Angry Robot

Buffalo, You Are Not Alone

“We can’t have a truly prosperous and sustainable America with only a dozen or so superstar cities that renew themselves from age to age while others bloom like a flower for a season, then wither away.” (via Scaledown)

SRSI: To Detroit

So yeah. Went to Detroit. Let me take a step back. Came back to Windsor on thursday night, was immediately whisked off to karaoke at Billy’s bar in Sandwich Town, which was excellent. Friday was a tour of Windsor’s forgotten suburbs, relics of ambitious overexpansion in the past. We were led by the incredible Lee Rodney in the border bookmobile.

These are houses on Chappas street, a whole neighbourhood that stands vacant because the land has been bought up for the proposed Detroit River International Crossing, a new bridge that the Ontario and federal governments are planning.

Chappas Houses

Here is an old sidewalk running through a park:

In Brunette park

I stopped by the storefronts a little on friday. On Saturday, Thea and I went to Detroit. I had a million places I wanted to see in Detroit but we didn’t want to be gone all day so we kept it to two spots:


Number one was the train station, Michigan Central Station, which was built in the early 20th century but has stood vacant since 1988. Sure, it’s classic tourist ruin porn, but it also has to be seen to be believed.

Thea at Michigan Central Station 2


Number two was the Heidelberg Project.

Heidelberg Dot House
It’s named after the street it’s on, and – well, let me quote their site:

The Heidelberg Project, bearing the name of the street on which it exists, was started in 1986 by Tyree Guyton. He was assisted by his grandfather, Sam (Grandpa) Mackey (deceased), and his former wife, Karen Guyton. Tyree was raised on Heidelberg Street and, at the age of 12, witnessed the tragic effect of the Detroit riots – from which he claims the City of Detroit never recovered. Though once racially integrated, many neighborhoods have become segregated urban ghettos characterized by poverty, abandonment, and despair.

Armed with a paintbrush, a broom, and neighborhood children, Guyton, Karen, and Grandpa began by cleaning up vacant lots on Heidelberg and Elba Streets. From the refuse they collected, Guyton began to transform the street into a massive art environment. Vacant lots literally became “lots of art” and abandoned houses became “gigantic art sculptures.” Guyton not only transformed vacant houses and lots, he integrated the street, sidewalks, and trees into his mammoth installation and called his work, “The Heidelberg Project”, after its location on Heidelberg Street.

Here are some pics:

Heidelberg Houses

Heidelberg - Kanye Santa

Like I said, I was only in Detroit half the day. But even such cursory driving about the city gave me some slightly better understanding of a city that has fascinated me for some time. Just as a few pictures of riots and vandals could give you the impression that G20 protesters in general were a bunch of hooligans, the ruin porn and the breathless tales of desolation could give you the impression that Detroit is a hopeless hellhole. Now, this was a landscape unlike any I’ve seen – not just the ruins and the urban prairies but also the 10-lane arterial roads downtown, the monorail (Monorail!), the trip over the bridge, etc. etc. But there are pockets downtown of much activity, pedestrian and otherwise. And the mere presence of something like Heidelberg (which was a hive of activity when we went, because of the US Social Forum) has got to be reason for hope.

We returned to Windsor and went out that night to the Loop which was good times, and then I was back to shooting around the SRSI storefronts on sunday and monday, getting lots of insane footage. News of the G20 disaster made me feel distressed and strangely homesick sunday, but reading about that march sunday aft. made me feel better.

I’ll post more about the documentary process by tomorrow.

G20: Police tactics must be questioned

They took Toronto's streets, but for what?

Oh Toronto

I got really upset last night looking at images of the G20 ‘riots’ but of course taking stock today it doesn’t seem so bad. Four cop cars torched, smashed windows, some police brutality perhaps… that ridiculous arrest law, and too many arrests. Yet no bombs, deaths, and not too much tear gas (?). I’m out of town in Windsor, but if the vibe of this writeup is to be believed, it sure could have been worse. Pictures of masked people smashing shit, burning cars, and rows of menacing riot cops are always disturbing, but when the backdrop is the city you live in and love – or even the building you work in, in my case – it can be horrifying. And you assume the pictures are representational of widespread similar activity, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I was happy to hear that street crews were busy cleaning up Queen St. by late last night. Back to business, kids.

I also loved this image:

(photo by Martin Reis, courtesy Torontoist)

Good to know.

In other news, I went to Detroit yesterday for the first time. I’ll have more about that later.

Wobbly Cameraphone Video of Protests in downtown Toronto

like an experimental film from a horrible alternate Toronto. This made me upset.

soul music blog is running a series of classic summer songs. Awesome stuff. (via What a Day That Was)

Man who identifies himself as private investigator on LinkedIn, charged in G20 probe; sought to monitor police

Strange. In other news, I totally need to keep reading PI Newswire.

Shrinking Cities – Global Map Animation

Are we really in a cultural golden age?

Interesting. With the exception of TV (undeniably, a great number of amazing shows have occurred over the last decade thanks to cable original production), I’d agree with the first point and less so the latter: that essentially we’ve always been in a golden age, but innovation in distribution has only now made the bulk of the work widely available.

California on 'verge of system failure’

could need a federal bailout, as it’s “too big to fail”. (via funkaoshi

Cities for People — Alexandra Park

A look at the fascinating housing co-op between Bathurst, Dundas, Spadina & Queen in Toronto. I used to live right on the border. Written by students taking Shawn Micallef’s class at OCAD.

Noisebridge Attempts to Teach Science To Juggalos at Insane Clown Posse Show

“ask me about how fuckin’ magnets work”

RC Helicopter filming

crazy footage from strapping a DSLR to a remote controlled chopper. I want one!

Part of the story – BCL Billboards

these look amazing in person.

Sad Keanu Dedication thread

SRSI Continued

So yeah, I’m shooting a doc about the month-long event. My ideas of how best to cover it have been changing. After some great nights of conversation – one with Jefferson and Julie and another with Chris, Thea and later Andrea, I’m settling on a format that I think will work better than the traditional approach of practice viz, artist interviews and talking expert heads. The challenges are to keep the film unified (as we’re dealing with a large number of potential subjects) and to provide a broader context for the events portrayed. The broader context – the collapse of an industrial city – is especially important for this project because it provides the conflict narrative so loves. I’ve also found the artifice of the one-on-one interview doesn’t sit well with some artists (people in general, really. The outgoing sorts are fine but it can force some more introverted types [myself included] into a defensive posture).

The possible solution is to stage conversations between the artists and Broken City Lab members. All of these people are thinking about the broader context and expressing aspects of it in their work. By doing this we get a more natural and lively result. By excluding traditional experts we limit the cast of characters to something possibly comprehensible by an unmodified human.

I say ‘stage’ because I think the initial, informal stage of just plain-ass chattin’ with people is important and pulling the camera out can ruin it. It is perhaps the wrong word, as the filmed conversation isn’t scripted or anything.

We’ve tried it once and the results were good. Picking the people who should talk is interesting. We had Michelle (BCL) talk to Julie (resident artist), but I can see situations where two artists’ work are both about, say, Indian Road, so getting them to talk would probably be fruitful. I’m in the process of mapping out the different paths between people, their work, issues in the city and the broader issues, and it will certainly be an interesting (read: horribly complicated) task to sort everything out in the edit).

I’ll be heading back for like two weeks on the weekend and will try and post a lot more. It has been tricky balancing the work between shoot – log – edit – other things, but I’m getting there.

Hands-On With Seven Nintendo 3DS Games and Gadgets

So the 3DS was announced – as the name sounds, it’s a DS with a 3D screen. It doesn’t require silly glasses. No word on price / availability of course.

Stormtrooper Papercraft Helmets

That’s the spirit. Probably not immune to blaster fire though. (Not that the real armour did much good either)

Kinect Launching November 4 With 15 Launch Titles

Microsoft’s Natal thing is now called Kinect. Still no price, which isn’t a good sign. Not that I’d buy one anyway I guess.

Spoiler-laden Vince Gilligan Interview

i.e. showrunner of Breaking Bad. God damn that was a good season. If you’re not watching the show, hop on. It’s like a 33-hour Coen Bros movie so far.

USB typewriter goes 'clackity clackity clack DING' (video)

use a typewriter as a USB keyboard for your iPad. That is so great. (via I’ll iPhone you)

Windsor-related Update

Day Zero was some shooting, some cleaning. I figured I only needed so many minutes of footage of people cleaning or painting so I jumped in there too to speed things along. The BCL peeps are quite impressive. I mean I knew this before but their organization and willingness to perform unglamorous gruntwork were on full display and are certainly rare traits amongst the creative types I’m familiar with.

The three vacant storefronts were a Canadiana shop, a hairdresser and a tattoo parlour. The first two were in pretty good shape, but the latter suffered from a heinous failed paint scheme, a predeliction towards demon-based decoration, and a surfeit of garbage and broken glass. Naturally, this was the lair I chose to call my temporary home. My room has the best demon face which we have hidden behind a storage unit, as one should with all wall-borne demon faces. I also have a water-damaged copy of this awesome motivational poster

which was left behind by our skin-scorching friends.

So yeah. On Day One the artists started to move in. For the full writeup with pics you should check out BCL’s updates I’ll stick to my narrow point of view. I am from an editing background, and am not an experienced shooter by any means. I’m getting decent with stills, and I’ve shot some doc stuff over the years, but I’m no camera pro. So I had stuck to some pretty lazy auto-exposure settings with the ol’ GH1 on Day Zero. I wasn’t thrilled with the results, so I rolled full manual on Day One. I probably lost a few seconds of gold here and there as I cranked the aperture between the sun-drenched store fronts and the dim, surly store backs, but generally things worked out better. Next step will be going full manual focus, too. Oddly enough I’m much better at this with certain lenses than others, and not that hot with my most versatile lens, but we’ll see what happens.

The artists – Eric, Jolie, Julie & Jefferson – were really excitig to talk to and watch work. I was concentrating on getting some moving-in shots, and I got those. I hope to talk with them more; it seems to me better to get an interview where the artist is showing what she has done rather than talking about what she will do, so I’m aiming to get most of these later.

I had my first documentary moral crisis. Jolie and Mike were unloading a huge couch from their truck, and were having problems. As I said, I was looking for moving in footage, and this was prime gold, but I wanted to drop the camera and go help. But I stood there. It turned out okay; some absolute strangers came by and not only helped carry the couch, but navigated it through a narrow doorway adeptly.

I’m glad I’m not a war photographer.

I started logging by the end of Day One, but Day Two was a real post-production day. Not a great one. Editors know the sort of day you have where you spend way too long sorting niggling technical problems. Well, it was one of those. The GH1 pulls in 24p from the sensor, but wraps it in 30i pulldown, and I tend to process these to get rid of the pulldown because I FUCKING HATE INTERLACING. But normally, I leave these to run as a batch overnight. Doing them in the middle of the day I realized how long they take. Also, there were errors and I had to do some shots over and over again. So it set me back something fierce.

While it was going on, however, I had the time and motivation to hack my camera’s firmware. As I linked to before, a hacker named tester13 has released a tool that lets you modify the GH1’s firmware. The biggest knocks against the GH1 were that its AVCHD implementation is poor – it records at a low bitrate that can break up into a slurry of pixels when faced with fast pans or high detail scenes, like, say, nature. Tester13’s tool lets you up the bitrate to something that does justice to the camera’s quality optics and sensor. It also lets you record in real 24p and get rid of the pulldown, so that was my major motivation.

In the morning of Day Three, I actually started cutting footage together and got about 5 minutes of rough cut. Then I went out to follow Andrea and Simon on a little project of theirs. On a bike ride they had discovered an abandoned neighbourhood, and found that the houses had gardens that were still growing, and were growing interesting things like cacti and asparagus. So they went there to dig up some of the plants, with the aim of replanting them in vacant lots downtown, so more people might see them. It was quite a scene – the tall grass, the collapsing roofs, the amplified hum of wild nature. I have some photos that I will post shortly (yeah like you trust me now).

Now I’m back in the T-dot for a few days, and then back to Windsor. It’s a busy-ass month, that’s for sure, but it’s been amazing so far.


I wake to the sound of birds. Behind them, a distant roar.

The house is empty save for me, and strangely, sparsely furnished. There are two mini-fridges, no big fridge or stove. The lot next to me is a small patch of farmland. On the other side, a vacant lot.

Across the street, the University of Windsor. In the background, the great commercial sluice that is Huron Church Road, carrying a continuous torrent of trucks to and from the Ambassador Bridge, the great monument to cross-border commerce that cleaves a community in two. I’m here to film. The event is Storefront Residencies for Social Innovation, in which a group of artists take up residencies in vacant commercial space in downtown Windsor.


The house I’m in is the Ecohouse, a project of the university. It’s used mostly for student group meetings, hence the mini-fridge.

I’ll be here on and off throughout the duration of the event, which ends in mid-july. I’ll try and keep posting as I go, as I think it will be pretty interesting.

Introducing the Mondo 2000 History Project

potentially the first chapter, by RU Sirius