2018 Distinguished Individual Award Winner

Gil Penalosa (Canada) - Presented at the 3rd World Urban Parks Congress, Melbourne, Australia

Gil Penalosa is an accomplished leader and inspirational speaker. Because of Gil’s unique blend of pragmatism and passion, his leadership and advice is sought out by many cities and organizations. Over the past ten years, Gil has worked in over 300 different cities across six continents.

As former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for the City of Bogotá, Colombia, Gil was an integral part of the city’s much celebrated transformation of public space and sustainable mobility during the late 1990s. Gil successfully led the design and development of over 200 parks including Simon Bolivar, a 113-hectare park in the heart of the city. Gil’s team also initiated the “new Ciclovia,” a program that sees over one million people walk, run, skate, and bike along 121 kilometres of Bogotá’s city roads every Sunday, and today is internationally recognized and emulated. 

Gil holds an MBA from UCLA's Anderson School of Management, where he recently was selected as one of the "100 Most Inspirational Alumni" in the school's history. In 2015 Gil received a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Faculty of Urban Planning at the prominent University of Sweden, SLU. In 2017 Gil was listed in Planetizen's Top 100 Most Influential Urbanists.

Gil Penalosa is a passionate advocate for creating more equitable, sustainable and liveable cities. Since his work as Commissioner in Bogota, Gil has spread his story and positive message of the power of public space transformation as a driver for social equity and quality of life for all.  He has travelled to over 400 cities around the world over the last 11 years advising decision makers and community leaders on the benefits of investment in sustainable mobility and parks and public spaces. In 2017 alone, he visited more than 42 communities. Known for his candor, humour, and ability to communicate complex issues in compelling and simple ways, Gil is just as comfortable and compelling talking to city mayors as he is in speaking directly with community members from diverse ages, abilities and socio-economic backgrounds.
Gil was the founder of the non-profit organization 8 80 Cities and creator of the 8 80 concept, a now globally recognized brand and ethos. It is the simple but powerful idea that if everything we did in our cities was great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old than it will be great for all people. 

Gil is masterful at making convincing arguments and telling compelling stories that highlight the importance of climate resilience, urban liveability and sustainability in a global context. Gil has directly inspired the creation of open streets (ciclovia’s) around the world, sparked renewed investments in parks and public spaces, and the creation of safe and accessible walking and bicycling infrastructure and more. 

Gil has also served as advisor on various boards of organizations that support urban liveability, such as World Urban Parks, City Park Alliance, Gehl Architects, Children and Nature Network, Streetfilms, Vision Zero Network, Project for Public Spaces, America Walks and others.  He has contributed many volunteer hours to participate in forums and discussions with global leaders on a world stage, with low-income communities and to local youth-led groups seeking leadership training opportunities. 

Gil has been an integral part of the development of World Urban Parks. His leadership as chair of the board has brought in membership from countries and organizations around the world. He was instrumental in the development of issue-based advocacy committees and has helped to define the role, objectives, and over-arching governance structure of the organization. Gil is not only an expert on the issues and challenges facing urban parks, he has practical experience managing diverse urban projects and is also a great leader and strategic thinker. 

In his travels around the world Gil is able to be the catalyst for many interesting projects and collaborations, often the connector of ideas and people.  Gil has been an advisor and contributor to many international conferences related to parks and open space and urban liveability for the last 10 years. He has been instrumental in developing key alliances and collaborations on international events with City Parks Alliance, National Recreation and Parks Association, and has represented World Urban Parks in many international congresses.