Archives for posts with tag: exploring

This post first appeared on the Koffler Gallery’s K-Blog, and was written by Jessica Dargo-Caplan. All photos by Mary Anderson. 

Inspired by the Koffler Gallery’s Spring 2015 exhibition Erratics (an art installation which brought together two distinct archives and explored the tensions between memory and fiction by Martha Baillie, and Malka Greene with Alan Resnick), grade 5/6 students from Rose Avenue Public School and Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School explored the connections between place, memory and fiction.

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During this 6-week project, students worked with urban geographer/artist Daniel Rotsztain to build collaborative neighbourhood archives through line drawing, mapping, personal narrative, postcard-writing and exchange.

Daniel leads students on a neighbourhood walks, encouraging them to pay attention to those small but vibrant details, which hold stories and personal memories in neighbourhood landmarks.

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After the neighbourhood walks, Daniel taught the students how to transfer their sketches into graphic line drawings onto their postcards.

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Inspired by their line drawings, students write personal narratives about their chosen neighbourhood objects, landmarks and buildings.

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Daniel works with the students to create a new map of their neighbourhoods, animated by their postcards.

The students from each school then mailed their postcards to the students at the other school, so they could exchange and share their personal perspectives, and create a collective archive of the two school communities, through their eyes and imaginations.

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These postcards are just a sample from the collective archive:

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photo-7aphoto-7bphoto-8aphoto-8bphoto-9aphoto-10On June 1, after 5 weeks of workshops, the two school groups met at the Koffler Gallery for an informal tour of Erratics, and to see their collaborative Neighbourhood Archives postcard project installed in one of the flex studios at Artscape Youngplace.

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“Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods that are distinct, but share lots in common. The students from Rose Avenue and Paul Penna compared their two neighbourhoods by drawing hybrid utopian communities along the schools’ shared arterial: Bloor Street.”

– Daniel Rotsztain

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The teachers at both schools recognized the importance of this cross-cultural dialogue and saw the impact on their students.

“The learning was authentic, deep, and empowering. By exploring the program from the perspectives of social justice, architecture, art, writing, and history, my students now have a newfound and genuine understanding of what’s in their own backyard… and how it all connects to the context of the city around it.”

– Diana FitzGerald, Grade 6 teacher, Rose Avenue Public School

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Perhaps the truest testament to the project’s success is the way the collective process fostered new community understanding and connections.

“Through all the six years that I have spent living downtown, I had never noticed, never realized, never saw just how many nooks and crannies there were and how much people cared about them. When Daniel [Rotzstain] came, we all became part of this group of people who cared about all of these beautiful places.”

–Grade 5 student, Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School

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Many thanks to the school administration, teachers and students for their dedication and support on this project:

Rose Avenue Public School: David Crichton (principal), Diana Fitzgerald (grade 6 teacher), and their grade 6 students

Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School: Laila Lipetz (Director of Curriculum), Edi Fisher, Avee Helfand (grade 5 teachers), and their grade 5 students

And thank you to Daniel Rotsztain, for leading us throughout this beautiful, collaborative project.

You can also read about the project in the August 27, 2015 edition of the Canadian Jewish News 

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Driving along the 401, it’s hard to miss the new cluster of towers that come into view just before the highway rises east toward the DVP/404 interchange. Towering over the 401 at Leslie Street is Ikeatown, one of Toronto’s newest neighbourhoods.

Just as the St Lawrence Market was the commercial heart of early York, Ikea’s energy brings life to the new precinct, attracting visitors from all over Toronto and much further afield.

For now, Ikeatown’s borders seem to be Sheppard to the north, Leslie Street to the east, the 401 to the south and Provost to the west, though with the completion of upcoming condominium projects, the neighbourhood will expand west to Bessarion Street.

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Okay. I admit that the neighbourhood isn’t officially called Ikeatown. It’s formally dubbed Park Place by its developers, probably due to its proximity to the East Don River valley. The name seems a bit contrived, however, as the immediate area has a lot less Park and a lot more Ikea.

The increasingly popular use Ikeatown – or Ikeaville – to refer to this part of town may alarm some Torontonians concerned about the appearance of corporate names on the city’s map. However, just as the Don and Humber Rivers have supplanted themselves in so many of the city’s neighbourhood and street names, it’s legitimate that that an area be named for the most dominant feature of its landscape.

Though Ikea has brought life to the brownfield site since the early late 70s, the residential towers were only built in the last few years, demonstrating an early application of “leading with landscape“. The urban design principle has since been used in other large scale redevelopments like the Sherbourne Common in Toronto’s revitalized Waterfront.

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I visited Ikeatown a few weekends ago to explore the city’s newest neighbourhood. Beyond anchoring the district, Ikea’s influence has made its way into other parts of the neighbourhood’s daily life.

Like the Liberty Village Express, the district has its own micro-transit line. A free shuttle (funded by Ikea) regularly operates from Leslie station, terminating in central Ikeatown, that is, right in front of the Ikea. As I rode the bus, I spoke with a few passengers. Many were residents of the neighbourhood who take advantage of the service to access the TTC as part of their daily commute.

Ikeatowners take advantage of the neighbourhood's micro-transit line

Ikeatowners take advantage of the neighbourhood’s micro-transit line

During my visit, I spoke with many Ikeatowners about their neighbourhood. Confirming my suspicions about how much furniture in their apartments came from Ikea, the answers ranged from “about 50 percent” to “almost everything”. I craned my neck upwards to let it sink in. The neighbourhood’s towers, visible on the horizon for kilometres – are literally full of Ikea furniture.

Even the neighbourhood’s public art is Ikea-ish. The public realm is decorated by enormous framed images of flowers that evoke the ready-to-hang stock images of Manhattan and Amsterdam that adorn apartments worldwide.

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Ikeatown is a name that is just catching on, but its novelty shouldn’t undermine its legitimacy. Toronto’s neighbourhood names are traditionally unstable.  Cabbagetown was originally called Don Vale until changed its name in the 1970s to evoke nostalgia when its neglected Victorian housing stock once again became fashionable. Across the river, Leslieville turned into South Riverdale before reverting back to its original moniker. The Upper Beaches and Junction Triangle, and now perhaps Ikeatown, are more recent cases of Toronto growing, re-inventing and re-naming itself.


This morning I embarked on my first CITY MAIL delivery-route, and observed a lot as I negotiated the streets of Halifax: from as far south as Hollis and South, to as far north as Kane Pl. in the Hydrostone neighbourhood.

The CITY MAIL box at Trident on Hollis St.

Here are some of my initial observations/reflections:

– Wandering the city with purpose provided a fresh and dynamic orientation to the streets: before, I was an aimless wanderer — but my engagement with the city’s roads and built environment transformed Halifax into the background of a journey through a maze-like series of paths and nodes — streets ending abruptly were my foe, and I had to rely on the map of the city I had created in my head, and friendly folk on the street to achieve success

– I experienced the true meaning of the “Travelling Salesman Problem“which had been introduced to me through GIS — using the program’s algorithm function to develop delivery routes that minimize path-over lap and maximize efficiency. As an actor within a wider delivery system I found the greatest challenge was route-planning, and was frustrated when I had to back track.

– The systems of the street numbers often lie! The street numbers up Newton hop – skip – and jump, skipping hundreds of houses — this instilled doubt as to my orienteering capabilities as I tried to locate houses along parallel streets based on inference.

– CITY MAIL gave me the vehicle to tap into an otherwise invisible network in Halifax centred in the North End. A lot of the mail-boxes I delivered to were very far from the North End, but indicators such as the Ecology Action Centre‘s “No Fliers Please” stickers, and “We Support Our Postal Workers” affirmed that these houses in the South and West were distant outposts along a centralized network of communication.

– Many mail boxes, such as the one above, are located outside — which is indicative of the immense trust folks place in others in the city – or perhaps a tacit reverence for the written word; it would be unimaginable to leave your email inbox open on the street giving others the opportunity to rummage through it.

CITY MAIL is a project by Alison Creba, dedicated to the free delivery of inner-city postables within Halifax. This summer, eight CITY MAIL mail-boxes have been placed around the Halifax peninsula, in a variety of instituions, including Coffee-Shops, Ice-Cream Parlours and Office-Supply-Stores.

Using Alison’s words:

CITY MAIL is an initiative dedicated to delivering the letters/postcards/notes that arrive in a handful of mail boxes constructed and installed on lampposts around Halifax. The project has become more profound than simply collecting and distributing letters; it has emerged as a comment on the local social and physical infrastructures that make up our city. CITY MAIL challenges participants to consider the geography of the place they live, asks them to consider not only individual houses, but also community nodes; coffee joints, communal desks, outdoor furniture. It challenges us to think about the routes we take, and the routines we follow. CITY MAIL promotes a unique reflective character that lies distinctly in the act of letter-writing. Perhaps it is because letters move slowly that writing them requires individuals to consider themselves, their communities, their cities. Each letter writes a new story of a personal city, an individual experience.

A city is a fascinatingly complex place where layers of networks and nodes temporarily impose themselves on ephemeral physical urban space. The various patterns of communications, waves of energy, and linkages between geographically disparate places are largely invisible to an outsider. CITY MAIL taps into these city-streams of information while reminding its users of the value of thoughtful, written words and letters — a kind of communication who’s essence lies in its seeming timelessness and artifactuality.

The Urban Geographer is excited to announce that he will become the guardian of CITY MAIL while Alison is away for 12 days, and with the help of another guardian, will be collecting and delivering the mail and newsletters that stream through the iconic blue CITY MAIL-boxes. I am incredibly curious as to how this experience will affect my perception of the city of Halifax. As a newcomer, I have only scratched the surface of the lay-out of this city, and have limited connections to the built environment and the residents who surround me as I negotiate the streets and sidewalks of the city. CITY MAIL, as Alison has said, is much more than delivering mail. I am eager to learn what that means. I look forward to the relationships I will be forging with the many participants that are necessary for an inner-city mail system to function.

I will be recording my experiences, and look forward to sharing them with you as I endeavour on my journey through Halifax as the CITY MAIL messenger.