What are city streets for? For decades, the urban planners and traffic engineers who designed America’s great cities had one answer to this question: a city street is designed to move cars from one place to another.
We can see the legacy of this philosophy every day on the clogged streets of America’s major cities. Our traffic jams are not just isolated incidents caused by a closed lane or stalled truck. Rather they are the consequence of a deep and longheld belief that streets belong to, are designed for, and should be accessed by, cars.
Now, however, that philosophy is beginning to change. As cities grapple with the challenges of the 21st century, a new idea has taken hold: if you design streets for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic; if you design streets for people, you get people. Bringing bikes, pedestrians, and mass transit to a street, the thinking goes, brings life back to a community—and to a city.
But making this change has not been easy. Because it turns out that the great American project of transforming our urban spaces—redesigning our cities to accommodate the car—intersected tragically with the other American project of race and class discrimination. And now that we’ve begun to undo the legacy of our auto-centric infrastructure, we have to try to undo the associated legacy of discrimination.
Ways to Go explores these issues by followng three interconnected stories: a community reckons with the legacy of an elevated highway that destroyed an African American neighborhood in Syracuse, New York; an African American activist fights to bring bike equity to Chicago’s South Side; and the controversial ride sharing service Uber battles taxi drivers as it seeks to replace the private car in New York City.
The future of our cities will be both a question of design and a question of race. Ultimately, the film shows how our public spaces both reflect and shape our culture and explores whether and how we might change them for the better.