It started with a simple idea - to gather neighbors and share a meal around a table down the middle of an NYC block. After two years of the pandemic, it was time to get together and enjoy time with neighbors. When Maryam Banikarim, a long-time Chelsea resident and co-founder of NYCNext, posted this idea on Nextdoor in the spring, the response was overwhelmingly positive – nearly 300 people chimed in.
A few enthusiastic neighbors soon met for coffee to plan what would become “The Longest Table,” a community lunch open to all that took place on Sunday, October 16th on West 21st, an Open Street in Chelsea. The invitation was simple; NYCNext would provide the tables and chairs, and all neighbors were invited to bring friends and food.
Over 500 New Yorkers gathered on this crisp fall day at a table that stretched the length of West 21 Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Neighbors and friends of all ages came from around the city to participate. Local firemen, police and council representatives joined too. Some neighbors brought homemade food while others brought takeout from local restaurants. The sense of belonging shined through, as smiling neighbors greeted one another while they shared a meal.
“What makes this city amazing is the density and the diversity of people. It’s the people, the neighbors, that made this event possible. I am humbled that so many people participated in what was a dream. I believe that the way forward for New York is for all of us to come together at a grassroots level to make the city the best it can be,” said Banikarim.
There were several performances, including: Arkai Music, an award-winning duo with an electrifying violin and cello performance, the Myrena dance troupe, poetry from Torn Page and a reading by Neda Toloui-Semnani from her book, “They Said They Wanted Revolution: A Memoir of My Parents.”
“Open streets are designed to be used by all, creating safe spaces for all to get together. It’s what made this incredible gathering of neighbors possible, bringing much needed community to our neighborhood and our city. My hope is that this is just the beginning of many more events like this,” said Jim Saylor, a member of the organizing committee.
Additional activities included stoop portraits from NYC Salt, the local nonprofit that teaches youth photography. There was also a children’s corner with blankets, books, and toys, donated by the Buy Nothing Chelsea group.
“What made this event so special was the organic nature of how everyday New Yorkers came together to celebrate community around a block long table filled with food as diverse as those who filled the seats,” said Jerry Brandehoff, one of the lead organizers. “It really goes to show what we can accomplish when New Yorkers connect with one another to create something special.”
As Nathaniel Hawkins, a neighbor, put it, “They always say that New Yorkers come together in times of tragedy, but really New Yorkers come together every single day. This [event] really embodies the spirit of every New Yorker.”
Erik Bottcher, New York City Council Member for District 3, tweeted a video while at the event and said, “This is what open streets can do when you dedicate the street to people instead of through traffic or cars. We’ve got community members coming together to be together. Can’t beat that.”
The event was organized by a small but mighty team including: Maryam Banikarim, Jerry Brandehoff, Jim Saylor, Jesse Kranzler, Dara Wishingrad, Bonnie Edwards, Bridget Benson, Lara Mosko, Ken Marshall and Debbie Goetz.
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