Residents work on plan for a sustainable Austin

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Austin and Galewood residents gathered at Shriner’s Hospital in Galewood last week in their next step toward a more sustainable 29th Ward.

This meeting was the second of three hosted by Ald. Deborah Graham (29th). She’s inviting residents to brainstorm how the ward can become more sustainable. Residents created a vision for their community at the first meeting in September.

At last week’s meeting, participants divided into different groups – transportation, jobs and industry, healthy business, cultural resources, peace and safety, community beautification, and youth and education.

Each group was required to choose a creative name for itself, add more visions to its concentration, identify what the community already has and decide how to support new additions.

The cultural resources group renamed themselves “cultured crew” and decided Austin needs a “destination point” – something to attracts people from other neighborhoods.

“Most people come to Austin to go to funerals or church. They need another reason to come here,” said Malcolm Crawford, owner of Austin’s Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center.

One group member suggested facilities that could be good “weekend trip” destinations, like a nature center.

Divvy bikes were immediately mentioned in the transportation group and suggested that stations could be sprinkled throughout Austin. The Divvy web site shows there are no stations in Austin. In fact, the city’s bike-sharing program doesn’t stretch further west than Humboldt Park, and city leaders haven’t made it a priority to include Austin.

The transportation group talked about creating safer intersections, particularly on busy North Avenue. Group members agreed these busy intersections are significantly dangerous for senior citizens.

Some suggested the city needs more countdown timers and should make crosswalk paint more visible.

Austin had Chicago’s second-most fatal intersection in 2011, according to a city crash analysis report.

The food group said there needs to be more full-service grocery stores. A recent AustinTalks story highlighted Austin’s lack of grocery stores.

Meanwhile, participants at the youth table said teens should participate in these discussions. They agreed it would help them identify with the community and allow them to join something proactive.

Residents want to identify the “male and female adult leaders” for the children to better understand what neighborhood kids are facing, which could help with the ever-present issue of gangs and improve overall public safety.

Ald. Graham said she wanted to have these meetings after attending a sustainability conference last summer. Accelerate77 is helping to facilitate the meetings.

Accelerate77 held meetings for the city’s four quadrants last year, but program coordinator Nina Winn said the Austin/Galewood area is their first in the city to hold sustainability meetings on its own.

“Clearly, this is a community that is really passionate about where you live,” Winn said to the group.

Winn said Accelerate77 pushes community members to head up the vision and planning process. That’s the only way, she says, people will care to see a project all the way through.

“We want the community organized first before we invite citywide partners,” she said in an interview.

Crawford, Sankofa’s owner and head of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, said he appreciates Ald. Graham’s efforts to organize but hopes these visions stick. He said he’s been to similar meetings in the past for Austin but never saw any real change happen.

Barbara Spencer, who’s lived in Austin 35 years, said the same thing. She said Austin used to be a beautiful when she first moved in; she wants to see the community look like that again.

And she’s willing to take part in the transformation process.

“We don’t want to just run away from here,” she said.

The final meeting in this series will be 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at Columbus Park Refectory. This meeting will focus on how the community wants to see the vision unfold in 2014.

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