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December 4th, 2009
The Next American System
[OVERVIEW] The Next American System

Over the next 40 years, America’s population will grow by more than an estimated 130 million people. Most will settle in or near the country’s major cities. At the same time, a great American migration will take place. Urban, suburban and rural life will shift – all with new immigrants, new elderly, new poor and a new middle class with less financial freedom. The American Dream will not be deferred, but redefined.

So as the country plans and prepares, the aftereffects of the Recession weigh heavy. “Recovery” is a loaded word these days. An unprecedented multi-billion dollar public works investment to start recovery was made by the federal government to rebuild both the weakened economy and stressed national infrastructure. Still, that recovery has been questioned as unemployment and underemployment remain high.

But, if history holds true, the investment in infrastructure could modernize America (again) just as the Depression of the 1930s spurred spending to unite the states of the country with electricity, sewers and roads. What kind of America will these new Americans live in?

THE NEXT AMERICAN SYSTEM is a look back at the first American System as the country looks forward in this new century. That first system came from political minds such as Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and John Quincy Adams in the early 1800s — defining a young country’s economic and infrastructural future.

Through two documentary projects (BEYOND THE MOTOR CITY and ROAD TO THE FUTURE), Blueprint America interviews today’s thinkers and tells the stories of everyday Americans as an older country looks for its next move. As simplistic an idea as it may seem, a new transportation system could be the answer.


Blueprint America examines how Detroit, a symbol of America’s diminishing status in the world, may come to represent the future of transportation and progress in America.

Detroit is the crucible in which the nation’s ability to move toward a modern 21st century transportation infrastructure is put to the test. The documentary shows how investments in the past — beginning with the construction of canals in the 18th century — profoundly shaped Detroit’s physical layout, population growth and economic development. Before being dubbed the Motor City, Detroit was once home to the nation’s most extensive streetcar system. In fact, it was that vast network of streetcars that carried workers to the area’s many car factories. And it was the cars made in those factories that would soon displace the streetcars in Detroit — and in every major American city.

Detroit’s engineers went on to design the nation’s first urban freeways and inspired much of America’s 20th century transportation infrastructure system — from traffic signals to gas stations — that became the envy of the word.

But over the last 30 years, much of the world has moved on, choosing faster, cleaner, more modern transportation and leaving America — and Detroit — behind. Viewers are taken on a journey beyond Detroit’s blighted urban landscape to Spain, home to one of the world’s most modern and extensive transit systems; to California, where voters recently said yes to America’s first high speed rail system; and to Washington, where Congress will soon decide whether to finally push America’s transportation into the 21st century.


Blueprint America goes to three very different American cities — Denver, New York and Portland, and their surrounding suburbs — to look at each as a microcosm of the challenges and possibilities the country faces as citizens, local and federal officials, and planners struggle to manage a growing America with innovative transportation and sustainable land use policies.

With roads clogged and congested, gas prices uncertain, smog and pollution creating health problems like asthma, cities that once built infrastructure to serve only automobiles and trucks are now looking to innovative new forms of transportation systems — like trolleys, light rail, pedestrian walkways and bike paths.

Whether it is talking to residents pushing sustainable development in the Bronx, smart growth in Denver, or a journalist in Portland whose beat is bicycling, Blueprint America finds a common theme: America’s love affair with the car may be a thing of the past, and that may be the road to economic recovery.


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