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What’s an ARC Civic Dinner Like? Stories from Two Hosts

A Civic Dinner
The Atlanta Regional Commission is rolling out a new way for people to get involved in our regional planning efforts.

They’re called ARC Civic Dinners. These are structured conversations, shared over a meal, where every voice matters. Guests talk about key regional issues— mobility, livability, and prosperity.

Anyone can host, and ARC collects the input as we update the Atlanta Region’s Plan, our long-range blueprint to ensure metro Atlanta’s future success.

 Sign Up Today!

What’s it like to participate in an ARC Civic Dinner? We talked to two members of ARC’s Global Advisory Panel, who shared their experiences.

“People Can Speak Freely.”

Carlos Perez, a 36-year-old planner who lives in Midtown, hosted three Civic Dinners in 2017.

Carlos Perez

Why Civic Dinners?
I was really intrigued by the whole Civic Dinner platform. Going to friends’ houses and having dinner, drinks, or just hanging out — it’s something we regularly do, right? Why not make a difference while you’re at it?

This offered the opportunity to have what could have been difficult conversations while doing something we regularly do anyway. It’s a format that relaxes people.

How was it having strangers to dinner?
I can see how it could be challenging at first, but if done through a friends-of-friends approach, you can slowly start opening people up to the idea that here is an atmosphere in which people can speak freely.

How will you carry this experience forward in your own life?
I’m a planner, and when working on a project, we often hear about people’s concerns at public meetings and forums. But sometimes, the voices on one side are just going to come out in fuller force and be noisier.

The Civic Dinners allowed people to feel comfortable expressing themselves openly—quieter voices I maybe haven’t heard from in those “public meeting” settings. And it made me consider this format, and how to carry it forward into my own work, as a way to hear from a true diversity of voices. I’d definitely be interested in hosting one again.

“Our Voices Matter.”

Caroline Magee is an attorney who is also a priest at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Tucker.

Caroline Magee

What interested you in Civic Dinners?
I love the idea of church as a way to engage your wider community in a hopeful manner, but how to do you bring more people into that conversation and have it be more than an academic exercise? Civic Dinners are doing that.

How was your experience?
The Civic Dinners were so well-organized. I like that the conversation kits came with specific questions for us to consider, so it wasn’t just this “Let’s solve the problems of the world” thing. It brought voices in that otherwise might’ve thought their opinions didn’t matter. And I Iike that the ARC is collecting this data to inform their work.

People care so much about the community, but they don’t know how to get involved, and think that what they say doesn’t matter. Here, you find allies, so that’s energizing.

What was the scene like at your Civic Dinner table?
It was so powerful. I had a really eclectic group of people—just different races, ages, and experiences. You know, the amazing thing about Atlanta is that you can drive five miles in any direction and be somewhere else.  And, [in my group,] everyone, to a person, said, “It is just so great to get out of our silos and meet people I might not otherwise have met.”

How will you carry this experience forward in your own life?
My friend and I are talking about getting another group going in Clarkston—with that international community there. Sometimes, being in another space, you get to appreciate and observe, and learn. I think if anyone’s even tempted to do a Civic Dinner, you should find a friend and plan it together. It’s so easy, you will not regret it.

Want to get involved in a conversation that matters? Learn all about ARC Civic Dinners and sign up to take part here!