Urban planner Gil Penalosa taking on John Tory in Toronto mayoral race

He may not be a well-known public figure, but Gil Penalosa is stepping up as a candidate for Mayor of Toronto. Mark McAllister spoke with him about his platform and why he feels he is the progressive choice for voters.

By Mark McAllister and Meredith Bond

A well-known urban planner has thrown his hat in the Toronto mayoral ring, becoming the first to challenge incumbent mayor John Tory in the upcoming municipal election.

Guillermo Penalosa, who goes by Gil, is the founder and chair of 8 80 Cities, a non-profit organization that aims to make every city wonderful for the 8-year-old and 80-year-olds who live there.

Penalosa tells CityNews he wants to bring this concept to Toronto and build what he calls a “Toronto for all.” He announced his candidacy for mayor on July 14.

When asked how he feels about going up against two-term Mayor Tory, Penalosa said he likes to ask people if they are better off today than eight years ago.

“I think that over the last eight years, we have become less affordable, less equitable, less sustainable,” said Penalosa. “I think ideas can be more powerful than money, and I’m going to give it my best, but I’m not going to do it alone.”

“There are lots of things that are not about the money. When people have no ideas, they say it’s a money problem. [It’s] not an issue of money. It’s an issue of vision and action.”

A crucial part of his platform is building parks and walkable cities, where Penalosa’s experience lies, as he started his career building over 200 parks in Bogota, Colombia.

While he may not be recognizable to most, Penalosa has evolved into a well-respected urban issues expert and public speaker who has worked with planners in other international cities.

“Parks are about fun and games, but much more than that. It’s also about physical and mental health. With the pandemic, we saw how nature was so good for mental health,” said Penalosa.

“It’s also about economic development. Because if Toronto wants to attract and retain the best people, we need to have a good quality of life. And of course, it’s also about climate change and environment.”

One of his goals as mayor would be to create a “15-minute city.”

“I think, during the pandemic, many people were working from home, and they wanted to have everything within walking distance, the 15-minute city. We need all the neighbourhoods to become a 15-minute city, but then we need places to walk to.”

He says the idea of a walkable and bikeable city should not constitute a “war on cars.”

“I think this is not about a war on cars. That’s totally ridiculous,” said Penalosa.

“If we have more people walking, riding bicycles and using public transit is also good for people in cars. And if we have a public transit that is good enough, then we might have some people moving from cars to public transit.”

Penalosa is bringing that same energy to his campaign with under 100 days left to go by walking the city.

“I have my fliers. I have my shirts, and I’m walking the city,” shared Penalosa.

“[I’m] going to all the main streets, the bars, and everywhere. Walking in the city is about listening. It’s about learning. It’s about sharing and repeating over and over and over. So that’s how I will spend my next 90 days.”

The mayoral campaign for John Tory, said the mayor is “laser-focused on the job he was twice-elected to do.”

“There will be plenty of time for campaigning in the coming months and it is not surprising to see other candidates join the race,” read a statement.

The municipal election will be held on October 24, 2022, and the last day to register for the mayoral race is August 19.

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