Making Sense of Place is a documentary film and educational outreach project that was originally launched by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in 2003. It debuted as a series of three films aired on PBS stations nationwide.

Each film focused on growth and change in a different large metropolitan area.

The first film, Phoenix: The Urban Desert, examined the explosive, dispersed growth in the booming Southwest metropolis and the related practical and environmental challenges. Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City traced urban decay and revitalization efforts in what was once America’s fifth largest city. Portland: Quest for the Livable City explored innovation and conflict surrounding growth and land use regulations in Portland, Oregon.

Each film delved into critical issues that had largely been absent from the national conversation related to how we live and how we grow: metropolitan growth in the context of environmental concerns, population and demographic trends, and equity and race. However, since the original films were produced, national events – notably the financial crisis and recession of 2008 – have significantly changed the landscape of these cities in unforeseen ways.

In 2018, the Lincoln Institute teamed up once again with Northern Light Productions to revive the Making Sense of Place project. The Lives of Cities website is the result of that collaboration and combines the most relevant excerpts from the three original films with a series of newly produced, short documentary films and research organized around the Lincoln Institute’s central areas of focus: sustainability, spatial inequality, and fiscal health.