What Open Streets Means To Me
So, a bit about me--I grew up on Howe Island, a small rural island east of Kingston. I studied international development at McGill, spent some time as a fashion model, went back to school for non-profit project management, then finally landed a dream job at 8 80 Cities as a project manager, where I worked up to be the Executive Director over the course of 7 years. I now work at the Ontario government and I’m part of the Open Streets TO working group.
During my early days at 8 80 Cities I was indoctrinated in the gospel of Open Streets by my then boss, and the ‘grandfather’ (a very young and spirited ‘grandfather’) of Open Streets himself, Gil Penalosa. Through my work at 8 80 Cities, I had the opportunity to visit one of the best open streets programs in the world—the Via RecreActiva in Guadalajara, Mexico.
I had never seen anything like it—65 kilometres of car-free streets every single weekend. The Via RecreActiva transformed the city into a joyful, safe, and active space for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. There was such collective freedom and delight shared by everyone who attended. It forever changed the way I look at streets and how we use our cities.
Then, I had a baby and my view of cities changed yet again. My tolerance for risk (like riding my bike on a street without a separated cycle path) went down, and my awareness of accessibly issues (like being able to access sidewalks, stores, and the TTC with a stroller or mobility device) went up. I could see the importance of a program like Open Streets T.O. even more clearly.
In a city like Toronto, which has a long way to go in terms of safe cycling a pedestrian infrastructure, Open Streets T.O. offers a sliver of freedom for kids to ride their bikes, walk, skip, and dance in the street without fear. It’s an opportunity to experience a version of Toronto where the needs of pedestrians, cyclist, transit, and cars, are more balanced, and where the streets are safe and bubbling with life and vibrancy.
Open Streets T.O. helps people see Toronto with fresh eyes. I hope we can make it happen more often, and connect more people across this great city. See you on the streets, Toronto!