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Premiere at New York Film Festival

Our HIGHRISE collaboration with The New York Times Op-Docs Department is set to have it’s world premiere at the 51st annual New York Film Festival on September 30, 2013, as part of the Convergence Programme, which explores the intersections of technology and storytelling.

“A Short History of the Highrise” is an interactive documentary that explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and issues of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world. The centerpiece of the project is four short films. The first three (“Mud,” “Concrete” and “Glass”) draw on The New York Times’s extraordinary visual archives, a repository of millions of photographs that have largely been unseen in decades. Each film is intended to evoke a chapter in a storybook, with rhyming narration and photographs brought to life with intricate animation. The fourth chapter (“Home”) is comprised of images submitted by the public.

The interactive experience incorporates the films and, like a visual accordion, allows viewers to dig deeper into the project’s themes with additional archival materials, text and microgames. On tablets, viewers can navigate the story extras and special features within the films using touch commands like swipe, pinch, pull and tap.  On desktop and laptop computers, users can mouse over features and click to navigate.  Smartphone users can view the four films via the New York Times Mobile Web site.

“We are greatly honored to premiere at the New York Film Festival’s showcase for cinematic innovation,” said Jason Spingarn-Koff, New York Times commissioning editor for Opinion video.  “In Op-Docs, we celebrate unique voices and creative storytelling approaches, and now we’re bringing opinion journalism to the interactive documentary form.”

“Cinema and interactivity are influencing each other more and more,” said NFB senior producer Gerry Flahive.  “In our HIGHRISE project, we’ve always been platform-agnostic, embracing the potential of both.  This collaboration with Op-Docs has given the NFB and The New York Times a chance to further advance online documentary storytelling.”

Jacqueline Myint, the project’s designer and developer at the Times (and of Snowfall fame) told Mashable “With this project, we definitely took an approach of trying to do tablet first.”

Meanwhile, The Creators’ Project sez: “A world with a recent penchant for urban living wouldn’t be possible without the highrise. This towering structure is as much a practical way to house the most people per square foot as it is a symbolic testament to our sky-high ambitions. In collaboration with the New York Times, National Film Board of Canada’s ongoing and thrilling project HIGHRISE has produced a documentary series that investigates our 2,500-year love affair with living vertically.”

A Short History of the Highrise will launch online in October at the New York Times website.

To see a trailer of the project, visit nytimes.com/highrise


HIGHRISE and THE NEW YORK TIMES

Today at SXSW, HIGHRISE is proud to announce a new collaborative project with The New York Times. It’s an interactive documentary series, called A SHORT HISTORY OF THE HIGHRISE.

It all began last year, when HIGHRISE was approached by Jason Spingarn-Koff, the commissioning editor of the NYT Op-Docs section, a remarkable new forum at the paper for short, opinionated point-of-view documentaries.

Jason’s idea was that we might do to something about highrises in the city of highrises – New York City. Meanwhile, we at HIGHRISE had always wanted to do a “short history of the highrise” around the world. So when Jason offered to open up the NYT undigitized photo archives (a collection of 5-6 million photographs) to us, Gerry, the HIGHRISE Senior Producer, and I were really intrigued by this incredible opportunity for deep collaboration.

I spent a week in the archives, affectionately known as “The Morgue.” It’s 3 floors underground below Times Square — no cell phone connection, no internet down there, time warp to circa 1995  — with the formidable archivist Jeff Roth. Jeff pulled thousands of photographs for me in file folders organized by, um, building names. Many of these stunning images, portraying the triumphalist rise of the city in the 20th century, have not been seen for decades.

I pulled over 500 photographs, and over the next several months, began assembling a series of (very) short films, spanning 2,000 years of human high-rise history. We are supplementing the collection with additional visual research by the crackerjack team of Elizabeth Klinck and Jivan Nagra.

Above, the “Morgue” and my library cart of file folders of photos.

And, we are thrilled to have the ace team at Helios Design Lab as our animators on this project.

There’s a whole other aspect to this: The New York Times social media department is putting out a call for submissions from the paper’s readers, who can submit their own photos depicting their lives and experiences in and around high-rises from around the world. From these images, we’ll create the final chapter of our whirlwind tour of the highrise history. Upload your photos here

Last but certainly not least, we are also working with the New York Times interactive team to build the whole thing as an interactive cinema experience. Extremely exciting.

Check out The NYT press release.

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE HIGHRISE will premiere later this spring at www.nytimes.com and subsequently at highrise.nfb.ca and distributed internationally across many platforms. Watch for news here.

Check out some of the press coverage of our announcement: BBC Click, a mention in The Globe and Mail, CBC.ca, Playback, Chinokino, and idocs.

from one HIGHRISE to another

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We at HIGHRISE just screened our documentary One Millionth Tower outdoors, at a festival celebrating another highrise neighbourhood. In One Millionth Tower, highrise residents re-imagine their neighbourhood by working with architects to illustrate what’s possible in the bleak space around their buildings.

Four residents from this HIGHRISE project crossed from west-side Etobicoke, over Toronto, to the east-side suburb of Scarborough and presented at the 3rd annual Bridging Festival. It’s called that, because in its first two years, the festival was held under a local bridge that divides the community.

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“The original concept of the festival three years ago was to reconnect the community, as people felt uncomfortable crossing the bridge,” explains Tim Whalley, Executive Director of Scarborough Arts, “The idea of the festival was to turn the bridge, which was considered a barrier, back into a bridge.”

This year, the festival moved to the nearby The Scarborough Storefront, possibly one of the most remarkable community organizations I have ever known.

You might remember the Scarborough Storefront, which I visited at the very beginning of our HIGHRISE project, and featured in our Prologue. The Storefront is a collection of agencies organized in a “hub” model:  they share space, staffing and administration to bring in as many opportunities as possible under one roof to a severely service-deprived neighbourhood. It’s located in a former police station.

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It’s only 1 kilometre away from a last month’s tragic shooting, which killed 2 people and injured 20.

“The Storefront has now become a hub for discussion how to heal from those events,” said Whalley.

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Our One Millionth Tower screening was held in the parking lot of The Storefront, with a highrise towering over us.

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The One Millionth Tower residents Ob, Faith (with her daughter Tashana), Jamal and Priti had a picnic lunch in the Storefront’s community garden before the screening.

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Jamal rehearsed in the garden before going on stage with his sax. His stagename, btw, is J-Smooth.

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Priti admired the pumpkins growing on the fence.

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J-Smooth inspired the crowd with his musical improvisations.

After the screening, we talked with some of the local residents, many of whom live in the highrise directly behind the Storefront.

Zena, from the 11th floor, said she could imagine many of the ideas in the film  in her own neighbourhood.

“I recognize Etobicoke in the film right away,” said Slim, from the 10th floor, “because we used to live there. These two areas are similar, because Etobicoke has many people from India, and here its Sri Lankan. But over there, its full of nature. I used to see deer, rabbits, snakes, fish and birds. Here I see only raccoons.”

Both Zena and Slim come to the Storefront regularly to use the internet. Until this weekend, they had to walk all the way around an entire block, because of a fence between their highrise and the community centre, even though the two buildings back directly onto one another.

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But from now on, the buildings and people are more connected: this year’s Bridging Festival featured a ceremonial “fence tear down” – the fence between the buildings has been removed.

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Not surprisingly, Graeme Stewart, the Tower Renewal architect involved in HIGHRISE and One Millionth Tower, is involved in this project!

At the end of the evening, Marcia,  who lives in another highrise down the street, approached the One Millionth Tower residents and told Faith that she was considering  moving out of the neighbourhood because of the recent violence.

“We need to come together and share and learn from one another,” said Faith.

“Power comes in numbers,” Marcia agreed, and concluded by saying she wouldn’t leave the neighbourhood for one main reason: the Scarborough Storefront.

WORLD LAUNCH AT WIRED.COM

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So happy to announce that the new HIGHRISE documentary is now LAUNCHED on the web, for all the world to see for free, currently at the prestigious technology online publication, WIRED.COM.

We will be bringing it to highrise.nfb.ca on Monday Nov 7, mid-day. Meanwhile, this weekend, the HIGHRISE team is participating with the new documentary in a series of live events in London U.K., at the awesome Mozilla Festival, “Media, Freedom and the Web.”

One Millionth Tower is the result of unique collaboration between apartment residents, architects, animators, filmmakers and web developers to re-envision what a declining highrise neighbourhood could be.  Through a close collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation – Mozilla, developer of the open source Firefox browser and a pioneer in promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the web, the HIGHRISE team has created a lush visual story unfolding in a 3D virtual environment. Visitors to the online documentary can explore how participatory urban design can transform spaces, places and minds.

One Millionth Tower re-imagines a universal thread of our global urban fabric — the dilapidated highrise neighbourhood. More than one billion of us live in vertical homes, most of which are falling into disrepair. Highrise residents, together with architects, re-envision their vertical neighbourhood, and animators and web programmers bring their sketches to life in this documentary for the contemporary web browser — one of the world’s first HTML5/webGL documentaries. And it’s got music by Jim Guthrie and Owen Pallett.

Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, says One Millionth Tower ”is a prime example of the work we are doing together to empower makers and build tools that anyone can use to make awesome things happen — on the Web and in the world. It’s a testament to how we are building a better Web together.”

One Millionth Tower places you in the three-dimensional world of a run-down highrise neighbourhood, where, if you access it with a webGL enabled computer, you can interact with the environment and see it re-imagined as a lively, flourishing community. (If you do not have a webGL enabled system, you can still watch a non-interactive video capture of the documentary play out in a virtual 3D space.)

Additional features include:

• a behind-the-scenes documentary about the collaborative process behind One Millionth Tower
• a short documentary featuring international examples of tower revitalization
• a short documentary exploring the open technology used to create the project

and a spectacular interactive feature that takes you to highrise neighbourhoods in more than 200 countries in the world, thanks to Google Streetview and satellite imagery. It’s based on our own original research to find and understand highrise communities around the globe. Visitors can submit their own highrise tower to be included in this unique visual database.

One Millionth Tower is a story with global implications about how, with the power of imagination, we can transform the urban and virtual spaces that belong to all of us.

The team behind One Millionth Tower includes director Kat Cizek, Senior Producer Gerry Flahive, 3D Creative Technologist, Mike Robbins (for Helios Design), Music Jim Guthrie, Owen Pallett, Animators Lillian Chan, Howie Shia, Kelly Sommerfeld, Technical Director Branden Bratuhin, Associate Producer Sarah Arruda, Community Media Project Lead And Creative Associate Heather Frise, Community Media Liaison Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam, Highrise Residents Ob, Faith, Priti, Jamal and Donna, Lead Architect Graeme Stewart (for E.R.A. Architects), Executive Producer Silva Basmajian and many more.

Our previous HIGHRISE project, OUT MY WINDOW,  won a Digital Emmy Award, IDFA’s first-ever Digital Storytelling Award, and many other international prizes.

FIRST GLIMPSE OF NEW HIGHRISE PROJECT

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What we’ve all been waiting for. To share with you the first glimpse (a trailer) of our new documentary project, One Millionth Tower.

ONE MILLIONth TOWER (we call it 1MT for short)
Over a billion of us live in highrises, and most are falling into disrepair. In One Millionth Tower, a group of highrise residents, together with architects, re-envisions their vertical homes, then animators & computer programmers magically bring their sketches to life in this documentary for the contemporary web-browser.

The result of this unique collaboration is a lush, visual story unfolding in a 3D virtual environment. Visitors explore how participatory urban design can transform spaces, places and minds.

One Millionth Tower will be the world’s first HTML5/webGL documentary,  powered by POPCORN, created by our good friends at Mozilla. Mozilla has been deeply supportive of our project, offering us extensive technological and philosophical support, as they lead the global open-source charge in the bridging of cinema with the web, under the helm of Brett Gaylor  (RIP Manifesto). (An interesting nerd HIGHRISE fact: Bobby Richter, the programmer behind the wizardry of HIGHRISE/Out My Window, now works on the Popcorn project at Mozilla! It is a small HIGHRISE world after all).

One Millionth Tower is engineered by the wickedly talented Mike Robbins, of HELIOS DESIGN LAB, whom we are honoured to call the HIGHRISE house band. Mike single-handedly crafted an entire virtual 3D world with his own two hands. Talk about DIY. Speaks to his genius — and the power of these new open-source libraries. The open-source world you will visit in 1MT might have taken a small army of programmers to create in proprietary software.

The actual story and images of 1MT came about through a highly collaborative process. Highrise residents. Architects. Documentarians. Animators. Drawing, imagining together. Many many hands came together to create the delightful, inspirational world of 1MT. We consider the story *hyper-global.* Deeply connected to a very specific HIGHRISE place in suburban toronto, but with global resonance in its vision for a more human-friendly urban planet — and world-wde web. It’s the HIGHRISE re-imagined. The web re-imagined.

Be the first to know when we release this highly-anticipated open-source documentary, by subscribing to this blog in the top right hand column on this page.

Also, read more background on this unique collaboration here and here.

GO TO THE TRAILER NOW >>

VIRTUAL AND PHYSICAL TRANSFORMATIONS

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It’s the HIGHRISE summer of transformation -  in virtual as well as in physical space. This month, as the HIGHRISE team toils away on computers building our new HTML5 documentary set in a virtual landscape, on the physical HIGHRISE site, there’s also some “real” building going on: new outdoor play-spaces for families and children.

Our HTML5 documentary, One Millionth Tower (formerly known as the 2000th Tower), re-imagines a dilapidated HIGHRISE neighbourhood in a Toronto suburb. But the story and space could be almost anywhere, as global modernist highrise buildings, the most commonly built form of the last century, are aging and falling into disrepair, all over the planet. it’s a hyper-local story with global relevance. (maybe its hyper-glocal?)

In our story, HIGHRISE residents join forces with architects to envision a more human-friendly environment around their vertical homes. Then the magic of animation and cutting edge open-source technology, brings their drawings to life in a virtual 3D space on the web.

Meanwhile, on the ground, at the site of the real HIGHRISE, on which our 3d virtual space is modeled, lots is in the works physically too. It’s all fueled by the momentum of our two current projects there (One Millionth Tower and the recent Digital Citizenship Survey) but mostly by the force of incredibly committed residents, E.R.A. architects, the United Way, the City of Toronto (both Tower Renewal and Children’s Services) as well as the property manager.

Last weekend, all parties got together to construct 6 picnic tables for the site. it’s a small, low-cost but important first step towards transforming the outdoor space around the buildings.

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Architects from ERA join forces with residents to build picnic tables.

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Recently moved in resident Salam Younan, 47, was coming home from a night shift at a local furniture factory, when he saw all the picnic table commotion. He pitched in and stayed most of the day to contribute his carpentry skills. Trained as plumber back home in Iraq, Salam has been living in the building only 2 months, but said “I will do anything to help all the people who live here.” A growing community of Iraqi Christians is moving into the buildings, many are U.N. sponsored refugees.

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Faith, long-time resident and One Millionth Tower collaborator, face-paints during picnic table event.

The mood was jubilant for another reason. The residents have just been granted a brand new playground from the American non-profit, KaBoom. The new playground will be built in a day (August 18th) by hundreds of volunteers from across the city, as well as a team of residents.

KaBoom’s mission, according to their website, is to address “The Play Deficit. Our children are playing less than any previous generation, and this lack of play is causing them profound physical, intellectual, social, and emotional harm. The Play Deficit is an important problem, and it is imperative that we solve it to ensure our children have long, healthy, and happy lives.”

“It’s a gift that’s fallen from the sky,”said Eleanor, a long time resident and social animator at the United Way’s ANC community engagement office, located in the building.

But the residents have been working hard towards this moment. In the last months, they’ve  been mobilizing around the need for a playground. The old playground equipment, nearly 40 years old, was rusting and dangerous.

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One of two old playground sites at the highrise.

Two months ago, in an historic meeting between residents and the property manager, everyone agreed to take down the old equipment, and to move towards realizing some of the ideas presented in One Millionth Tower, starting with play-space.

Around that time, we were also conducting the HIGHRISE Digital Citizenship Survey, which revealed astounding statistics about the demographics of the 2 buildings. We discovered that over 50% of the people at the two highrises are under the age of 20. And that 25% are under 10 years of age.

The numbers were telling us what all the residents already knew: hundreds and hundreds of kids with nowhere to play.

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Kids shelter from the heatwave, under a makeshift clubhouse, above the highrise parking lot.

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If all goes well, virtual and physical interventions, all powered by imagination, will change the space in the coming months and years, and perhaps inspire other cities to do the same with their highrises, the most commonly built architectural form in the last century.

One Millionth Tower, an HTML5 documentary set in a virtual landscape, will be launched in the Fall.

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image credits:
illustration from One Millionth Tower, by Lillian Chan, Howie Shia and Kelly

picnic table build photo, courtesy United Way

Salam builds a table, by Kat Cizek

Faith facepaints, by Kat Cizek
Old Playground, by Jamie Hogge
Makeshift Clubhouse, by Kat Cizek



HIGHRISE on BIG SCREENS

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It’s been a busy week at HIGHRISE, with two exciting public projections.

In Montreal, to a packed audience at the gorgeous L’Astral theatre, I had the honour of  “performing” HIGHRISE/Out My Window accompanied by 3 musicians, playing a live, improvised score. Sam Shalabi on oud, electronic guitar and electronics, Alexandre St-Onge on electric bass, upright bass and electrionics, and Will Eizlini on tabala and electronics. A magical evening, all part of the DNA Symposium at Concordia University, which was a heady mix of academics and practitioners, all discussing the intersection of Database, Narrative and Archives in the context of computer-generated story-telling. Thanks to the DNA team, and esp professors Monika Kin Gagnon and Matt Soar for creating this space for us.

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Meanwhile, in Toronto…

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…My colleagues represented HIGHRISE at the awesome annual Toronto the Good Party (put on by our partners and friends ERA Architects, Spacing Magazine and others). Technical Director Branden Bratuhin, Associate Producer Sarah Arruda, and Project Coordinator Paramita Nath talked all things HIGHRISE with good torontonians. They also gave a sneak peak (projected on the hallowed halls of Hart House) of our new project, One Millionth Tower, which we are describing for now, as a spacial film/web experience, built in HTML5 by Helios, popcorn provided by Mozilla Foundation.

We will be releasing a video documentary of the Montreal performance, and we’ll be telling you more about One Millionth Tower soon, so watch this space in coming weeks.

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photo credits:

Montreal performance by David Dufresne, duflab.com
Out My Window out DNA’s window, courtesy of DNA Symposium
Toronto the Good Party, by Paramita Nath

UPDATE FROM CHICAGO’S HIGHRISE DEMOLITION

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As the last of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green highrises comes down this month, we catch up with David Schalliol, the photographer and interviewer who brought us the moving story from Chicago for HIGHRISE/Out My Window.

“The Chicago portion of HIGHRISE/Out My Window tells the story of Donna and Brittany, a mother and daughter who are wrestling with an uncertain future in Cabrini Green, the city’s last highrise family public housing development. When interviewed at the end of 2009, their only certainty was their building was to be demolished sometime soon. They were going to have to find another place to live after a lifetime in the community. They were issued emergency eviction notices in May 2010 and moved to a housing development on the South Side less than a month later. Their old building, the second-to-last remaining high-rise, was already undergoing demolition preparation work.

Watching Cabrini Green Demolition in Progress

Now the demolition of the last Cabrini-Green high-rise is currently under way. More media attention than usual has been trained on the neighborhood, and for the first time in decades, the stories are less about crime and more about community. There is some recognition that what is happening in this near North Side neighborhood is significant, at least for community members.

When former residents turned out to say farewell to the last building on the eve of the demolition, video cameras were rolling, and TheBrigade Stamps performance was cut in with footage of people saying goodbye to their former neighborhood. The last high-rise would soon be gone.

One surprising story has been about Project Cabrini Green, an art installation that arose out of a collaboration with Chicago artists, arts organizations and Cabrini-Green youth. The project installed 134 blinking lights in the building that represent poems written by area children. Every night, the lights blink in conversation as the building is slowly erased by the demolition team.

Despite the increased media attention, at least one significant element of the demolition has been underappreciated. Many of the Chicago Housing Authority’s developments have been located in high-visibility locations. They’ve loomed over highways, hugged sports arenas, and in the case of Cabrini Green, been a short walk from the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast, the city’s most fashionable shopping and residential districts.

Cabrini Green and the Magnificent Mile

With each daily commute, trip to the store or opportunity to cheer on the city’s athletic heros, the highrises of the Chicago Housing Authority were a physical reminder of the stark inequalities in one of the United States’ most segregated cities.

As Close as They Get

CHA residents are much less visible now. For the few who will live in new mixed-income developments, which place CHA residents side-by-side with those paying market-rates or receiving more limited subsidies, integrated poverty will become a new fact of life. But for now, many Cabrini-Green residents are moving into communities that are located farther from the city’s centers of power and into communities with residents who share many of the residents’ demographic characteristics.

Moving Out of Cabrini Green

When the last Cabrini highrise is demolished, there is a real possibility that they will be out of sight and out of mind, forgotten by those who will likely never live in subsidized housing. Community groups and politicians will continue to wrestle with issues of public housing, but many Chicagoans won’t be reminded by the high-rises any longer.

Far from the Magnificent Mile, Donna’s family is now settled in their new home. Like so many of the remaining CHA buildings, it is a lowrise.”

Cleaning Wentworth Gardens

elevators * highrises * cities

Elevator design by the German engineer Konrad Kyeser (1405)

Last post, I mentioned the dire condition of elevators in Toronto’s aging highrises. (The United Way, a non-profit agency, is urging the city to create a Taskforce to address elevators.)

This got me thinking about the relationship between elevators and highrises.

“Tall buildings became possible in the 19th century, when American innovators solved the twin problems of safely moving people up and down and creating tall buildings without enormously thick lower walls,” according to Edward Glaeser, author of Triumph of the City, excerpted in the March 2011 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

But actually, the first mention of elevators in recorded history goes back over 2,000 years, when Roman architect Vitruvius, who reported that Archimedes built his first elevator probably in 236 BC. There are reports of elevators throughout the medieval ages, but the inventor of the modern elevator was American Elisha Otis, as he invented the safety brake for presented it in 1854 at New York’s Crystal Palace Exposition.

So “good highrises” rely on good elevators, and according to Glaeser, good cities rely on good highrises, as he argues that the “skyscaper can save the city”.

“Besides making cities more affordable and architecturally interesting, tall buildings are greener than sprawl, and they foster social capital and creativity.” he asserts in the Atlantic Monthly. “Yet some urban planners and preservationists seem to have a misplaced fear of heights that yields damaging restrictions on how tall a building can be. From New York to Paris to Mumbai, there’s a powerful case for building up, not out.”

And we take this argument further, along the lines of Doug Saunder’s phenomenal book Arrival City, that “good cities” can make a better planet. “Successful arrival cities create prosperous middle classes; failed arrival cities create poverty and social problems,” and Saunders urges us “to see the opportunity of these arrival cities. By providing citizenship, a chance to own property, education, transportation links, and good security, cities like Sao Paulo in Brazil, or Parla in Spain, local and national governments have succeeded in successfully integrating their migrants.”

It’s an argument for fixing the elevators.

POVERTY IS VERTICAL – and the elevators are terrible

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Toronto’s poverty is increasingly vertical according to a landmark United Way study, published last week.

(In the context of the report’s release, I am interviewed about HIGHRISE  in this week’s issue of Eye Weekly.)

The United Way report says “Poverty by Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty presents new data on the growing concentration of poverty in the City of Toronto and the role that high-rise housing is playing in this trend. The report tracks the continued growth in the spatial concentration of poverty in Toronto neighbourhoods, and in high-rise buildings within neighbourhoods. It then examines the quality of life that high-rise buildings are providing to tenants today. Its primary focus is on privately owned building stock in Toronto’s inner suburbs.” The report is downloadable here.

The first  part of the study looks at the last 25 years of census data to track the concentration of poverty in the inner suburbs, and in particular, highrise buildings. The study shows that while incomes have declined, rents have increased since 1981. ”

“As a result of this “squeeze” on incomes and rents, close to half of the tenants surveyed say they worry about paying the rent each month. Another third say their families do without necessities, including food. Highrises also became more densely populated during this time with the percentage of units housing more than one person per room doubling.”

According to a front page story in The Toronto Star, “The report, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada… calls on the public, private and charitable sectors to properly maintain highrise housing and provide community space and programs for tenants. With demand for rental housing in Toronto predicted to grow by another 20 per cent by 2031, action is urgently needed, the report warns.”

The second part of the study gives a snapshot of current housing conditions in the 1,000+ highrises in Toronto. United Way surveyed 2,803 highrise tenants in the city’s inner suburbs, and conducted a series of focus groups.

The results do not surprise anyone who has spent any time recently in a Toronto suburban highrise. One key finding of special note to us at HIGHRISE relates to elevators.

“[T]heir elevators are so unreliable that a United Way report … calls for a task force specifically targeting their repair. Thousands of interviews with residents indicate these buildings have grown notorious for vermin and vandalism,” notes The Globe and Mail.

Elevators were the focus of one of Jamal’s stories in our own HIGHRISE documentary last year, called THE THOUSANDTH TOWER. This is what Jamal had to say about his highrise experience with elevators:

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JAMAL: “Growing up in Rexdale has been a challenge. I saw a lot at the age of 7, my first year living here. From what I can remember, the building has always been decrepit. The elevator would skip floors, jumping and jolting, moving up and down. I used to wonder if we would survive if the elevator dropped from the 13th floor to B2. I was so terrified when my family went in there. I had disturbing thoughts that they wouldn’t come out. To this day, I’m scared of the elevator.”

The United Way Report makes 26 recommendations, including:

* The City of Toronto continue to take a dedicated program approach to revitalizing the social and physical conditions of aging high-rise apartment buildings across the city, and sustaining this important housing resource for the city’s lower income and newcomer populations.

* The provincial government make its Community Opportunities Fund accessible to private-sector tenant groups for the purpose of engaging tenants and building their capacity to be active participants in the revitalization of their tower communities.

* The federal government to establish a National Housing Strategy which sets out standards for adequate, accessible and affordable housing.