Austin and Galewood residents invited to develop sustainability roadmap

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Ald. Deborah Graham is launching a community-based planning process that will involve 29th Ward residents and business owners in creating an Austin-Galewood Sustainability Roadmap for fostering healthy business districts and neighborhoods.

The process begins Sept. 4th with a visioning session at the Columbus Park Refectory.

“This will be a community plan, not an aldermanic plan,” Graham said in announcing the planning initiative at a 29th Ward meeting held Aug. 14 at Shriners Hospital. “We will all work together to create a plan that represents our thoughts about what we would like to see in the ward.”

Ald. Graham has asked the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the USA (ICA) to guide creation of the Austin-Galewood sustainability roadmap.

ICA is in the third year of a five-year program called Accelerate77, which aims to identify, connect and accelerate community-level sustainability initiatives in all 77 community areas in Chicago.

ICA representatives Karen Snyder and Nina Winn were on hand last week when Ald. Graham announced the new economic development initiative.

Winn told the audience that in using the term “sustainability,” ICA underscores how “everything is connected . . . economic, environmental and social.”

“It’s about thinking local, putting money into the community and creating jobs locally.”

Last week’s shareholders meeting was intended in part to help create a foundation for the upcoming ward-wide planning process by inviting city experts to talk about zoning regulations and business improvement grants.

Three top officials from the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development presented the zoning and business support information: Zoning Administrator Patricia Scudiero, Deputy Commissioner Mary Bonome and Annie Coakley, a specialist in business improvement programs funded under Tax Increment Financing (TIF), such as the Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF).

Questions from the audience of approximately 65 residents and business owners included one about what kind of job-training programs might be available for unemployed residents of the Ward.

Although the TIF-funded job-training programs primarily are made available to businesses, labor organizations and associations, Ald. Graham said she would ensure that representatives from workforce-training program funded by TIFs would be at future meetings to provide additional information.

In response to a question about whether nearby municipalities such as Oak Park and Berwyn would be included in the Austin-Galewood planning, the alderman said they would, but that residents of Austin-Galewood first want to focus on their own community’s needs.

“We have to pull up our own bootstraps. We want to change our community from the inside out, and we’ve got to work together. At some point we will all come together, including other communities,” Graham said. “We all want the same thing. We all want a safe community, quality education and good jobs.”

The Sept. 4 Austin-Galewood planning session will start at 7 pm. Two additional sessions have been scheduled so far: Oct. 2 and Nov. 6.

Graham said she expects additional sessions will be held in subsequent months.

Smaller working groups also will be established to focus on specific issues, and once the community-created plan is developed, monthly team meetings will be held to assure that it is put into action, Graham said.

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