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Filmmaker draws inspiration from work of Global Suburbanisms team

Filmmaker draws inspiration from work of Global Suburbanisms team

A United Way report last week highlighted a problem in Toronto: our city’s poor are increasingly concentrated in crumbling highrise towers, mostly in the inner suburbs, wrote Edward Keenan in EYE Weekly Jan. 20:

The report addresses a subject that National Film Board filmmaker-in-residence Katerina Cizek has been studying for two years, while making films on a digital, interactive project called Highrise. Her films allow viewers to click in and around apartment towers in Toronto and around the world to hear the stories of residents. In the wake of the United Way report, EYE WEEKLY checked in with Cizek to get her thoughts on the state of our concrete vertical suburbs, and the need to rejuvenate them.

Q: What are the “Highrise” films, in a nutshell?

A: The original idea was to do something in Toronto, as a city. Not City Hall, but Toronto; to see how documentary can be part of city building. I’m not someone who studies the city—I’m not an urban planner, I’m not an architect—and I had certain assumptions about the city. The city I live in—Toronto—but also the urban experience in general. I think we are, or at least I was, at fault in thinking of the city as something that kind of happens to you, rather than as something we create and we constantly reinvent.

I got really inspired by this phenomenal world-class research that’s happening in our city—from David Hulchanski, ERA Architects and York University’s Global Suburbanism team—not only to engage in the city I live in but to start rethinking how we understand the city all over the world. What “urban” entails is not what we typically think: it’s actually at the edges, at the periphery, in the suburbs where some of the most complex, diverse, interesting and highly problematic things are happening. We need to understand these things in order to be able to do something about them. “Highrise” is, quite simply, a multi-year, multimedia documentary exploring the human experience in “vertical suburbs” around the world.

The Global Suburbanisms project is led by Professor Roger Keil in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, director of the City Institute, and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The National Film Board is a partner in the project.

The rest of the interview is available on

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin