yards, community spaces were created, economic activity was stimulated and community members got increasingly involved in education. The City Heights community undertook an impressive coming-together to improve their lives, but has this effort at building a healthier community resulted in unanticipated impacts on community members?

Joanna Gutierrez

“We learned like how to listen to people from our community not just ourselves, or me, me, me. It’s about everybody else in your community. If you want something to work out, you gotta put everybody together.” – Joanna Gutierrez, Hoover High School Student, City Heights, San Diego


“We think that people feel safer. We think the schools have improved. It’s all anecdotal evidence but there’s less turnover of teachers.Sol Price There’s less turnover of students, people used to move their kids from school to school – the evidence is that they want to keep their kids in the schools we are working with, rather than move around. So we think some wholesome things have happened. But have we, have we come anywhere near scoring a home run? I don’t think so.”  – Sol Price, Businessperson, philanthropist and the founder of the Price Club


Leland Saito“We can applaud the effort of Sol Price as an individual to become involved in redevelopment, to become involved in investment in an area such as City Heights. But private individuals can’t overcome the decades of neglect of local, state and federal officials and policies that have created these kinds of areas such as City Heights.” – Leland Saito, Sociologist, University of Southern California


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT  (Episode 3: The New Los Angeles)

The efforts of immigrants, low-wage workers, and ethnic populations have transformed Los Angeles into a cutting-edge city accountable to the needs of these communities. Los Angeles became a model for communities across the country through its diverse coalitions for sustainable and accountable development. Through their efforts, these marginalized communities gained the will and the means to organize, forming unions, achieving leadership positions in local government, and rising up for living wages, equal rights and a strong political voice.


"Obviously we want growth, we want job creation, we want good things to happen, and we want people to have fair return and all thatMadeline Janis-Aparicio. But we also want to keep our eye on the prize, which is the alleviation of poverty and the creation of good jobs, and affordable housing, and we have a shared responsibility for our collective prosperity." – Madeline Janis-Aparacio, Co-founder and Executive Director of  LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy)

David Malmuth

"It's now part of the accepted process of how projects get developed in Los Angeles, that this dialogue takes place. And I think that's a good thing.  It's this kind of dialogue that needs to take place. It makes the project better, and ultimately, you know, what we have to get measured, not just by the economic success of the project, but how does it enrich the life of the community?" – David Malmuth, Developer, Los Angeles, California


Maria Elena Durazo"We want real solutions and deep thought. The leaders of this city, business, union, all leaders, have got to look at good paying jobs in order to have a healthy city, and that a healthy city has to be for everybody." – Maria Elena Durazo, President of UNITE HERE! Local11


AGRICULTURE (Episode 4: Ripe for Change)

Workers in California’s vitally important food and agriculture industries have innovated inspiring and successful models of food production, marketing and preparation for the rest of the country to emulate. Through the lens of food and agriculture, the importance of simultaneously working for social, environmental and economic goals in order to achieve true sustainability is demonstrated. For example, we see that farmers can build economic success as well as improving community health through direct marketing, local food economies cut down on fossil fuel use and emissions while improving community food security, and that minority farmers can meet economic and social goals by bringing fresh, healthy food to the inner city.


“Sustainable development is an activity that will leap towards theMiguel Altieri fulfillment of three goals… there will be social goals, economic goals and ecological goals.  That is, that when a sustainable agriculture is sustainable, it is because there is an overlapping of these three goals.  That is, that it is socially just, that it is economically viable, and that it is ecologically safe. It’s like a stool that has three legs. And when one of those legs lags, then the stool falls down. Therefore the agriculture is not sustainable.” –Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology, UC Berkeley


Paul Dolan“For us, a triple bottom line is a financial bottom line… we have an environmental bottom line, and we have an equity bottom line.  For us it’s a social equity bottom line.  It was the great taste of this produce that really turned my head.  Now, I was a conventional wine maker.  I’m a fourth generation wine maker, and I’ve been making wine a certain way for a long, well, for a long, long time.  And there was this point when I saw that maybe taking on organic farming, and investigating and exploring the possibilities of being a leader in environmental and social practices, could really truly make a difference in our industry and maybe even beyond that.” – Paul Dolan, Former President, Fetzer Vineyards.


Together, these stories reflect the cutting edge of true community development for a healthy sustainable future. The efforts of these Californian people and communities reveal the struggle of traditionally marginalized low-income, immigrant and ethnic populations to achieve the effective civic engagement, social infrastructure development and economic justice that underpins healthy communities.


Back to top

When to Watch

California and the American Dream premieres April 13, April 20, April 27 and May 4, 2006
Check your local listings.

Buy the Program

DVD Cover Fan

California and the American Dream DVD or VHS

from ShopPBS



To purchase the Series for Institutional use visit www.BerkeleyMedia.com, then go to the Films/American Studies section.