Columbus one of 10 cities chosen for civic engagement project

Columbus’ first Knight Cities Challenge winner, Minimum Grid,” will help connect midtown and downtown with alternative transportation opportunities.
Columbus’ first Knight Cities Challenge winner, Minimum Grid,” will help connect midtown and downtown with alternative transportation opportunities.

Columbus is one of 10 American cities chosen to take part in a civic engagement initiative being funded by the Knight Foundation, said Betsy Covington, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley.

The initiative is modeled on the Chicago Community Trust’s signature civic engagement initiative, called On The Table, which brings residents together in small mealtime conversations to talk about ways to make their neighborhoods stronger, safer and more dynamic. The Knight Foundation has pledged $1.15 million to expand the program to 10 cities.

This expanded, national On the Table initiative will involve community foundations in 10 cities where Knight invests — Columbus; Akron, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Lexington, Ky.; Long Beach, Calif.; Miami; Philadelphia; and San Jose.

“The expansion of On the Table will help create a national network of people who are working to make our communities stronger and more successful, while sharing lessons about how local residents can collaborate on pressing challenges,” said Lilly Weinberg, Knight Foundation director for community foundations. “With community foundations leading the effort, the information gathered through this initiative will tap into residents’ interests and aspirations, informing decisions about new investments and engaging local decision-makers.”

Each city will schedule one day on which they will convene thousands of residents to share both a meal and ideas on how to make their city a better place to live and work, while tackling pressing community challenges and fostering opportunities for addressing those challenges— such as race relations, affordable housing, urban design and public space improvements. Data and insights from On the Table aim to help inform strategic planning by participating community foundations. Data may also be shared with local decision-makers, organizations and residents to encourage them to collaborate on actions that can improve the quality of life in their city.

This initiative builds on the success of The Chicago Community Trust’s annual On the Table initiative, which launched in 2013. In 2016, more than 55,000 Chicago area residents participated by eating meals together, discussing pressing community issues and brainstorming ideas for addressing those issues. The Trust used data from On the Table to inform the development of its comprehensive strategic plan and to elevate community voices among policymakers and through mainstream and social media. In spring 2016, Knight Foundation supported an On the Table symposium in Chicago, where more than 60 individuals from 40 cities, 25 states and Canada learned about the Trust’s initiative.

“This act of coming together has never been more important, and we are thrilled by Knight Foundation’s investment to support the expansion of On the Table conversations in 10 communities across the country,” said Cheryl Hughes, senior director of civic engagement at The Chicago Community Trust. “When we come together as a community with a shared commitment to listen, we learn from and with each other. That’s what this initiative is all about.”