Austin residents participated in the third annual On the Table

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More than 40 West Side residents gathered Tuesday night at MacArthurs to talk about how to improve Austin.

The discussion was one of more than 3,500 held May 10th across Chicago and the suburbs as part of The Chicago Community Trust’s third annual On the Table.

The idea behind Tuesday’s discussions: “Elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and create a unifying experience.”

Members of the South Austin Neighborhood Association (SANA), who celebrated the group’s 1-year-anniversay with birthday cake, identified four issues they’re most concerned about – crime/safety, litter, jobs/unemployment and recreation – then they brainstormed possible solutions.

One person said the way to improve strained relations between Chicago police and the community is to require officers to live in the neighborhoods in which they work.

Terry Redmond, who helped start SANA, said litter continues to be a big problem, even in the vacant lot near her home that she and others have worked to keep clean. She recounted with some disbelief seeing someone in a car with New Jersey plates pull over, get out of the vehicle and throw garbage into the lot.

Her husband, Lee Redmond, said trash strewn about a neighborhood sends the wrong signal; it’s a sign that it’s not worth investing in the area.

“If no one cares about your area, then why should someone else?” he asked.

One elderly resident said begins each day by picking up garbage outside her home: “I’m 86 years old, and I shouldn’t have to be out there every morning picking up their garbage.”

Another woman responded by saying it comes down to each person taking responsibility: “What can I do? It’s all about accountability. Where can you start? Where can I make a difference?”

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin agreed, saying “we have to deal with issues or they’re going to deal with us.”

But he stressed the importance of making sure there are jobs for people, especially ex-offenders, young adults and high school dropouts. “We’ve got to give them opportunities.”

That’s an issue that Boykin has been pushing.

Earlier this week, he tried to block a proposal to develop the old Cook County Hospital, saying if $500 million could be spent on the project, then there should be more money available to give young people summer jobs this year.

“I don’t have any problems with redevelopment. But we had 50 people shot and eight killed this last weekend. Our house is on fire. . . . It’s a question of priorities,” Boykin said at a press conference covered by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Tuesday night, the first-term commissioner questioned why government officials have not done more to support the West Side.

“Why has there been little or no investment for 50 years on the West Side? You have to ask yourself, ‘Why not?'”

Austin and other West Side areas must get their fair share, he said. “This is your government – and your taxpayer money.”

Boykin urged the group to hold their elected officials – “me included” – accountable. “Make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to.”

29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro also attended the event.

Ron Reid, a co-founder of the 7-year-old Central Austin Neighborhood Association (CANA), said the biggest issue is economic and job discrimination. Some Chicago areas – like Austin – simply don’t get the same level of resources and government support as other neighborhoods.

He said there are a number ways this disparity can be measured, like how many times the city cleans streets in one area versus another, and how quickly – or slowly if at all – police respond to 911 calls.”

All of this is about resources and economic racism, he said. His wife agreed, saying  people have to demand that attention be paid to their neighborhood.

Financial investment in Austin is critical, said Serethea Reid, another co-founder of CANA.

“We are only asking for what everyone else gets.”

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