We are a multidisciplinary team passionate about cities for all people.
Amanda O’Rourke is the Executive Director of 8 80 Cities. She has over 20 years of experience leading strategic planning, partnership development, and managing high-impact teams. She has led diverse equitable mobility and public space projects in cities and towns in North America, Europe, and Australia. Amanda is a sought-after thought leader, writer, speaker, and experienced facilitator. She enjoys working collaboratively with city governments and community partners to make it easier for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to walk, bike, take public transit, and build a sense of belonging and connection in public spaces. Amanda holds a Master of Science in Urban Planning from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology from Queen’s University. She is Co-Chair of the Children Play and Nature Committee for World Urban Parks, an Advisory Board Member to Healthy Places By Design, and a proud mom to three energetic kids who inspire her work and continually inform her approach to city building and placemaking.
Director of Programs and Development
Shannon is a multidisciplinary urban designer and community development planner who has spent more than a decade working in collaboration with communities across the globe. She has extensive experience managing projects and developing policy and best practice frameworks working with citizen groups, local governments and NGOs in North America, West Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia. Before returning to Toronto, Shannon was based in Jerusalem, working on issues of contested urban space and raising her young daughter.
In her role as Director of Programs and Development, Shannon brings strong project management, community engagement and facilitation, applied strategic and systems thinking, storytelling, research, and analysis skills to the organization, as well as a passion and skill for urban design. Shannon has created audio and performative urban art installations using the intangible elements of memory and culture to question public space and the forces that have shaped it; this work has sparked dialogue and attempted to create future urban possibilities. Shannon holds a MSc in Building and Urban Design from The Bartlett School of Planning at University College London and a BA in Development Studies and Economics from McGill University.
Manager, Communications & Admin.
With more than ten years of experience in communications and administration in the not-for-profit sector, Camila leads 8 80 Cities’s communications strategy tied to the organization’s mission, vision and strategic goals. As part of her admin role, she supports her team in the logistics of projects and programs and works closely with the Executive Director and the Manager of Finance to push the organization forward in alignment with its strategic goals.
She is great at establishing solid and trustworthy relationships with vendors, service providers, clients and her team.
Camila is also a published writer and performer.
Outside of work, you’ll find her exploring Ontario’s small towns and cities, antique markets and bookstores.
Deborah joined 8 80 Cities in June 2021 and brings with her more than 20 years of experience in the non-profit, public, and for-profit sectors. With a keen eye for budgeting, the day-to-day details of accounting, fiscal management, and reporting, Deborah brings her sharp attention to detail in helping non-profits succeed.
Raised in both Toronto and Northern Ontario, and later living in such diverse places as Paris, the Bahamas, and small towns in and around North America, she brings a unique perspective and approach to city building and what makes places livable.
Deborah is currently pursuing training and certification in the two-year Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program (MMTCP), certified by the Awareness Training Institute and the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
When she is not working with numbers or studying, Deborah enjoys hiking, photography, painting, and clay sculpture.
Project Manager (On maternity leave)
Jiya Benni joined 8 80 Cities in April of 2021. A great believer in the power of collaborative planning and placemaking in city-building, she is passionate about creating equitable, sustainable, and resilient cities. Jiya holds a Master’s in Urbanism from TU Delft, The Netherlands and a Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Kerala, India. Outside work, you will find her writing on her blogs ‘Contemplating Urban Matters’ and ‘Patient Caterpillar’, making collages or taking long walks and hikes with her partner. Jiya is currently on maternity leave.
Jayne grew up in Scarborough, where her passion for transit and public space equity increased. Jayne is a graduate of the MScPl program from the University of Toronto and has since worked with over 30 communities across the United States and Canada to co-create community action and placemaking quick action plans. Jayne is passionate about winter communities, and her first task with 8 80 Cities was to pen the Winter Placemaking Guide alongside valued partners AARP. Jayne has presented to international audiences on diverse topics, including the power of pop-up projects, all things winter, building pocket parks, the importance of public life studies and how to measure success in public space.
Joanna is a community and cultural planner and engagement strategist. She has over a decade of professional experience working in community health, youth services, and the immigration and settlement sector – working closely with LGTBQAI+ newcomers, youth, and artists across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).
Her expertise in frontline work and service design shapes her approach. She draws on her experience in facilitation, popular education, and managing multi-stakeholder projects to develop equitable services and city-building processes. Her research has made significant contributions in the field of queer of colour space-making and diaspora studies and is featured in Northwestern University Press’s “Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries” (2017) and the Marvellous Grounds online journal (2023). She holds a Master’s in Environmental Studies in Planning from York University.
Beyond her professional role, Joanna is an artist and musician, showcasing her Filipino heritage through visuals, sounds, and instruments on international stages.
Tennesha is an urban planner and nighttime safety advocate who has recently joined 8 80 Cities. In 2021, Tennesha was selected to participate in 8 80 Cities’ 2021 Ontario Community Changemaker (OCC) program and has since created her own public space initiative, Are You Afraid of the Dark T.O?, where she explores how to create public spaces that are welcoming and safe for women & girls at night using LED-lit seating installations. Her installation has been featured in a laneway in Brampton, ON as part of Activate Downtown Brampton and Downtown Kitchener’s first-ever pop-up park.
Tennesha believes in creating cities that reflect the diverse needs and lived experiences within them, especially that of women and youth. She is passionate about finding new and exciting ways to make public spaces more accessible, day or night. When she isn’t curled up with a good book, she loves venturing out to the trails and public parks in her local community, especially at night. Tennesha holds a Bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Toronto Metropolitan University.
Chair & Founder
Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa is passionate about cities for all people. Because of his unique blend of experience, pragmatism, and passion, many cities worldwide seek his leadership and valuable advice. He has worked in over 350 cities. Gil is the Founder and Chair of the successful Canadian non-profit organization 8 80 Cities, and the founder of Cities for Everyone. In 2022, Gil ran for mayor of Toronto. In 100 days, he got 100,000 votes and changed the conversation. Currently, Gil is an academic chair at the Norman Foster Institute for Sustainable Cities, as well as an Expert Advisor to the International Society for Urban Health. Gil was elected twice as chair of World Urban Parks. He holds an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and received a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Faculty of Urban Planning at Swedish SLU. In 2023, Gil was selected by Identity Review in 15 Thought Leaders in Sustainable City Development and voted to Planetizen’s Top 100 Most Influential Contemporary Urbanists at #13.
Rafael Vargas is a seasoned international business professional who brings over 20 years of experience in trade and international business. He has cultivated strong relationships with partners in diverse sectors across Canada and has helped Latin American companies successfully tap various opportunities in the Canadian market. Rafael has extensive experience organizing high-level government trade missions to Canada and abroad, identifying strategic business opportunities, and delivering exporter training programs. Rafael holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a postgraduate degree in Dairy Science and business management from the University of Wisconsin, USA.
Nadha Hassen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, in partnership with Park People. She is a public health and environmental studies scholar focused on healthy and just spaces. Nadha’s community-engaged research explores health and social equity in different environments and takes an interdisciplinary approach focusing on intersectional anti-racism. Her doctoral research examines the experiences of racialized people in Toronto’s public greenspaces and the links to well-being by exploring concepts like equity, access, safety and belonging. She has a PhD from the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (York University) and a Master of Public Health from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (University of Toronto). As a health researcher, she has worked at both policy and community levels and enjoys working at the intersections of research, policy, and practice.
Kay Matthews, since 2011, is the Executive Director of the Ontario BIA Association representing 300+ BIAs in Ontario. She has spent 20+ years in BIA management, 10 years in an Urban BIA and 5 years in a Rural BIA. Having worked in the Heritage and Arts sectors in Mississauga for 10 years, this brings her total Community Development experience to more than 30 years. Kay has overseen three Accessibility Projects for OBIAA, the Investment of BIAs Project and Ontario’s Digital Main Street Grants Project. Kay speaks at various events, facilitates Strategic Planning and teaches Governance to BIAs. Kay additionally has organized and executed large-scale events such as the Bread and Honey Festival, Mississauga’s Carassauga and Santa Claus Parades and the annual BIA Conference.
Judy Noordermeer is a marketing and communications leader with more than 25 years of experience developing innovative communications and marketing strategies that drive social impact. As Director of Communications and Partnerships at Wellesley Institute, a non-partisan think tank, she works to improve health and health equity in the Greater Toronto Area. Prior to joining Wellesley Institute in 2023, Judy worked for high-profile employers in the non-profit health, research and academic sectors, including the University of Toronto, SickKids, Ronald McDonald House Charities Toronto and Arthritis Society Canada. Her track record in branding, corporate communications, digital marketing, media relations, advocacy, fundraising and event planning has earned her more than 10 national and international awards. Judy holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies, from the University of Waterloo and a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University.
Suelyn Knight is a passionate equity and inclusion transformation leader and optimist with a combination of non-profit, public and private sector experience. She is a human rights educator and supports law enforcement, corporate and non-profit organizations in building relationships with communities, creating fair and healthy workplace culture and policies, and promoting equitable service delivery while fostering inclusive leadership.
Currently, she is the Manager of Global JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Strategy and Operations. She also served as the Executive National Advisor with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police leading the development of a national strategy on the collection of identity statistics to help mitigate and address systemic racism while building trust within communities. And previously, Suelyn led a team of subject matter experts on driving progressive and inclusive change in as the Unit Commander of the Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights Unit with Toronto Police Service, where key initiatives included the Gender Diversity and Trans Inclusion Project and the Workplace Well-being, Harassment and Discrimination Review. She continues to serve organizations and leaders in building inclusive modernization strategies.
Shannon is an urban planner with over 8 years supporting development planning, public engagement, project, and program development. Her experience enables her to successfully steward equitable urban change with multiple stakeholders, including community organizations, businesses, and municipalities. Shannon is most proud of her art-based community engagement project called “Humans of Connections” which used audio, storytelling, and photography to capture the narrative of resident experiences in Toronto Community Housing’s closure of 132 units in her community. This project was the starting point for her career in planning and engagement. Shannon has supported and led initiatives such as the Jane Finch Mall Redevelopment, where she supervised a team of 15 Community Animators who facilitated discussions with ~2,000 community members through one-on-one conversations, walking tours, working sessions, community-wide virtual events and “Open Door” sessions. Shannon has been a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto and her alma mater, York University. She has been a member of the Ontario Community Changemakers Advisory Board since 2021 and is also a part of the Selection Committee for the One City Scholarship, an award which celebrates the resilience of Toronto’s youth.
David is the Director of the Urban Studies program at the University of Toronto. His teaching, research and advocacy focus on supporting city-building and access to planning tools for communities and individuals who have historically been marginalized from this work. His current projects include (1) working to use co-design methodologies to improve housing for independent refugee youth and (2) documenting and learning from grassroots initiatives in food and health justice during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, São Paulo and Brighton, UK. He is an active member of the Moss Park Coalition working to advocate for policies and programs to ensure that current Moss Park residents are part of the planning and vision for this rapidly changing neighbourhood. He is originally from Seattle where he worked in an emergency shelter for homeless youth. He came to Toronto to pursue an MA and then PhD in Geography at the University of Toronto.
Throughout his career, Gil has been a strong advocate for improving city parks, making his first mark in Bogotá, Colombia, where he led the design and construction of over 200 parks – including Simon Bolivar, a 113-hectare park in the heart of the city. His team also radically transformed the Ciclovia / Open Streets – from a program of few kilometres to one that sees over a million people walk, run, skate and bike along 121 kilometres of Bogotá’s city roads every Sunday of the year, and today is internationally recognized and emulated.
Because of Gil’s unique blend of experience, pragmatism and passion, many cities and organizations seek his leadership and valuable advice worldwide. His work intersects with several fields: transportation, public health, urban planning, parks and recreation, public realm, urban design, education, and economic development.