GIRLS LEARNING CODE at HIGHRISE
It’s the Next-Gen participatory media project at HIGHRISE: girls learning computer code. They’re building websites and telling their own stories. It’s future web-developers in the making, on site at the Kipling Highrise in suburban Toronto.
“It’s so easy to learn code!” exclaims Janever, 10, as she learns how to change the picture and background colour on her website.
It wasn’t so easy, though, to convince parents to let the girls come to the pilot workshop in the first place. When Heather Frise, HIGHRISE Community Media Coordinator, set out to find girls to sign up, the kids in the lobby were super enthusiastic. But when she went up to their apartment doors to speak with their families, the parents were reticent. Many speak little English, many are very new to Canada, some even asked why the workshop wasn’t for boys. The stereotype that computer coding is reserved for boys is as pervasive here as anywhere else .
[Listen to a CBC radio feature about our workshop today on "Here and Now" between 3-6 pm EDT here]
The 13 girls and their families are mostly recent immigrants, from Nigeria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Somalia and Iraq. Two girls have only been here a month; they’ve just arrived from Iraqi refugee camps in Syria. Their friends help to translate, and they soaked it all in.
The workshop is lead by a young woman, Heather Payne of a non-profit called Girls Learning Code. I met Heather through the Mozilla Foundation, who has hired her and others like her to build a new generation of webmakers around the planet. This summer, they’re encouraging people around the world to run Kitchen Code Parties of their own. We thought it would be great to do so at the HIGHRISE highrise too, where we’ve worked with adults for almost 3 years now with such participatory photography an storytelling projects such as One Millionth Tower.
We also knew we needed to work with the youth at this building when our Digital Citizenship Survey showed us last year that a whopping 50% of the population at this highrise is under 20 years of age. That’s a lot of kids with not much to do all summer long.
“We know that if we advertise the workshop for both boys and girls,” Heather explains to me, “Only boys will show up. So making the group open only for girls ensures girls make it to the keyboard.”
“I was so excited to hear about this workshop,” says one girl, “Because all we do all summer long is stay in our apartment and clean.” The needs of the kids are high, and so few services exist in highrise neighbourhoods such as this.
“I really do see a difference here from the workshops we’ve run downtown,” notes Heather Payne, on a quick break from teaching HTML, CSS and Python to the girls. “There are so many obstacles in just getting to this neighbourhood. Getting up here takes over an hour, bringing the equipment, and then the girls have their own obstacles too: language barriers, cultural barriers, lack of access to computers, and just being so new to so many of the things we teach in this workshop.”
She adds though, that their enthusiasm is the same. “Everyone loves learning how to make a website!”
Several of the girls from this highrise will join Heather’s team and 40 other girls downtown later this summer for a whole week of coding summer camp, thanks to scholarships offered by Girls Learning Code, and Mozilla.
Heather and her team of volunteer instructors at Girls Learning Code are aiming to change the face and culture of future webmakers, so often engendered as a boy’s club. The stereotypical image of young men, hunched over laptops hacking away in darkened rooms, playing video games continues to dominate the cultural understanding of webmaking. It’s a big battle. The rate of women in computing in Canada has actually gone down. In the last ten years, the share of women in high-tech jobs, including software development and electrical engineering, has dropped from 25.6% to 23.9%, according to a FINS.com analysis of Labor Department data.
Teaching kids to code is not just about of training a new professional sector of technology workers, as important as that is. Coding is becoming a “fourth literacy” – a basic skill set we all need to be active and engaged citizens in a digital age. “HTML” has become the “ABCs, 123s” of the 21st century.
That’s why HIGHRISE will continue learning more from the youth about Digital Citizenship here in Toronto and other sites in the world. Together with our academic partner Dr Deborah Cowen, we’re thrilled to announce that HIGHRISE is the recipient of an academic grant to continue our work on understanding the invisible digital lives of highrise residents around the world.
And there lot’s more exciting news to come as HIGHRISE heats up again in 2012!
Thanks to Action for Neighbourhood Change-Rexdale, Microskills, United Way, Albion Boys and Girls Club, and Mozilla Foundation for their support on this project get girls at Kipling to code.
LIVE RADIO BROADCAST: ONE MILLION LISTENERS
Toronto’s most popular radio program, CBC Radio Metro Morning, is “going HIGHRISE.”
They’ll be broadcasting live from the site of the NFB HIGHRISE project, a Toronto apartment building, where we’ve been working for the last 3 years. On Wednesday, February 15, one million listeners will tune in to hear host Matt Galloway, in conversation with many diverse voices from inside this suburban vertical community. The remote studio will be set up in the ANC meeting room in which many of the NFB HIGHRISE projects were born (including our latest doc, One Millionth Tower).
Yesterday, Matt got his first taste when he visited with some of the residents. Jamal, his mom Faith, Priti, Rita and Najiba all welcomed the consummate (on-air) host in their homes, with a live sax performance, Chinese fortune cookies, Iraqi pizza + pastries, Turkish coffee, along with moving stories of arrival, adaptation and building new communities.
When Matt asked Priti what she would like to say to the rest of Toronto, she replied, “You should be jealous of the great neighbourhood we have here.”
HIGHRISE is acting as a springboard for the CBC to access the building, and to engage with residents and community leaders. Audiences will hear their life stories and about the challenges they face in the building – realities that are no doubt reflective of Toronto’s many other residential towers. HIGHRISE director, Katerina Cizek and University of Toronto professor Deborah Cowen will also join in, to give a sneak peak into upcoming HIGHRISE work, the Digital Citizenship in the Global Suburbs Project.
From the CBC.ca website:
On Wednesday, February 15, we’re packing up the Metro Morning microphones and taking the show on the road. We’ll be broadcasting live from Rexdale, from one of the many concrete highrises along Kipling Avenue, north of Finch. It’s the same building where the NFB has done so much great work in their ongoing series – Highrise. This building is one of more than a thousand rental towers across Toronto’s urban suburbs. They went up in 1950s and 60s, complete with swimming pools and tennis courts, built to attract swinging singles. Now the structures have reached middle age, and are a little worse for wear. But they are home to tens of thousands of newcomers who can’t afford to live anywhere else. Next week – we’ll meet some of them and hear their stories. Building Community: Life in a Rexdale Highrise, next Wednesday on Metro Morning.
Also featured here.
The show airs live 5:30-8:30am ET; it streams live at http://www.cbc.ca/metromorning/ and segments are posted online later in the day. The CBC website will also feature a photo slideshow with audio.
First photo of Priti being interviewed by Matt by Dwight Friesen, for CBC.
All other pix by Kat.
FOOTAGE FOUND: CLUES TO A HIGHRISE LIFE
Still image from recently found footage: An uncle’s self-documentation 20 years ago with a super 8 film camera in a Toronto highrise.
This remarkable footage is providing clues for Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam, HIGHRISE community media coordinator, in her documentary about the mysteries of her uncle’s immigration to Canada, and his struggle with mental health issues. I asked Maria to guest blog about how she found the footage, her uncle, and how it unexpectedly relates to HIGHRISE.
My father was convinced he had no films of his brother Pandi. While I was interviewing him on camera, he insisted on showing a box with a super-8 projector in it that belonged to Pandi. He had barely put his hand inside the box when he came across a smaller box, with a roll of developed film inside!
To our surprise the projector was working. We were taken aback by dizzying shot of his shoes from above. Pandi is standing on the balcony of his highrise apartment by Yonge and Eglinton. There’s a sudden a low-angle of his face with a beautiful view of the city in the background and the CN Tower. He appears intense and solitary, yet empowered —it was probably the first time he had ever shot with a film camera.
My father had never seen any films his brother had created, nor had never visited Pandi’s apartment. Pandi’s life in Toronto was a complete mystery to us as he started developing symptoms of bipolar disorder. “Wow, it’s as if he’s looking at us,” cried my father in awe. Pandi is letting us in. He continues to film around his small, empty apartment, revealing a framed photo of his parents, playing with focus on a figuring of a royal mounty police bear. He must have just moved in. Like many newcomers to Canada, a highrise building was his first home in Toronto. He had moved there with his friend in 1993 to start earning a living.
Pandi had been living in Chennai, India where he was having trouble finding a job in the film industry. He believed Toronto was the city that could help him pursue better opportunities in film, but ended up working in a car manufacturing firm and working long hours. The building he lived in was privately owned, and occupied by many Indians and Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. At the time, Yonge and Eglinton was a common area for new immigrants, because of the low-rent apartments.
I could relate Pandi’s film to the National Film Board’s HIGHRISE, a multiyear, multiplatform initiative that explores vertical living in the global suburbs. The stories that I witnessed and participated in creating for HIGHRISE’s web-documentaries Thousandth Tower and Out My Window are private and colourful experiences inside residents’ apartments that depict the phenomenon of urban growth, not only from global but personal points of view. In Thousandth Tower, the residents we worked with in two highrises on Kipling Avenue, Toronto combined photographs, text and audio to describe their experiences of living in the buildings.
Although they all had different ideas of home, each revealed a strong connection to their cultural roots. In these particular highrises 97% of the people were born outside of Canada (Digital Citizenship Survey, HIGHRISE). Themes that arose from their photos were dichotomies of belonging and loneliness, comfort and insecurity, success and struggle.
Similarly, Pandi’s film gives me a glimpse of a transitory phase in his life, a time of a new kind of independence and personal growth. The objects he chose to highlight in his film may seem trivial, but to me, had some importance to him. The framed photograph of his parents appears again in another film that we recently discovered of his, and in a sense becomes a personal motif—a reminder of home.
I also think about all the moves from small towns to urban centres that Pandi had made in his life, and how they had affected him. I came across a publication from Colombia University “The urban environment and mental disorders: Epigenetic states nearly a century of research has shown higher risk of mental disorder among persons living in urban versus rural areas, and that there are links between particular features of the urban environment, such as concentrated disadvantage, residential segregation and social norms, which contribute to the risk of mental illness.”
My aunts spoke to me about how difficult it was for Pandi to adjust to their new way of life in Chennai, the overpopulated capital of Tamil Nadu. They were previously living in Poondi, a small rural town where there father was working as a senior hydrologist. In Chennai, their father was under a lot of stress in a new position and struggled to provide for his family financially. Pandi who was doing poorly in high school dropped out and began working odd jobs.
This sparked me to question the increasing urbanity of the world’s population and its implications on mental health. In the Kipling highrises, we met many families that were in transition all their lives. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be constantly moving, starting over, again and again. Every time I watch Pandi’s film, I witness the meditative and liberating power of holding a camera. For Pandi, using the camera to experiment and explore seemed like a pleasant way to exercise his creative abilities and break from the daily pressures of the city.
— Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam,
director of IMPRINTS (working title)
and Community Media Co-ordinator, HIGHRISE
VIRTUAL AND PHYSICAL TRANSFORMATIONS
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.
Architects from ERA join forces with residents to build picnic tables.
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.
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.
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.
Kids shelter from the heatwave, under a makeshift clubhouse, above the highrise parking lot.
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.
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 DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP PROJECT
So much of life in the global highrise is hidden from public view, behind concrete walls. Even more invisible are the virtual/internet lives of highrise residents. So what is digital connectivity like in the global highrise?
Last Friday, a United Nations Report declared access to the internet a human right.
Only a few days earlier, Statistics Canada revealed that “Overall, about 80 per cent of all Canadian households had Internet access in 2010… Almost all the homes with total incomes above $87,000 were connected, while just 54 per cent of households with incomes under $30,000 had access,” according to The Canadian Press (good coverage at cbc.ca too).
That’s quite the Digital Divide. The stats also reveal a discrepancy between urban and rural. But our question is: how does this play out in the suburb highrise? What is the relationship between virtual social networks and the geography of suburbs? What does this mean for the future of a (sub)urban planet? These are questions I have been fascinated with since beginning HIGHRISE, and we are starting to get some early answers this week, as we begin production on our HIGHRISE Digital Citizenship Project. It’s a unique collaboration between our HIGHRISE team, residents in a Toronto Highrise, and a team of academic researchers, led by Prof. Deborah Cowen and Emily Paradis PhD, and connected to the Global Suburbanism MCRI project at York University.
This week, we are working with 14 highrise residents as Peer Researchers, who are going door-to-door with our survey in their highrise building, interviewing their neighbours about digital technologies, their use, access and effects. From the results and discussions that arise with the residents, we hope to gain some baseline knowledge about the state of “digital citizenship” in one building. We hope to build on this data, possibly by doing comparative studies elsewhere in the world, and by going deeper with interviews, focus groups and documentary methods within the building itself. After the first survey session earlier this week, one peer researcher told me she’s been working as a community engagement officer in this building (that she live in) for a while now, but the survey was the first time she got to go into people’s homes to really see residents in their own space.
She said, “We sat down and talked with this lady in her kitchen as she chopped potatoes with a huge knife, the knife was really flying around! And we learned about how she accesses *that other world* – the one on the internet. It’s a huge learning experience for me, and its going to connect residents in this building.”
What’s most cool about the project is the energy that’s bubbling up both on the ground with the peer researchers and residents, and at the high-level academic conceptual level ,with what Deb as Principal Investigator is doing, and how the two are informing each other as we go along.
As Deb says in her early writings about the project: “It is now well established that digital technologies are deeply engrained at a global scale, and furthermore, that these technologies are a crucial part of the logistics of globalization. By reshaping economic, social and cultural forms and flows, digital technologies implicate even those who do not have access to the tools or infrastructure for direct connection. Digital technologies have reshaped collective life, transforming how, where, and when we produce, communicate, learn, re/create, and consume. Digital technologies create virtual and actual communities, they keep people connected across vast distances, they make ideas and information flow far and wide. Yet, they also ‘flexibilize’ working conditions, for instance, extending the working day well into personal time and space, they centralize the dissemination of information, enhance state and corporate surveillance capacities, privatize infrastructure and even citizenship. These technologies can speed things up and open new worlds, and they can cut people off and keep people out. In other words, the impacts of digital technologies are profound and they reshape everyday life in complex, ambiguous, and sometimes, contradictory ways.
This project posits that everyday life in suburban tower communities is shaped by digital technologies in distinct ways that warrant attention. The ‘global suburb’ is an underexplored urban condition in academic research, yet as the Global Suburbanism Major Collaborative Research Initiative might suggest, it may well be the dominant experience and condition of the ‘global city’. An emphasis on what we term the ‘global suburb’ highlights not simply a particular space within the global city, but as we explore in more detail through this research, a set of processes and experiences of social polarization and segregation on the one hand, and on the other hand, particular forms of physical and virtual connection and circulation. Drawing on recent work on the ‘in-between city’ (Keil et al 2011), we suggest that the social geographies and spatial forms particular to these ‘global suburbs’ are paradigmatic in an era of global mobility and precarity. The complex dynamics of fixity and flow that characterize these spaces furthermore trouble any simple notion of citizenship and add nuance to the study of digital citizenship.”
A 7-year international research project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and led by principal investigator Roger Keil at York University.
Hadi, a Peer Researcher, going from door to door.
Priti, Peer Researcher (you may recognize her from The Thousandth Tower, watch for her in our upcoming One Millionth Tower and Faith, Ob and Donna have all continued with us too!)
Last night, kids take a break for some bouncing on the balcony.
Cheryl and Nahatil, Peer Researchers, conduct survey in the hallway.
Kristyna (L) Research Field Coordinator, gets data from Nasra and Rita, Peer Researchers.
Jordana, Research Coordinator, shows off our 15 languages sheet – represent the plethora of languages that our team members speak. We show this sheet to residents, (it includes the name in english and in the language itself) so people can identify the language of their choice.
photos by Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam