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Seeing Streets Through A Different Lens
Jeff Chong 

What does being smack dab in the middle of Open Streets feel like?

 

It’s a whirlwind actually. It’s a unique vantage point, no doubt, but there’s also a ton of responsibility.

 

We work with partners to ensure the program stresses our pillars of physical activity, accessibility and diversity. There are also funding realities, crowded-Toronto-summer-event schedule realities, among other tidbits we have to deal with.

 

But those stories can be left for another day.

 

Today I want to share something more personal.

 

I want to chat about how I’ve come to view my city, our city, differently, since I began leading Open Streets in 2014.

Some background.

 

I grew up in North York, removed from the urban core. As a kid, I was as active as anyone - I played a ton of hockey and soccer and was happiest when moving, running, playing. Having said that though, other than a skateboarding phase in Grade 8, the only way I really experienced Toronto was from behind the wheel of a vehicle.​

I eventually chose to work in finance and did so for the better part of a decade before wanting something more. The catalyst, not to sound dramatic, was a void.​

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I missed the purity of sports and physical activity. So, I made the decision to step away to pursue a passion that would take me back to a time in my life when I believed things to be much simpler.

 

And something amazing has happened in this process.

 

I have come to realize that the best parts of my home, this place we call Toronto, can only be truly experienced in all its glory and splendour, from an unencumbered perspective. In other words, you can’t fully smell, touch and emote unless you’re in the streets.

 

If not in sneakers or on a bike, in my opinion, you can’t truly feel the pulse of our city.

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Open Streets has opened my eyes. It has reinforced some of what I admire most about our city (and admittedly it has also made it impossible to ignore some other things that need to be addressed).

 

While we are proud to be the fourth largest city in North America, we also have to understand that such population density brings with it strains on infrastructure, among other social impacts.

 

Let’s be clear. Making active transportation a more prominent choice in Toronto isn’t a panacea. No one thing is really. But it’s a start. And who knows, maybe you’ll see some of the same things I have.

 

If not for Open Streets, I’d never have seen a 5-year old girl’s first attempt at roller blading. On Bloor Street. I repeat: on Bloor Street. Sure, she fell five times. But that smile? Priceless.

 

If not for Open Streets, I’d never have seen an 85-year old tearing up outside the Royal Conservatory. Sitting cross legged on Bloor Street eating his lunch, listening to children play a red piano, his love of music had never sounded so pure. The value of such a moment? Undeniable.

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So, come on out, people – join us!

 

What indelible street moments await you?

 

Find out on Sunday, August 19 at the first Open Streets of 2018!