Story by Joanna Wilson (Courtesy of the Akron Empire)
The event on Sunday was one effort–among many–to extend the awareness and discussion about the upcoming closing of Akron’s Innerbelt (Rt. 59) and re-imagine the space for the betterment of our city.
What was 500 Plates? It was 500 Akron residents gathered together around one dining table to share a meal and a conversation about the future of our city’s Innerbelt space. Ideas were shared and written down by discussion leaders at each table.
The 500 Plates project was the idea of Hunter Franks from the League of Creative Interventionists in San Francisco. He worked with Akron’s League including David Swirsky and the idea got funding from the Knight Foundation. 500 free tickets for the dining event were made publicly available and the event took place on Oct. 4th. Yes, the meal took place on the Innerbelt itself! What a weird and rare opportunity it was to enjoy a meal on a freeway!? But it worked–and the weather was perfect! People from all of the 22 Akron neighborhoods came together to share their experiences and their vision for our future. What a gathering!
The video is by Amani Abraham from WAKR.
I heard early on that tickets were “sold out” soon after they were made available. But a friend who had tickets urged me to get on the waitlist and I’m glad I did. A week before the event, I was contacted about waitlist tickets and I got them! I ended up sitting just three or four tables from the end–but it was worth it. (If you can’t tell from the photos–there were 63 dining tables lined end-to-end for seating down the middle of the Innerbelt to host 500 guests.) It was a spectacular event.
If you didn’t attend 500 Plates, it’s not too late to join the discussion about the future of the Innerbelt. You can share your ideas on social media using the hashtag #500Plates or #AkronInnerbelt. Or, you can share your ideas at Neighborland.com/akron/innerbelt
Everyone who came to 500 Plates also received a tote bag and a ceramic plate. Each plate has a favorite recipe provided by someone from one of our Akron neighborhoods on it. The custom plates were made by local artist Eva Kwong. During the meal, we also enjoyed live music by The Admirables.
And, Ace Epps from BMe Community and the Akron Urban League opened and closed our meal with two poems he wrote just for the event. I bumped into Ace after the event–and he gave me permission to share the opening poem Food for Thought. I think it captures the creative spirit of the 500 Plates event and the meaning behind it as well.
“Food is the universal language that connects people
The rich and the poor; the plate sees us as equals
The central activity to all mankind
Over one meal we learn as we dine
Feeding on our differences creates common ground
Together we eat as new friendships are found
Instant rapport as relationships run the world
A cultural exchange for every man, woman, boy and girl
Fork hits the lips while the mouth sparks conversation
Sharing our experiences invokes celebration
Life without each other is like a meal with no food
While focusing on our different neighborhoods sets the mood
From Highland Square to Arlington and Summit Lake
People coming together with hopes to collaborate
Food can look beautiful, taste exquisite and smell great
As we build better communities starting with 500 plates.”
Still to come are these markers created by Dominic Falcione of Rubber City Fab. One will be placed in each of our neighborhoods to continue the dialogue about 500 Plates and our city’s future together. Dominic told me that he hopes they’ll be up by the time it snows. So that shouldn’t be too far off, I’m guessing!