"We’ve built our environment so that people have to drive to go about their life’s work, and a large amount of material is being moved by diesel trucks rather than trains or other modes of transportation," Jackson said. "Water pollution is being driven by the fact that we’ve paved over much of the Earth. … And there’s a need for green environments, parks and sidewalks that welcome and encourage people to socialize and exercise."
A grandmother in Oakland is struggling to raise her seven grandchildren, all with asthma as a result of living near the Port of Oakland.
In the new series, he looks at the link between urban sprawl and the national scourge of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, exacerbated by car dependency. To show viewers how cities can contribute to good health, he visits Boulder, Colo., "the healthiest city in the healthiest state," he noted, where bike lanes, walking paths and trails running alongside creeks crisscross the city and outlying areas. "You can essentially go about your life’s work — shopping, school, job — on a bicycle," he said. Residents love commuting by bike: they don’t need to join a gym, and, being outdoors, they socialize with their neighbors more, he said.
But Boulder is an anomaly. Over the last 70 years, planners have designed cities for the use of the automobile, not to fulfill human needs, Jackson said. Granted, cars and freeways allowed people to move farther away from urban centers, relieving stress on crowded cities. "But we’ve taken this intervention to an extreme," he said. "This methodology worked okay when the place wasn’t crowded, but it doesn’t work when there are now more cars in America than there are licensed drivers."
Building another lane onto the 405 and not adding public transit up through the middle of it, for example, is "nonsense," Jackson said. "It just means more people will drive. It’s totally inefficient in terms of the environment, resources, time, the human need for physical activity, socialization … and the ability to enjoy life rather than sit white-knuckled on the freeway."
Dr. Jackson at the Port of Oakland
In fact, Jackson noted, studies have shown that people who take public transit and walk weigh about seven pounds less than people who depend on the car for transportation. If everybody lost seven pounds or more, "your blood pressure goes down, and your risk of having a heart attack or stroke goes down. There are multiple health benefits."
But in many low-income neighborhoods in struggling industrial centers like Oakland, Calif., and Detroit, two cities where he took camera crews, people living in unhealthy environments are hobbled by obesity and other diseases. In one episode, Jackson talks with a morbidly obese grandmother trying to raise seven grandchildren, all of whom have asthma because they live near the Port of Oakland.
But there is also a glimmer of hope. In Detroit, a city in industrial decay and urban ruin, Jackson found a new breed of creative young newcomers who are working to transform areas of the city with urban agriculture and green spaces.
Jackson also takes viewers to what once was the largest shopping mall west of the Mississippi, the Cinderella City Mall in Englewood in the Denver area. Once an enclosed shopping haven encompassing 1.35 million square feet, the mall fell on hard times by 1995 and sat abandoned by most of its tenants. Today, it’s been retrofitted into a lively, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use community that includes shops, apartments, offices, entertainment, and civic and open space elements, including an area that boasts fountains in the summer and an ice-skating rink in winter.
"I’ve been criticized by people who have told me, ‘You just have this 100-year-old vision of America," said Jackson, who has high praise for walkable cities in the South like Charleston and Savannah.
"But I believe that if you build places that work well for children, where they can have increasing autonomy, safe places to walk and bike, and reasonable access to good, healthy food, then you’ve also created a good place for everybody. It’s also a good place for older folks who no longer drive, who need to socialize and be around other people, and need access to healthy food."
To learn more about the series and see video promos, go here
. This page
lists the public broadcasting stations and times when the series will be shown.