Planet in Focus Names Jennifer Keesmaat, Dr. John Francis as 2018 Eco Heros


By Pat Mullen

Toronto’s Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival announced today that Jennifer Keesmaat and Dr. John Francis are its Eco Heroes for 2018. Keesmaat, the former Chief Planner for the City of Toronto and CEO of Creative Housing Society, is set to receive the festival’s Canadian Eco Hero Award while American environmentalist and activist Francis will be honoured with PiF’s International Eco Hero Award. Both honourees are strong advocates for cities designed for human behaviour, rather than vehicular activity. They often fight for the rights of pedestrians and the ideals of a walkable city, both of which are often overlooked in conversations limited to cyclists and motorists.

Keesmaat recently made headlines when she published an opinion piece in The Guardian that tackled the City of Toronto’s failure to create safe designs and transportation practices for residents. The article came in a response to a wake of deaths and accidents in which pedestrians and cyclists were struck down by vehicles on Toronto’s congested streets. Keesmaat has also been an outspoken voice in controversial debates, like the conversation of keeping Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, the dizzying and outdated highway that gives gridlocks scenic views of the CN Tower. She’s also an advocate for smart housing, having raised concerns over plans to develop the Greenbelt in place of available land. In 2018, Keesmaat assumed the her role as CEO of Creative Housing Society, a non-profit group that aims to ensure affordable housing as cities like Vancouver and Toronto become prohibitively expensive for many residents. PiF will honour Keesmaat in a pre-festival fĂȘte on Thursday, October 19 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

While Keesmaat is known for being outspoken, Francis has a reputation of a man of few words. The Philadelphia-born and California-raised Francis took a vow of silence in 1973 to encourage his community to listen to others, rather than argue. He was motivated to do so after using his feet as his primary mode of transportation and growing weary of having to argue with people who questioned the practicality of his alternative to fossil fuels. His vow of silence lasted a remarkable 17 years and ended on Earth Day 1990.

Throughout his journeys on foot, Francis completed a PhD in Land Management from the University of Wisconsin–Madison following an impressive walking tour that took him to Montana for a Master’s. Francis has put his reputation as the “Planetwalker” into books and used his experience as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Francis will receive his Eco Hero honour during PiF’s closing night event on Sunday, Oct. 28.

PiF previously announced that advocate Rachel Parent will receive the 2018 Rob Stewart Youth Eco-Hero Award.

The 2018 Planet in Focus Film Festival runs Oct. 25 to 28 in Toronto.