PBS offers up the special Blueprint America tonight about what roads, rails and cities will look like across America in the near future. Reported by Miles O’Brien, the special looks at light rail-friendly/bike-happy Portland, Ore., increasingly green New York City, and traffic-choked Denver.
A lot of work went into these brief surveys, which are handsomely shot and have an interesting array of talking heads, including the urban studies scholar Owen D. Gutfreund and the former Colorado governor and slow-growth advocate Richard D. Lamm. But the segments are also larded with generic history — car culture, the interstate highways, the emptying of the central cities — and the accompanying generic images: tail fins, Eisenhower, Levittown.
Mr. O’Brien ties the transportation situations in Denver and Portland to local attitudes toward suburban development. It is certainly valid but seems simplistic: what about geography, energy sources, differences in local economies? And what does any of this civic history have to do with the future of our infrastructure, which is supposedly the point? It often feels as if a longer, more discursive report on urban planning had been shoehorned into the “Blueprint” format.