Last in series of meetings held for 29th Ward community plan

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Austin and Galewood residents gathered earlier this month for the last in a series of three meetings to create a community plan, or sustainability roadmap.

The meeting, hosted by Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), was held at Austin’s Columbus Park refectory.

At the second meeting in early October, each group chose a creative name and discussed its vision for the community, which they further refined at this month’s meeting. Each team picked three practical items and one top priority to work on in 2014.

The teams are jobs and industry, healthy businesses, transportation, youth, education, cultural resources, peace and safety, and community beautification.

Ald. Graham and others stressed the importance of using existing community resources to accomplish the goals of the sustainability roadmap, such as fostering healthy businesses and working with youth.

“Some of the stuff we need to do has been put in place. We’re not working in this alone or reinventing the wheel,” said Graham.

The Rev. Reginald Bachus, executive director of Austin Coming Together spoke to the group about some of his organization’s highlights, many of which lined up directly with the new community plan. Austin Coming Together works with local groups and Austin residents to collaborate on early childhood, youth/education and the workforce.

Working on these things can change the story in Austin, said Rev. Bachus.

Andrew Born, directory of community planning for Austin Coming Together, called the roadmap impressive.

Like Ald. Graham, Born urged the group to take the work they’ve been doing to existing community groups.

But the community plan isn’t just about addressing problems; another focus is highlighting Austin’s assets.

Tom Drebenstedt has lived in Galewood for 14 years. He said most people don’t know about the landmark parks, historic districts and libraries in the community.

“We’re the western-most post of Chicago. We want to make sure the suburbs know what Austin is about,” he said.

His team is calling themselves “The Cultured Crew,” and they’re setting out to take an inventory of the neighborhood’s attractions – like the Austin Town Hall and Sankofa Cultural Arts Center – and find a way to spread the word.

Five-year Austin resident Charmin Edwards said this was the first meeting in the series she was able to attend, and she’s excited.

“People keep talking about problems, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can find the gaps and fill them in,” she said.

At the close of the meeting, Ald. Graham asked the group of around 50 people to shout out how the meetings made them feel. “Great,” “refreshing,” “enlightening” and “hopeful” were some of the words people said aloud.

The next step is to update the sustainability roadmap with the final meeting’s information and put out a document for public comment between now and January, said Graham.

“We have to figure out how to keep it moving. We can’t let it fall apart,” she said.

Going forward, team leaders for each group will hold their own meetings.

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