(Photo by Albert Hong)
The national conversation around our cities’ civic assets — and the investment of restoring them — has a starting point in Philadelphia with the Knight Foundation’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative, which has since been translated to four other cities, including Chicago.
Well, now it’s our city’s turn to learn from a program that Chicago, specifically the Chicago Community Trust, implemented back in 2014. It’s called On the Table, and the Philly rendition of the now-national initiative is taking place May 23.
On the Table started in Chicago as a day on which community members would gather around a table for a meal, coffee, drinks or whatever to discuss local issues and share ideas that they believe would strengthen the community as a whole — whatever that self-described community may be.
Knight apparently really liked the idea: The organization put up $1.15 million in funding to bring the program to 10 other cities where it invests, including Philly, where the Philadelphia Foundation is helping to organize the day.
"Food is a cultural common denominator that’s proven to break barriers."
The idea is that foundations will benefit from getting closer to everyday Philadelphians, and those participating will benefit from getting ahold of the funders’ ears to share what issues they’re most interested in having promoted and supported.
“We’re saying that food is a cultural common denominator that’s proven to break barriers,” said Patrick Morgan, the Philadelphia program director for the Knight Foundation. “We’re hoping that the act of breaking bread and having that dialogue not only fosters new relationships but helps get people around a shared table, around community challenges, opportunities and issues.”
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Morgan said the foundation is looking to host up to 100 different conversations around the city with eight to 12 people at each — and anyone can host one. (We at Generocity are hosting our own.)
While the idea of having important conversations over a shared meal is nothing new for Philly, the hope for On the Table is that it will be able to provide more insight and answers that can “cut across cities,” with data being collected at the end of every conversation taking place, Morgan said.
Through stories, thoughts and ideas that participants share via a post-conversation survey, a summary report will compile the themes that are discussed at each conversation (similar to this report the Chicago Community Trust put together from its 2016 On the Table event that gathered surveys from around 55,000 people).
“We’re a growing city,” Morgan said. “Everybody has a part in shaping that future.”
Here are some sample questions you might ask on May 23:
- What positive characteristics or qualities does our community embody? How could we use these to better our collective future?
- What are the top needs of our community? How can we individually or collectively address those needs?
- How can we work together to improve the chances of more people doing well in our region? How do you define what “doing well” means?
- What data or information about my community would I like to have that I’m not getting?
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