CityLab7 at One Year

I'm delighted that CityLab7’s new friend, Jacob, has allowed me to share a portion of our recent email exchange, as his thoughts so astutely address the topic of this week's meeting—and the questions with which we’re grappling.
Jacob commented to me that he is drawn to the fact that food is an organizing principle of CityLab7’s work, writing, “I do enjoy food, and think about it a lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it in quite such a central way. It makes sense, though, and especially interesting to hear about your own evolution in thinking from connective tissue to the social experience. No great revelation to notice that food is central to how people interact with one another, but somehow so easy to forget and exciting to think about all the same, and the idea of deliberately centralizing food as a civic engagement tool is something different and really interesting. Part of the allure to me of your Market Meal experience is that it counts among the coolest ideas that I have so far absolutely failed to explain well to anyone."
We certainly didn’t start here, though food has always been a part of our dialogue and quickly became incorporated into what we do together. In fact, food was a siren song for us, something seemingly obvious (we’re all foodies who love to eat) yet elusive (yeah, but so what?) that continues to call out over and over again. In fact, during our Farmer's Market exercise at our Pause Retreat in Portland, we so much enjoyed what we were doing with food—shopping, preparing, cooking, documenting, measuring, and telling stories—that it felt too much like fun for us to believe that this could be more than an indulgent exercise.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that we’re here today, funded for a second time and looking to find ways to bring people and food together. And, in bringing people together, it shouldn’t go unmentioned that this includes the seven of us. During the past 12 months, we’ve experienced a very creative and often testing process. We’ve all felt frustrated and lost from time to time, wondering if we’d be able to trust in the strength of our group against an undelineated path and a sometimes elusive goal.
This morning, we came together yet again, fueled by questions. When we say connective tissue, what and who do we intend to connect? How can we leverage existing resources around urban and local food, and bring value to the system in a new way? How can we better define and describe our goals around shared meals as a community-building activity? What is the ultimate value and benefit behind what we do? Should we be starting small and focusing on how we bring strangers together over a meal, or should our focus be more broad? Where is our sandbox to test out all these ideas?
In attempting to define our purpose, our goals and the path that we'll take us there, we’re about to begin a scoping and visioning phase that will last approximately three months. During this time, we will look to our friends and partners like Jacob to challenge us along the way. And, of course, share a meal or two.
Happy one year anniversary to CityLab7, and to our friends both new and old: welcome to the table.