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The Right to The City

 May 24, 2024 at 11:53 AM PDT

S1: Hey , hey.

S2: Yo , I just moved to my new place in San Diego. I'm super stoked.

S3: Hey , I'm so happy for you. You know , what's the best thing about that ? You don't have to deal with the traffic to go to TJ.

S2: I know I do love going , but it gets heavy.



S3: Twice and I just had to get to my apartment. It was another hour with all the construction underway in the city.

S2: That is a lot of life. Lived in your car.


S3: Well , yeah , if you're cutting the line.

S5: Survival of the slickest.

S2: If you live in Tijuana or move between Tijuana and San Diego regularly , you know exactly what we're talking about.

S3: Tijuana has a big traffic problem. Imagine you leave from work and you are hungry , tired , and need to use the bathroom. But you're stuck , surrounded by cars.

S2: Avenues and Main Street routes are completely jammed with drivers trying to find alternative routes to cross the border.

S3: And when you finally get through , it's the same situation on the other side. Stuff out of a nightmare like Natalie.

S2: Folks report spending hours and hours waiting to cross to San Diego and then the same back into Tijuana.

S3: Then , depending on where you live in Tijuana , between 1 or 2 additional hours to get to your destination , even going to a non-work location is a hassle , like a park or a movie theater.

S2: Research shows that this is costing the region billions of dollars annually in lost revenue and productivity , not to mention the impact on CO2 emissions.

S3: The quality of life for the average Taiwanese is significantly affected , so much so that Tijuana mayoral candidates in the 2024 election have championed the issue for leaving traffic congestion loss.

S6: Tijuana's mas de santé cinco horas en el tiempo calidad de vida a cada uno de nosotros. Por eso , el Gobierno trabajar con sentido d'urgence para reducir la congestion.

S2: In recent years , both Mexico and the US have agreed to ramp up investment on infrastructure to help people move between the countries faster.

S3: That also led to a complete overhaul of Tijuana's roadway infrastructure , including the construction of the notorious Plaza Tijuana Otay Livramento , a freeway that connects the Tijuana airport with the coastal neighborhood of Playas.

S2: A project that many see as a key solution to the city's traffic problems.




S2: That's University of Oklahoma architecture professor and one of Tijuana's most prolific voices in architecture , Rene Peralta. He , like many of his colleagues , is skeptical of this approach.

S7: No , I'm not skeptical. I'm sure that it's not going to do it. Well , first of all , it's been proven by research that creating more roads in the short term and long term creates more traffic. So it's almost a 1 to 1 relationship , meaning that if you increase the road capacity of 1% , you're going to increase the traffic for that percentage. Second , the more traffic you have in a city , probably the more stressful it is for people to move around. It's also not very good for the environment , because the more vehicles you have more CO2 and greenhouse emissions where you have that traffic. So you're going to have a very bad quality of air. And overall , I think the city has a a place to live in does not become a healthy place to live.

S3: We sat down with him and other experts to understand how Tijuana is changing , and explore the implications of an approach that prioritizes cars over people. I.

S7: I. I wish that the street was was close to pedestrians. I don't I don't see any need for cars to be moving around on Revolution Street. And I think that is a great example of how you exercise your right to the city , right ? By by telling the city what you want , by telling the city what you need in your neighborhood. You know you want better sidewalks. You want , uh uh , you want parks in your neighborhood. You have to exercise those things. And in sometimes in Mexico , we're used just to to wait until the government decides to do things. But I think we need to learn that we also have the power to be able to change things.

S2: If this is your first time tuning in to this season , we're showcasing stories of people with out-of-the-box approaches to common problems. This season is all about visionaries and shapers of the borderlands. Stay tuned. From KPBS. This is Port of Entry.

S3: Where we tell Crossborder stories that connect us.

S2: I'm Alan Lilienthal.

S3: And I'm Natalie Gonzalez.

S2: This question came into focus as we listen to KPBS award winning podcast Freeway Exit. KPBS own Metro reporter Andrew Bowen is the creator and host.

S3: Freeway exit takes a deeper look at the unintended consequences of creating the freeway system in San Diego. One of the episodes in the podcast had a possible answer to our question.

S2: There's a moment in the episode titled The Road Ahead , where Andrew is riding his bike in a section of the Interstate 15 that had closed for repairs. Let's listen. Okay.

S8: Okay. We are riding onto the off ramp of State Route 15. I'm here with Briar Marsh , who you met in episode one. He's the architect with the crazy idea that the 163 Freeway in Balboa Park should be closed to cars and turned back into parkland. The seed for that idea was planted nine years ago , when he managed to sneak onto the 163 while it was closed for maintenance.

S9: Hi.

S10: Hi.

S8: We pass by hundreds of people toddlers , seniors and everyone in between , all with massive smiles on their faces. Families are picking up trash together. Kids are biking around squealing with excitement. Everyone seems totally blown away by this experience , including me. I've driven on this freeway countless times , but I've only seen it through the windshield. Just standing here and taking it all in. The thing that strikes me the most is the quiet.

S2: According to Andrew's experience , the answer may be the exact opposite of building more roads.

S3: So we wanted to hear more of this experience from Andrew. We got in touch with him and agreed to meet him at a little courtyard by the KPBS station.

S11: Hey , Andrew. Hey , we got lost. Well.

S3: Well. Try to. The KPBS station has a couple of corridors that connect to the San Diego State University campus through the back , and we don't normally traverse over on this side , so we got lost.

S11: Andrew , how's it going ? Let's get a shot of you.

S3: Like you just met.

S11: You just met. It's not scripted whatsoever. It's natural. Totally natural.

S2: Once we settled down , we asked him about the experience of riding his bike on the freeway.

S8: When you're standing in that space without any cars on it , you really feel as like , you know , when you're just as a pedestrian standing there , you know , maybe riding a bike , you really feel how enormous these spaces are , how much space is dedicated to freeways in our city. Because when you're in a car surrounded by metal and glass , you know , driving through at 65 miles an hour or more , you don't really absorb the environment. It's just like you're going through it. And so I went there. It was like March of 2023. They shut down a portion of State Route 15. And , you know , people were just biking and walking up and down this , uh , pretty long section of the 15. And it was just like , absolutely mind boggling , like how people were. It was like they had had this veil over their eyes that was suddenly lifted , and they could see this space in a completely different light. I was standing there and listening to birds singing , chirping , you know , uh , and and watching like this , this , uh , the joyous creek , which is a natural waterway and thinking about , like , how much we have changed this environment and how much we have to like , how much work we have to restore it to what it once was. And you don't have to shut down a freeway permanently to , um , to get people to start thinking about these ideas. But I think like a temporary closure , even for just a couple of hours , can be a really powerful tool in helping people reimagine these public spaces. It's a shame that Tijuana hasn't really figured this out and embraced it , because some of the best examples of Open streets events are in Latin America. Mexico.

S3: That's true in Brazil , Colombia , Argentina , and even in Mexico City. Open streets efforts create opportunities for people to reclaim spaces.

S2: Andrew says part of the challenge , though , is the debate surrounding space allocation.

S8: Right now , we're seeing so many different problems and debates in our urban life coalescing around a single issue that you can boil it down to , which is the allocation of space , like how much space in our built environment do we allocate to housing , how much do we allocate to parks , how much do we allocate to transportation , and what kind of transportation ? And how much space does one type of transportation require over another ? And when we talk about , like our right to a city , we have a right to live in a city that meets our needs , that has enough space for us to recreate , to have to , um , spend passive time in our surroundings and not have to be working or not have to be paying for something. There's this concept in urban design or in urbanism about third spaces. So if you think of your home as the first space , the your workplace is the second space , the third space is anywhere in between. So it could be a cafe , a library , a park , even a little bench on the side of the sidewalk. And those third spaces are really valuable. It's where we meet other people , where we run into people that we may already know or meet new people , build social connections , and foster more social cohesion , which is ultimately what you need in a society to thrive. Like we need to be looking.


S3: I'm always rehearsing at Las Tablas Theater , and if I'm not there , I'm usually at a good. What about.

S2: You ? Lately , I've been going a lot to Baba Park and to this place called Futurist Color in barrio. That has really amazing jazz nights.

S3: Hey , that sounds great. Let's keep listening to Andrew.

S2: Let's do it.

S8: And these third spaces , I think are so crucial to that , where they those are the places where you really build a community where , um , and there's this real dynamism with cities that where you have a lot of people living in a close , in close proximity. There's typically a lot of diversity. So you have lots of different ideas being debated or different perspectives. People learning from each other , like you talk about all these European cities and how nice the quality of life is , how they're so walkable , and they have such nice parks and such great public transit and everything. And I don't know if enough people realize in San Diego we can build that kind of city here. And it might take some change and some time and some adjustment to our expectations of what what the city is for us. But it's there's not a whole lot of debate about how great the quality of life is in cities that have great public transit , that are less car dependent. And I want people to be really thinking about that and understanding. Like they can claim this city as their own. And and we can have a discussion in a dialogue about how to allocate all these spaces.

S3: What Andrew describes is called having the right to the city. It is the emphasis of inclusivity , equity , accessibility and democracy in urban spaces.

S2: And this reclaiming of the Interstate 15 is an instance of that.

S3: So what about Tijuana ? What is the city of Tijuana doing to improve the quality of life for its residents ? To help us answer this question , we met with Rene , the professor we told you about earlier.

S2: We found Rene through a community forum called Building Tijuana , in which members have discussions about urbanism , architecture , and developments. He is one of the leading administrators of that group.

S11: Well , you see.

S3: We met with René earlier this year when he was home in Tijuana for the holidays , for our interview. We asked Renée to meet somewhere that might be relevant to our original question , and serve as a starting point for explaining the issue.

S2: We met at a coffee shop on emblematic Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana. From the coffee shop , you can appreciate the local pedestrian transit and the life of the city , as well as the construction of the new high rises that are taking over downtown. After coffee was ordered , we got right to it and asked about his background in Tijuana.

S7: Yeah , I was born in Tijuana , actually. My parents were born in Tijuana , which is very rare. I come from a family of musicians. Many of them worked in this street where we were , where we are. And of course , I didn't become a musician like the rest of my family. But I studied in Tijuana when I was a kid , and then I also went to school in San Ysidro. And then eventually I went to architecture school in San Diego and then studied in London for a while and then came back , worked in San Diego for a firm for a few years , and then decided to to teach and open my office here. And that's what I've been doing most of the most of my life , working as an architect. But I've been more in the academic side rather than in the professional side.

S3: So we were curious about how Tijuana was when he was growing up. So we asked about how he remembers the city when he was younger. In the 80s.

S7: When I was a kid , scenario was a project that was being built. I remember going with my father to the racetrack a lot , and that was really an experience because you could see Saturdays and Sundays , people from all over California coming to the races to the ponies , and it was a town like today that was booming. There was a lot of construction of houses , but in this case there was a lot of suburban type of neighborhoods being built. Las Palmas , in a place like that in la mesa , it was full of activity. Yeah. And the line waves were not that long across.

S2: The evolution of the city had different stages. As more people came to Tijuana , as tourists , or as more people moved in to start a life here. Renee explains that Avenida Revolucion also went through those stages.

S7: When I was a teenager , when my father still used to play in some of the clubs here , there was a lot of activity for everybody , and of course you would see a lot of tourists. I got to see a lot of the military tourists they used to come that are not allowed now to come to this , to , to the city. And , and then I also saw the decline and the decline of the revolution , the boarding up of a lot of spaces. And then I saw its rebirth again , when a lot of people took advantage of the low rents , basically because of the economic decline. And I saw the startup of a lot of interesting places small cafes , galleries , artists workshops , things like that. And now we are in a coming another wave , but more of a kind of gentrification wave where you see things catering to another sort of socioeconomic class. So now you're seeing buildings for middle and upper class residents , of course , tall apartment , high rises , things like that. So I've seen a change.

S3: Then he mentioned something that struck us.

S7: So it's it's Tijuana's like a little I mean , Revolucion is it's like little microcosm of the city , you know , you see , revolution , change is what you're seeing being changed in the city , right ? You see economic change and revolution. You see economic change in the city. You know , you can kind of tell the atmosphere of the city by , by , by understanding the changes going on and have any other version.

S2: He makes a great point. I never thought of Avenida Revolucion like that. Sometimes these changes are for the better , like doubling the size of the sidewalks by taking away two car lanes , sometimes for worse. Like demolishing historic buildings to give space for high rises.

S7: What I what I like about this place is that it's still a very , let's say , open and public , um , streetscape. No , the streets are still very much for everybody. Right. Uh , you sit here in this cafe , you can watch , you know , people going to work. Um , you watch people , tourists coming , you know , up and down the street. Uh , it's really that , uh , what we what your urbanist call that that valley of of the of the sidewalk , right. Of just people coming back and forth. Uh , and I , I love that , I love that that that hasn't disappeared.

S2: But there are also key forces that prevent Tijuana from being designed in a way that enhances the quality of life of its residents. Enter market urbanism.

S7: I'm not. Too fond of the type of developments that are going on in the street , because this is what we call market urbanism. So basically , it's not developing the street with an urban plan , but it's just developing the street because there are market opportunities. Uh , because land is cheap and because there's money to build and therefore. Okay , so let's build , you know , as high as we can.

S2: Land is cheap. So if you can have at it , build where you can. According to Rene , this has made Tijuana an attractive destination in the global stage , attracting multinational corporations to set up shop here.

S7: Tijuana is a pretty much city designed by globalization , so meaning that the market designs Tijuana. So tomorrow there are ten factories coming from Asia , you know , to manufacture things for the US here , you're going to have ten new factories and you're going to have ten new neighborhoods where people are going to be living because they're coming for that work. And therefore now you have a new part of the city. And that's how the global economy plans the city. And so that's why we tend to just build wherever we can , because that's kind of how the city survives. Right.

S2: So wow , that explains so much. The high rises , the factories and practically everything else that's built is all supply and demand.

S7: But there isn't really a project , right ? There isn't really a public project , a public program for this city , and I mean , for the for this street. And I think that's missing , you know , I think that's missing. We need more more spaces than just apartments. Um , and apartments for whom ? Right. Um , and so I think I'm missing that there needs to be a stronger idea of what revolution can be. I , I wish that the street was was close to pedestrians. I don't I don't see any need for cars to be moving around on Revolution Street. Um , they can't park on the street. A lot of the loading zones and where things for a lot of these businesses on the are on the perpendicular streets. So those can remain open. So I wish , you know , it would become a pedestrian street and sort of become much more of a , an activity , I think , at the end , because being the most important street in the city , it deserves that , you know , it deserves to be a , uh , a much more familiar public , pedestrian sort of place to be. Princess.

S3: Princess. That's where having the right to the city comes in.

S7: First of all , the right to to enjoy the right to be in the city , and also not only the right to be in the city or , but also the right to model the city and change the city as collectively. So it means that we as a public have also the right to say how we want the city to change , to move , to get better.


S7: But if he is not convinced and he doesn't want to , there's nobody to force him to keep the building. And if he sees that there is an economic benefit to either demolish or sell that building , he will. And that's how the market urbanism works. Right ? And so , unfortunately , we don't have a strong state. We don't have a strong government that would say either. No , I'm sorry , I know you own the property , but the building stays or we'll give you an incentive to keep the building , etc. , etc.. Right. It could be tax incentives , could be some of the other things. So we don't have that kind of policy and we need to come up with that kind of policy. Also , like I said before , and also to inform the public of what they have in their hands , you know , uh , so it's very difficult. And so tomorrow , uh , who knows ? Uh , you know , uh , maybe the ally might not be there , you know , I know , for instance , I know the person who holds their hotel. Cesar's , where the Cesar restaurant is , is very much aware of its significance to the city. And he's always thinking of maintaining as he's been thinking of maintaining it , so keeping it up , etc. , etc.. So there's a kind of responsible citizen who knows the history and who's willing to keep this as a historical asset for us , you know , for all of us to use , for all of us to be to experience. But there might be other landowners who might not , you know , care. So that's another challenge we have.

S3: Port of entry will be back after a short break.

S2: We've been talking to architecture professor Rene Peralta. Rene argued that market urbanism is a threat to more inclusive urban planning and to the architectural identity of the city. So as citizens , we have to take a stand and get involved.

S7: It's not only the politicians , it's not only the planners. It's not only the economic sector that are saying it's not only the people who are building these high rises , it's all of us who have the right to say where and what we want the city or how we want the city to be developed.

S3: With that last point , we set our goodbyes , but before heading out , we asked if there was anyone else deeply involved with this issue as well. He mentioned an old acquaintance of our producer , Julio. Q&A.

S12: Q&A. Q&A.

S11: Q&A. Como estas ? Bien , aqui.

S2: Our producer reached out to Charlene Cisneros , an architect and consultant who is consistently at the forefront defending different landmarks of Tijuana's identity.

S11: Ah , okay. Okay.

S12: I'm like , wait , wait.

S3: She asked to meet our producer Julio in a special location. We at the.

S11: Plaza Centrale del Toro. Estamos. In the present. This used to. Be.

S13: Be. The old.

S11: Bullfighting ring.

S13: Well , they used to have the old bullfighting ring in the stadium. Now it's a couple of high rises , Plaza and a couple of corporate corporate buildings. Charlene.

S11: Charlene. Como estas ? Aqui quiero sentado perfecto. Como se estado.

S12: Bien ? Been cuenta.

S3: They met at Tijuana's Plaza Torero. He asked her why she wanted to meet her.

S12: Say the apartment. Bueno. Por qué structural ? No. Sin embargo. Probablemente si elementos pudieron a ver y continuar desde la persistance desde el entrada , por ejemplo y pudieron.

S2: Charlene mentioned that Tijuana's iconic bullfighting ring used to stand there.

S3: It was an architectural landmark of the city , and one of the projects , she argues , could have been preserved for conservation by the city.

S2: It actually stood for almost 70 years. It was part of the cultural life of Tijuana from the 40s well into the 2000. And I love Lucy episode was filmed there. It was controversially demolished to give way to three corporate high rises. Charlene mentioned that , according to the owners , the structural integrity of the old bullfighting ring was compromised , but she argues that it could have been either retrofitted or parts of it could have at least been preserved.

S12: Vamos a hablar factor. No hablamos de ciudadania ya hablamos de gobierno.

S2: Besides the government and its citizens , the influence of the private sector , the plaza where we were having this conversation is maintained and surrounded by its commercial buildings. Despite its private ownership , the plaza functions as a public space , offering amenities not provided by the municipality.

S12: Pero si es interesante a ver qué desde la iniciativa privada también se puede apporter espacios a la ciudadania. No entonces a entrar otro factor.

S3: Founded noteworthy that the private sector can contribute to urban spaces , although sometimes the efforts are limited or lacking. She emphasized the importance of dialogue between communities and developers to enhance their contributions to the urban landscape.

S12: Mas y otros nada. Entonces es por eso importante el dialogo con Los desarrollado.

S2: But it's also not that simple. Charlene argues. Tijuana is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She says there's a real need for effective urban planning of public spaces , but that the city faces an insurmountable challenge.

S12: La Ciudad is Latin America's most annual creciendo population era. UN cuatro cinco. Y una ciudad epica en el resto del mundo. Vamos a hacer un pais desarrollado era Como un uno por ciento. No , porque es decir Juan Diego a tener una de sus momentos hasta el.

S2: Juana has felt the impact of demographic explosion.

S3: According to Charleen , many Latin American cities experienced a significant annual population growth rate.

S2: Compared to the average of most cities in the developed world , which might see a growth rate of about 1%. Tijuana experienced up to 11% during its most challenging periods.

S3: Currently , the city's growth rate stands at around 4%.

S2: This increase is largely due to massive migration from rural areas to the nearest city , and in cases like Tijuana , migrants hoping to cross into the US.

S12: A la zona rurales para migrar a la la ciudad mas akana no se eso la ponemos en el factor Tijuana che la gente migra a Estados Unidos. Por eso es lo puedes ver en cualquier parte del mundo.

S2: It really feels like trying to stop and think about designing or planning Tijuana for the people who currently live there is like swimming against the strong current of market urbanism and demographic explosion.

S3: Honestly , to me it feels more like a tsunami at this point of the story.


S11: Welcome.

S12: No bueno. Obviamente el tema de el tema de no mas de nuevo. No mojitos a bazooka ni in Tijuana , ni in San Diego. Illumination a nivel de eso es algo super de cajon en cualquier cualquier ciudad del mundo. No.

S2: Charlene says , you start small with something like sidewalk lighting.

S3: She highlights how urban planning has fallen short in ensuring pedestrian safety and accessibility in places like Tijuana and San Diego.

S2: Public lighting is geared towards roads for cars , leaving sidewalks poorly lit , and that poses safety risks for pedestrians , especially women like Charlene , when walking alone at night.

S3: This issue , combined with problems like homelessness and insufficient infrastructure for the disabled.

S2: Such as ramps , tactile lines and auditory signals for the visually impaired.

S3: Makes getting around in the cities extremely challenging.

S12: A loss for us. Dejar two no need for tunnels. Ahora imaginate en una ciudad normal , ya know la ciudad normal. I see my photos. Audios. No para una persona no puede ver pueda cruzar la calle.

S2: Charlene also mentioned that part of the problem is the lack of exposure local urban designers have to other possibilities in other parts of the world.

S12: Problema Los banos aqui bueno vemos muy pocos a part C nunca salido a Tijuana y de San Diego. Nunca van a ver existen otras cosas no entonces.

S3: In other words , we don't know what is possible if we only stay in our bubble.

S12: Lados El malecon de de la Paz. Increible in Monterrey estan haciendo completo. Obviamente. So no 70 anos in Mexico. Ya podemos ver ejemplos reales de can convertido todo esto no obviamente estoy in Barcelona , pues puedes caminando de quieras a la hora quieras. Vas estar segura vas estar sombra no te vas a carrier.

S2: She emphasizes the importance of exploring and learning from other parts of the country or the world to identify and correct flaws in our own urban settings , while the challenges to make the city more inclusive , accessible , equitable , and democratic are hard to overcome , there are simple steps each city can take , like making streets more walkable or protecting its cultural and historical landmarks , or even closing a street once in a while.

S3: Which brings us back to Andrew just riding his bike on the Interstate 15 and experiencing a moment of revelation.

S8: I'm just struck by hearing the birds chirping on a freeway. Like you would never hear that if you were standing here with all of the cars driving by. No.

S9: No. And this is like the visceral experience of our urban and natural environment that , you know , massive car infrastructure drowns out.

S2: Moments like that where he can recognize the spaces meant for him , for people , not just cars. Such instances allow us to grasp that perhaps going against the tide of development driven by things like market urbanism and demographic explosion , might hold the key to regaining ownership of our own city.

S3: And perhaps shutting down Avenida Revolution in Tijuana for a day or a few hours every once in a while , could ignite that same period of reclaiming public spaces for Tijuana.

S2: If you haven't checked out Andrew's podcast Freeway Exit yet , go to exit.

S3: Or find it wherever you get your podcasts. This episode of Port of Entry was written and produced by Julio Cesar Ortiz Franco.

S2: Adrian Villalobos technical producer and sound designer Elma Gonzalez. Lima Brandao is our editor.

S3: And Lisa J. Morrissette is director of audio programming and operations.

S2: This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting , a private corporation funded by the American people.

S3: This project was also made possible with support from California Humanities , a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit column org. Soy yo soy Natalie Gonzalez. Nos vemos pronto.

Traffic is a huge problem in Tijuana and San Diego. If you drive around during the day, you will most certainly be caught in a traffic jam. So should we build more roads to ease traffic congestion? In this episode, we wanted to explore what is keeping residents of Tijuana from a better quality of life. The answer took us by surprise.

Join us in our conversations with architects and urbanists René Peralta and Sharlinee Ceniceros Toscano, and KPBS’ own Andrew Bowen, to hear their take on what is keeping Tijuanenses from a better quality of life.

Nos vemos pronto!

Cover Art by Rene Peralta

Check out Andrew’s podcast, “Freeway Exit”, here.

About Season 6

Port of entry has a fresh new season for you with more rich stories of our border region.

This time around, we are spotlighting Shapers and Visionaries of borderlands. Stories of People who are impacting the region and in some cases the world with their work and research.

From urbanism to architecture to education and politics and to art and robotics!

Listen in and join us!

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Hosts: Alan Lilienthal and Natalie González
Producer: Julio C. Ortiz Franco
Technical Producer/Sound Designer: Adrian Villalobos
Editor: Elma Gonzalez Lima Brandao
Episodes translated by: Natalie González and Julio C. Ortíz Franco
Director of Audio Programming and Operations: Lisa Morrisette-Zapp

This program is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people