By Denise Balkissoon
Launching at the Gladstone this Tuesday, December 6, is One Millionth Tower, the latest installment of Highrise, the NFB’s webstravaganza (wait, I hate made-up words. Sorry). If you haven’t seen the site yet, you know nothing about Toronto, since the Emmy-award winning project is the best bit of storytelling yet produced about the 1,000 highrise towers in Toronto’s outer suburbs, and the ten of thousands of people who live there.
Luckily, director Katarina Cizek has been doing a cracking job. The first installment, The Thousandth Tower, took us into the lives of six Torontonians who live in these vertical communities. Since then, she’s led planners, architects, musicians and many, many enthusiastic residents in putting together a next-level web project that looks at towers all over the world.
The new segment, One Millionth Tower, re-imagines what life could be like for the residents of two adjacent towers on Kipling Ave. It’s fun and energizing to walk through the virtual landscape – and Owen Pallet and Jim Guthrie helped with the soundtrack. In inspiring the hundreds of people who live here to imagine life with a vegetable garden or a dance studio, Highrise has helped instigate actual change: last summer, residents and a local charity got together to build a playground to replace a desolate and decrepit basketball court.
This is a global issue – the Highrise site points out that over a billion people worldwide live in mid-century apartment buildings that are starting to develop serious repair issues. As much as Toronto’s brown 1970s towers might be eyesores, it’s unrealistic to talk of tearing them down and replacing the majority of the city’s affordable rental housing stock (and, you know, condescending to the people that live there). But we do have to figure something out – as the United Way’s Vertical Poverty report points out, these complexes are troubled, structurally and economically. Many are out in the outer suburbs, where new immigrants and low-income communities become increasingly isolated as public transit gets increasingly crappy.
So far, Mayor Rob Ford hasn’t made an official statement about the future of the Tower Renewal project. Let’s hope that no news is good news.