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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.

GIRLS LEARNING CODE at HIGHRISE

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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!

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

HIGHRISE, UNDERGROUND + HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

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The HIGHRISE/One Millionth Tower public art installation in the Toronto Subway well underway. The series features 6 silent videos on all digital screens, and 4 different posters on 110 platforms that together, tell the story of re-imagining our vertical city.

Here’s a few pix and videos. We’ve had a great response, including a Globe and Mail article, an interview on CBC Metro Morning, an article in The Grid and even a Hollywood Reporter story (!).

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Here’s three of the six silent videos, with ambient subway sound, to give you an idea of the experience watching, while waiting for a train:

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ONE MILLION COMMUTERS

Our HIGHRISE documentary, One Millionth Tower, has re-incarnated into a public art project that reaches 1.3 million subway commuters daily in Toronto, Canada.

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6 short videos adapted from the documentary and 4 specially-designed subway posters with images from the project  are currently on display throughout the Toronto underground subway system until the end of February. The 30-second videos play continuously every 10 minutes on the digital signage system, while 110 copies of the posters are on display at 59 stations throughout the city.

The project is curated by Sharon Switzer for Pattison Onestop and Art for Commuters (A4C).

The idea for the project was to hone the central concept of One Millionth Tower to its most basic, core, visual theme: to contrast the “real” Toronto highrise conditions with that of the “imagined” landscapes of the residents and architects.

Here’s some pix from my visit to the print shop with Joanna from Helios Design Lab, to check out the 6-foot tall print proofs.

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Nice article in Canada’s Globe and Mail here. Watch this space for the silent videos coming soon.

ONE MILLIONth TOWER: LIVE

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

LIVE AT THE GLADSTONE HOTEL
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

LIVE AT THE REAL HIGHRISE
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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.

LIVE ON THE RADIO
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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.

LIVE IN AMSTERDAM
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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).

LIVE AT MOZFEST
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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.

LIVE ON WEB TV
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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.

UPCOMING WORLD PREMIERE

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It’s a week away: our international launch of One Millionth Tower (1MT), a documentary about the HIGHRISE re-imagined.

The live events are happening in London U.K. in partnership with the phenomenal MOZILLA FESTIVAL, as this year they bring their attention to the theme of “Media, Freedom and the Web”.  And on-line too, next week, we have a truly exciting international launch that we’ll be sharing with you soon.

One Millionth Tower (watch trailer here) teams a group of highrise residents in Toronto with architects and animators to re-imagine their surroundings and transform their dilapidated highrise neighbourhood into a vibrant, resident-led community. Using cutting-edge open-source technology, this interactive documentary enables a 3D storytelling environment within a web browser, incorporating the magic of cinema, architecture and animation. A hyper-local story with a global resonance in its vision for a more human-friendly urban planet – and world wide web.

So here are the events:

Mozilla Festival Nov 4-6, 2011 – We will unveil the documentary during the KEYNOTE on Saturday Nov 5, and we’ll participate in numerous Mozillific events including Fireside chats, master classes on The Connected Documentary, as the open-source cinema guru, Brett Gaylor launches Mozilla Popcorn 1.0.

On MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2011, we’ll be doing a special Central London screening at the Frontline Club, presented by Mozilla and our dear friends at POWER TO THE PIXEL. I’ll be joined on stage by Brett, as well as Liz Rosenthal of PttP. If you are interested in attending, send an email to highrise@nfb.ca, seating is very limited.

Over in Amsterdam, in mid-november, One Millionth Tower is also in competition in the digital arm of the world’s largest Documentary Festival,  IDFA DocLab, where we took home the Inaugural Award for Digital Storytelling Award last year for our interactive documentary Out My Window.

Toronto launch plans for One Millionth Tower are in the works for early-December. Watch this space for more details!

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 >>

FOOTAGE FOUND: CLUES TO A HIGHRISE LIFE

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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.

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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

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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