Sometimes when we discuss public leadership, we might not think of how these accompanying skills and values look in practical, everyday terms. NPR recently highlighted one example taking place this fall in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
On a recent evening, an abandoned gas station with a curb blocked by cement barriers is the meeting point for a group of people who appear to be pulling chairs and tables from the trunks of their cars. It's almost dark. Some boxes are set on the sidewalk; linens and dishes and food are pulled out; and what moments ago was an eyesore has been transformed into a popular place to eat. It's called BYOR. That stands for "bring your own restaurant." It's not quite an established venue, but the food is very good.
It's free to those who share. And the ambiance is unexpected, as the outdoor location keeps changing. People learn where BYOR is going to be via Facebook. In the mild weather, it's "open" every other weekend. No reservations required — just an appetite and some extra chairs if you have them.
BYOR started out of a frustration with limited restaurant options in Holyoke. The town's depleted economy has taken a toll on many businesses in the Holyoke community, and with crime picking up, many community residents have elected to withdraw from community life in hopes of staying safe. As a consequence, local restaurants close promptly at 5:00 to minimize their losses. When a couple wanted to attend an art opening and grab dinner beforehand, they could find no open restaurants. So they created their own, eating a home-cooked meal outside near the art gallery.
BYOR has since grown from its humble, simple beginning. The most recent BYOR gathering had over 40 attendees cooking and eating dinner in a public location. BYOR's success has largely been a consequence of its visibility. One participant was drawn in by others who literally took their food from the outdoor site to the streets, enticing drivers with some of the food. Each gathering takes place in a different location, with the goal of discovering the community and engaging more residents in the event. Participants, while getting to know each other and enjoying new friendships, are also pursuing another goal: demonstrating a demand to local restauranteurs for authentic, good, local food.
This example of community-based leadership demonstrates the power and scope of public leadership. While the founding couple could have chosen to ignore their dissatisfaction with restaurants or to complain (probably unsuccessfully) to local officials, they took matters into their own hands. By engaging various others within the neighborhood, they create their own dinner table and restaurant and effectively make their own community.