One Millionth Tower has gone live — and not just on the web. Here’s some pix from recent live appearances:


Last week, we celebrated our new web-documentary One Millionth Tower (1MT) live at the historic Gladstone Hotel Ballroom in downtown Toronto. The highlight of the show was a saxophone performance by Jamal, one of the 1MT residents (check out the above bootleg youtube recording by Prof. Roger Keil!) Over 150 Torontonians were in attendance.


The event was hosted by our incredible Senior Producer, Gerry Flahive, who brought 12 people to the stage, each in their own way, highlighting the collaborative nature of the project.


Ob represented the residents on our panel, and he spoke out about the need for resident involvement in changing the landscape of our highrise environments across Toronto.


Graeme Stewart of ERA architects took on tough questions about the mechanics and philosophy of Tower Renewal. How can it really happen? What are the real costs? Who needs to be involved?


Elise Hug of the City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal program, spoke about need for cross-disciplinary collaboration, and how to bring many stakeholders together. She was followed by Jamie Robinson, of United Way, who gave context with the remarkable Vertical Poverty study, and the United Way’s hopes for making the Kipling buildings a demonstration site for what’s possible. Matt Thompson, Chief Storyteller at Mozilla Foundation, rounded out the panel with a great talk about the role open technology can play in city-building. Before the screening, Roger Keil talked about the highrise in the context of “the world” by introdicuing the fabulous Global Suburbanisms project he is spearheading at York University (and with whom we are partnered), while Michael McLelland of ERA Architects gave a great nutshell introduction to the legacy of apartment towers in the city of Toronto. Russell Mitchell of ANC/United Way talked about Rexdale, the neighbourhood in which we are working. Mike Robbins of Helios Design Lab also took to the stage to explain why we used open source to build 1MT.


Somewhere in the packed house was Marcus Gee, columnist for The Globe and Mail, who then filed this great story about our project and vertical Toronto.


A week before the Gladstone, Ob, Faith, Donna and Jamal showed 1MT live to their neighbours in a moving presentation — in the very meeting room in which the project was created.


Jamal and Donna also hit the CBC Metro Morning airwaves live in Matt Galloway’s 3-part series dedicated to One Millionth Tower. Metro Morning is the number one morning show in Toronto.


Meanwhile, One Millionth Tower was showcased *live* in Amsterdam for the largest documentary festival in the world, IDFA, as part of the fantastic DocLab lounge. (HIGHRISE won the inaugural DocLab award there for Out My Window last year. This year the honour went to the artful web-documentary In Situ, a lyrical french project from ARTE, which is not unrelated to urban themes in HIGHRISE).

Screen shot 2011-12-13 at 7.37.11 AM

This is me, Kat Cizek, chuffed to be launching 1MT live at the awesome Mozilla Festival in London U.K. in front of a crowd of 4-500 brilliantly talented hackers and journalists who had gathered for the Media, Freedom and the Web Festival.


And finally, streaming on live web-tv during an interview about 1MT at Mozfest, I had an unexpected visit from the Foxy Mozilla Fox Mascot, the true rockstar of the Mozilla Festival. Never know what can happen when you’re *live.*

Video courtesy Roger Keil, photos from the Gladstone by Marcus Matyas for the NFB, Kipling Launch and CBC Radio by Kat Cizek for the NFB, and Mozilla Festival by Sarah Arruda, for the NFB.



A still from the Rodney King Tapes, from the documentary *Seeing is Believing*.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the first modern acts of citizen journalism — and it all started out a highrise window.

In March 1991, George Holliday heard police sirens and commotion out his 2nd floor bedroom window. He picked up his new consumer video camera and from his balcony, filmed the confrontation unfolding ninety feet below on a LA highway. He recorded almost 10 minutes of tape: four white LAPD police officers brutally beating Rodney King, a black man, but it was one minute of the footage that would be broadcast on TV around the world, and would spark the “Handicam Revolution.”

The images, “the Rodney King Tapes,”  became shocking evidence of police brutality in the public gaze of television, and they were used in the first court trial by the prosecution  – as well as the defense. The images were slowed down, frame by frame, and used by the police lawyers to explain how the police officers had “followed police protocol.”

When the four officers were acquitted in 1992, South Central Los Angeles erupted in what came to be known as the “LA Riots” resulting in 54 deaths, over 2382 injuries, 7000 fires, over 12 000 arrests, and over 1 billion dollars of property damage.

It was only in a second trial and a Federal Grand Jury that found the officers guilty in 1993.

The footage, its use, impact and legacy – and the political impetus to use video technology to document human rights abuses – was the subject of a film I made almost 10 years ago with co-director Peter Wintonick, called Seeing is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News.

But it was only this month that I made the connection between *the HIGHRISE window* and the genesis of citizen journalism as we know it today. It is not inconsequential that new consumer-grade communications technology, which was, in the early nineties, becoming ubiquitous and affordable, would be used in one of the originating acts of citizen journalism on a balcony of the most commonly built form of the 21st century: the highrise building. And the HIGHRISE, of course, is now the frame of my multi-year, many media exploration of the human experience in vertical suburbs around the world.

Today, we continue to witness the inextricable relationship between communications technology with people’s movements  around the globe; in these last months in North Africa and the Arab world.

I am reminded of the words of Dr. Alex Magno, a sociologist we interviewed in Manila for Seeing is Believing back in 1991: “In the last two decades or so, most of the political upheavals had some distinct link to communications technology. Iran, the Iranian Revolution, was closely linked to the audio cassette. The first EDSA uprising in the Philippines was very closely linked to the photocopying machine and so we called it the ‘Xerox Revolution’. Tiananmen, the uprising that failed, was called the ‘Fax Revolution’, because the rest of the world was better informed than the rest of the neighbourhood because of the fax machine. The [2001] January uprising here in the Philippines represents a convergence between electronic mail and text messaging. And that gave that uprising its specific characteristics.”

Today we can add to Magno’s list the powerful roles that Twitter, live video streaming on the net, Facebook and even dating sites have played in various stages of democratizing gestures in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and beyond.

I’m also realizing we need to understand how, just like the technology, the HIGHRISE built form (which I consider a metaphor for urban density) plays into these events. Doug Saunders, the author of Arrival City, has recently made a similar compelling argument about the role of urban slum density in the Egyptian uprisings.

Inside these grey architectural structures that contain and shape our human, urban experience, lies the power of ingenuity, social innovation and communal force to harness and usurp our available technologies (and points-of-view) to transform them into historic, profoundly contemporary political acts.

More tributes and thoughts on Rodney King 20 year later here, here and at

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.