Eight Questions with 8 80 Cities Volunteers

In 8 Questions, 8 80 Cities asks amazing partners we’ve worked with, or amazing people doing amazing work eight questions about their passions, their history and their amazing-ness. And then we ask them to suggest a question for our next interviewee.

8 80 Cities Admin. & Communications Manager Camila Uriona,  spoke to some of the volunteers who consistently dedicated their time to volunteering with us during our 8 80 Streets Pilot Projects last year. We wanted to know them better and to get their perspective and feedback about the projects they got involved during the summer and fall of 2019.

Janet Joy loves to help. Ryan gets involved with the community and likes to make things work. Dave is very active and loves to give back and help others. Marie Anne, Gerry, and Audrey are community advocates and leaders who also want to contribute to improvements in their neighbourhoods and city.  Hadi is an Urban Planner from Teheran, learning more about North American cities while getting settled in Toronto. What they all have in common is volunteerism.

For us at 8 80 Cities, volunteers are the force that makes things happen when we embark on local and international projects like 8 80 Streets, or Macon Connects, as well as on smaller-scale projects like public life studies, and assisting with administrative tasks.

We talked to a few of the volunteers that helped us in our recent 8 80 Streets pilot projects in Toronto to get their thoughts as volunteers about the process and outcomes of the pilots.

  1. Can you tell us what you do for a living? How is an average day in your life?

Dave Edwards:  I’m a Senior Business Analyst in the Operations and Controls area of a financial institution.  In October 2019, I organized my first ever “Social Bike Ride“, which brought members of the community together on a 32km ride along multi-use trails in the east end.  Our lack of infrastructure in Toronto makes it near impossible to ride side by side or have a conversation while getting to your destination.  Most of the time we are forced to ride in isolation on the worst part of the road.  I believe we should have the infrastructure in place to let us ride worry-free while we chat with a friend or loved one. I wanted to give people a taste of what that feels like.

Janet Joy Wilson:  I have had two careers to date: Acting and Publishing. My third chapter in life is currently being written. Besides being a passionate supporter of 8 80 Cities, another of my passion projects is the Mattawa River Writers Festival/Festival des Écrivains. 2020 marks our fifth year where we celebrate Earth Day through the lens of literature.

Mohammadhad (Hadi) Ghiyaei:  I’m an urban planner, graduated in Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Tehran Art University, Iran. I’m working at 8 80 Cities as a volunteer, analyzing data. In addition, I’m working with Tehran Art University as an urban planning researcher.

Hadi painting planters to use as barricades during the Pineway pilot.

  1. What makes you donate your time as a volunteer?

Dave: I’m grateful for the job I have, but it doesn’t leave me fulfilled as volunteering can.  I’ve learned in life that the best way to find meaning is often through service, and volunteering is a powerful way to find a sense of community and personal happiness.

Janet Joy: I believe action speaks louder than words. If I see something, I say something and then I want to do something! It’s enriching, inspiring and encouraging to volunteer for organizations that cause your heart to expand.

Hadi: When I help someone by donating my time or knowledge as a volunteer, I will be satisfied with myself, and believe that someone will help me in the future (Karma). I also think volunteering helps me to organize my time in a better way so I can serve my community better.

  1. How did you get involved with our 8 80 Streets pilot projects?

Dave: I learned about 8 80 Streets Danforth through 32 Spokes, from Beaches-East York.  I was fortunate to spend many hours volunteering at 8 80 Streets Danforth and caught the tail end of the School Streets project on Mountview.  My experience volunteering at 8 80 Streets Danforth was one of the highlights of my summer.  I live in that area, and it was stunning to see how short a time it took to completely transform that portion of Danforth.  I made many new friends during my time volunteering, and I got to splash bright green paint for a bike lane all over an area of Danforth I’m usually hesitant to ride on. That was a dream come true!

Janet Joy: I have been following the work of 8 80 Cities and I raised my hand to help when I saw the post for a need for volunteers. As co-founder of The Reading Line, there is an alignment of our work. We produce Book Rides to make our city a better place one street and one book at a time by activating our community in public spaces with literature.

I’ve participated in data gathering for the David Crombie Park Revitalization Design, Vision Zero Pop-Up on Danforth Ave and the School Streets on Mountview.

I admire the expertise, thoughtfulness, skill and coordination of 8 80 Streets pilots, and I know the need for committed volunteers.

Ryan Pypher and Dave Edwards painting the bike lane during the Danforth pilot.

Hadi: I was introduced to 8 80 Cities by TDSB (Toronto District School Board), and after that, I got involved with 8 80 Streets (for the three pilots: Danforth, Pineway and Mountview). It has been great to be able to apply my international experience in the projects that the organization is working on.

  1. Tell us three things you loved about the projects you were involved in, and three things you didn’t like or think should have been approached in a different way.

Dave: On the Saturday of 8 80 Streets Danforth, I spent some time sitting on a new piece of street furniture with an elderly woman.  She was moving from one bench to another along the pop-up just because she normally never gets to sit down when she goes out!  I loved that the project made people feel more at home in their own neighbourhood; I loved the widening of the sidewalks. Giving people more space to walk or just sit and enjoy a drink gave the street a “buzz” that I never hear there; and, seeing a fully protected cycle track along a road that is usually either filled with snarling traffic or reckless speeding was what I loved most!

After reading so much about the project and listening to Amanda O’Rourke and David Simor speak about the challenges, most things I would do differently were things that weren’t allowed by the City of Toronto. I would have loved to see the pop-up stay up over the entire weekend (or forever) instead of 23 hours, and use the U-hauls the city required to park at either end of the pop up as information boards for the passerby to learn about the pilot.

Janet Joy: Being a part of the change; seeing the work behind the project; meeting inspiring people.

Hadi: I loved the concept of the projects, the very efficient timetable, and meeting great people. I would have used different methods for engaging the public in the projects.

Dave working with other volunteers working on the bike lane. Danforth Ave., August 2019.

  1. When we talk about volunteering on projects of this nature – projects that are proposing radical transformations of streets and mindsets – how easy or how difficult is the task when you talk to people and explain what you are doing?

Dave: I find showing someone something is far easier than trying to explain it!  The best part of the pop-up was that it gave me something local that I could point to.  Our culture is still raised on vehicle dependency.  Vehicle use is so ingrained in most people’s lives that I don’t think most even consider that there is an alternative way to design a street.  I often hear the refrain of “yeah, but that’s in such and such a city in Europe, we can’t do that here”.  This gave me the chance to pull up a picture of the Danforth and say, “Yes we can!”.  There is certainly a subset of people that will simply never change their minds about what a street is for, but I think pop-ups like this open the conversation to many people who are in the middle.

Janet Joy: I ride my bicycle everywhere as well as walking and taking transit. I do drive but only to get out of the city. I find it easy to talk to people as I know the value of community engagement as I’ve executed my own projects on the street. People just want information and 8 80 Cities is very good about sharing the message.

Hadi: It depends on the person that is working as a volunteer. I prefer to explain the project in the easiest way to the community and try to attract their attention and help them to be involved. It is easier when you love the project and the organization you are volunteering for.

Janet Joy helping with the engagement boards at Mountview Ave. Halloween, 2019.

  1. What is the change you want to see and are looking to support in Toronto?

Janet Joy: Our city is a vibrant place to live, work and play but the streets must be calmed, and actions must be taken during this climate emergency.

Dave: It’s no secret that there is an epidemic of reckless driving and road violence in Toronto right now.  There’s been an intentional reduction in police enforcement, and a lack of actual infrastructure change that truly aligns with Vision Zero guidelines.  I want to support and advocate for change that makes the choice to ride my bike or walk down the street stop feeling like a game of chance.  To do that we need complete streets with an integrated network of bike lanes, and faster, more reliable transit.  We need to provide people with good options to leave their cars behind.

Hadi: More public spaces, reduction in dependency on cars, social life in public spaces, people’s engagement in planning.

  1. We ask our interviewees to ask a question to the next one. This is Niklas Agarwal question: What would you say to someone who is just starting in your field? What’s one piece of advice you could pass along?

Dave: I think good advice in any field is to learn to admit when you don’t know the answer to something and have the confidence to ask for help from those who do.

Janet Joy: I used to say, I wanted to learn something every day. I still do! But I am more interested today in leaving behind a legacy for tomorrow.

Hadi: Just like the job that they are doing and believe in Karma. Try to be patient and hardworking. Try to learn new things and teach the experience that they have.

  1. What is your question for our next interviewee?

Dave: If you could change your career to a field that you love volunteering in, what would it be, and why aren’t you doing that?  (That’s a question I am asking myself right now)

Hadi: What is the easiest way to encourage people to be volunteer?

Hadi and the author of this post painting furniture. Pineway, 2019.

Join our mailing list.

Hear about how we are creating cities for all.

You have Successfully Subscribed!