1000 Dinners Toronto aims to spark municipal politics conversations

A group of Torontonians is trying to get the city's citizens more engaged in municipal politics by appealing to their stomachs.

Anyone can sign up to host a dinner on Oct. 7 as part of the 1000 Dinners Toronto project

A group of Torontonians is trying to get the city's citizens more engaged in municipal politics by appealing to their stomachs.

They've created 1000 Dinners Toronto to get people together to discuss ways to improve the city over a bite to eat.

"It is food for thoughts," reads a draft version of the group's FAQ.

Any Toronto resident can sign up online to host a dinner on Oct. 7. The dinner can be a home-cooked meal at the person's residence, a catered affair at a chosen location, a community centre potluck or a meet-up at a restaurant with guests splitting the bill.

The organizers — a high-profile public relations company called Navigator — hope each dinner will have 10 or fewer guests per table to ensure that every participant's voice is heard.

“While Torontonians think about who they want to represent us at City Hall, let’s not just ask who. Let’s ask what," says Jaime Watt, the chair of the event and the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd.

"What can we do to make Toronto an even better city? Host a dinner on October 7 to talk about it with others, tell us your ideas, and we’ll share them with all of Toronto to see.”

Guests will be encouraged to chat about ways to improve Toronto on a community, neighbourhood or city scale. The organizers will provide hosts with some sample discussion questions ahead of the dinner.

One guest will be responsible for taking notes and submitting feedback online.

The organizers will then compile and analyze the responses, which will be publicly shared. Some of the feedback will be presented to the mayoral candidates on Oct. 16 at a mayoral debate hosted by CBC Toronto.

The organizers are not affiliated with any of the individual campaigns in the election.

The 1,000 dinners concept was inspired by a similar initiative in Chicago. In May residents there were asked to come together and share ideas about how to improve their city. Organizer Cheryl Hughes appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Friday and said almost 12,000 people took part.

"It was a really energetic day," she told host Matt Galloway. "People were thrilled to be able to talk about the future and to share what they thought would help."

Ideas presented in the conversations were boiled down to six ideas. One involved creating a "sister neighourhoods" program that works similar to the concept of sister cities.

"[The idea was] what would happen if neighbourhoods, block by block, adopted other neighbourhoods and developed relationships with each other that were long-term commitments to each other," said Hughes.

"What we heard over and over again is that we won't continue to be a vibrant city unless we learn to care about each other as much as we care about our own neighbourhoods and our own communities," she said.

Hughes said people in Chicago who took part in the conversations felt empowered by the ability to talk in a positive way about how to improve their city rather than focusing on the negative issues that might divide them.

"People were really inspired by these conversations and they're enthusiastic about doing it again," she said.