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Know the West

Oh, give me a home...

  Contrasting Western images: A lone cowboy on horseback rides through the recently paved streets of a new, cheerily painted subdivision, while a voice laments that the West is becoming a place an old-timer might not recognize anymore. That's how the documentary, Subdivide and Conquer: A Modern Western, begins. It takes a sobering look at the new West, once "the dreamscape of the American mystique," now a region afflicted by cookie-cutter subdivisions, ranchettes and monster homes.


Narrated by actor Dennis Weaver and punctuated by a quirky sound track that includes "Home on the Range" and the Lone Ranger theme, the film follows the path of sprawl and its accompanying costs. The suburbanizing trend boomed after World War II, when resources were shifted from military needs to cars and home-building products, and President Eisenhower's interstate highway system offered Americans easy access to the country. To this day, sprawl is aided by unchanged government policies, hidden subsidies, and zoning codes from the 1950s that favor single-family homes.


The film also suggests standard remedies, such as better land-use planning and transportation systems, and highlights groups and municipalities that are approaching the problem in unique ways.


Subdivide and Conquer, produced and directed by Jeff Gersh of Red Oak Films and Chelsea Congdon of First Light Films, is intended for audiences from middle school to adult. It will air on public television stations beginning in May, and can be rented from Bullfrog Films, 800/543-3764.