29 September 2017




As a kid in the 1990s who loved video games and history, I remember being truly excited at the prospect of virtual reality being the next big thing. There was a general buzz about the technology, along with its educational and social implications. My fellow Simpsons nerds will also remember the numerous references the show made to the idea of VR saturation:

The show assumed that in the next few years the technology would pop, so to speak. And they weren't the only ones who thought so:

Virtual reality's applications are limitless in theory, but the practical science behind it has lagged for various reasons. Wareable published an interesting article a couple of years ago about why VR failed in the 90s, and Kill Screen's VR tags are a fascinating look at what the future of VR might be now that it has been updated and re-branded for millennials. FYI I was still dying for a VR set in the 90s. I didn't care that it seemed like a bit of a rip-off.

What does this have to do with Ghosts of Toronto's Past, you ask? Don't ask me, ask EnvisionTO. As part of my internship this year, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Summer Leigh, the creative force behind EnvisionTO. I'll let the online description of the project speak for me:

"EnvisionTO is a portal for experiencing and re-imagining Toronto’s historical topography. Using Toronto’s data diverse catalogue, city archive documents, and artwork by the incomparable Mathew Borrett, our city will be re-created from pre-confederate Toronto to the present – in 3D. Toronto is an integral part of our home and native land; it is our imperative to preserve and glorify its rich history."

Summer will be at Mackenzie House this Saturday for Nuit Blanche, where the project will be exhibiting its first future view. If you are attending the festivities, I strongly encourage you to check it out. The artwork alone is spectacular, and Summer was very up-front about her vision for an app that everyone can use without it being too buggy or sucking up too much data. Being inclusive is an important part of the project.

I was already familiar with artist Mathew Borrett's work because of his cool, dystopian reimagining of the city that went viral some time ago. However, when fellow Muser Jennifer Lee and I spoke to Summer Leigh about her hopes and goals for EnvisionTO, our nerdy selves went into overdrive. History seems to be the driving force and ethos behind Summer's dream. What better way to gain perspective on our present and future as a city than to walk the streets of the past? If we have a better understanding of Toronto's evolution, we can take stock of how far we've come. We can also plan for a better future. How many wonderful things have been lost to disasters like fire, social inequality, unchecked privatization, and socioeconomic imbalance?

I love Toronto, and nothing is going to change that. If we are critical of how our city fails us it is only because we love our home. We see what it can be, and in some cases what it has been, and we don't see why it is so impossible to make things better. Virtual reality is like any other technology: it's not inherently bad in and of itself. I have no qualms about the technology existing, but I do care deeply about whose hands it falls into. If Summer is as creative, thoughtful, and nuanced as she appears, then we Torontonians have something really great to look forward to in our future.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this reflective take on the city! You are so right that we need to be aware of success and failures of our city (no matter how much we love it)!