In the future we may all live on the peripheries of giant airports – horrifying thought – but for now countless millions of us live in high-rise apartments whether from choice or necessity. The latter was the case in many socialist countries as workers were shifted from villages to industrial zones, or from decaying city centers to greenfield suburban developments, and housed in concrete-panel blocks. Here in the Czech Republic, fears in the 1990s that these areas would turn into slums have, by and large, proved groundless. For the most part these buildings provide safe and durable housing, and the provision of services improved dramatically in the first years of democracy as small business flourished. This may now be changing as many small businesses struggle to get by as more and more trade shifts to shopping malls, but that’s a different story.

While a Prague high-rise may look pretty much the same as one in Beirut or Sao Paulo, does apartment living also partly determine the identity of those who live in them? Czech-born filmmaker Katerina Cizek came up with an ingenious way to encapsulate stories about high-rise dwellers. Her interactive, online documentary Out My Window allows viewers to move around the apartments of her subjects in 13 different cities and click on the people and objects in and around the apartment for sound bites and more information on what is important to them. The film (or whatever you wish to call it) forms part of the “Highrise” project of the National Film Board of Canada and has been nominated for an International Digital Emmy.

Click to read TOL stories about urban change in Budapest, Poland, Sofia, and Skopje.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email:

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