Thursday, September 25, 2014 at 1:40PM | Joe Nickol
Last century's general attempt to tidy up cities unintentionally removed many of the ways that we celebrate outdoor places, the fruits of our collective labor and the joy of living in neighborhoods. Thankfully, that is all starting to change. A rediscovered demand for sharing a meal together in both known and undervalued spaces has people clamoring to pop-up dining tables in cities around the world. It is proof positive of a shift from conventional mixed-use thinking to a more experience-based model as the core driver in building vibrant places and creating real value. Farm-to-table has reached a new level.
At neighborhood suppers, food is prepared on-site, usually hauled in by hand and prepared by the culinary artisans that will be feeding you that evening. It doesn't get more human scaled than that. Guests are seated next to strangers, sparking conversations that don't typically happen in conventional dining arrangements. Wine is served and music played. For many, this may be a whole new introduction to or way of thinking about their neighborhood or city. These events squeeze every bit of energy out of place and puts it on display for all to take part. The whole affair is a joyous celebration of the value of urbanism, even if you're not formally part of the dinner party.
This has exciting implications for how we develop partnerships and spark investment in places old and new. In old places, neighborhood suppers reintroduces all involved to a place, an empty storefront, a vacant lot or building, local food entrepreneurs, and presents a clear accounting of a place's health, allowing guests to confront the state of their cities. For new neighborhoods and districts, it gets people to pioneer out to a place that might be off their current radar. It helps redraw a mental map of a place to include the unique attributes being found or created in emerging places. Neighborhood suppers form an essential part of the programming "toolkit" in creating economic and cultural activity within a place. Having a seat at a really, really long dinner table can be the launching pad for new friendships, new ideas, new investment, and new traditions.