Austin Coming Together unveils quality of life plan

June 5, 2018
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Photo by Briana Shields

The long-awaited quality of life plan being worked on by dozens of West Side residents for more than a year was unveiled Saturday at the third and final community summit.

About 150 people, including 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts, attended Saturday’s meeting, held at Michele Clark High School, with many of them providing feedback on the plan.

The five-year plan identifies key challenges the community faces and breaks down actionable steps to address each area; it also notes how the community’s already existing assets can be tapped along.

The draft unveiled last weekend was the culmination of 16 months of work by community members, organizers and activists organized by Austin Coming Together and supported by LISC Chicago.

“It’s basically a blueprint that the community creates, to be able to help leverage and attract more public and private investment, better coordinate services and build that into policy change,” said Darnell Shields, Austin Coming Together’s executive director.

Austin Coming Together held its first community summit in July 2017. There, over 200 residents, elected officials, and community leaders narrowed the focus of the plan to seven key issues: education, public safety, civic engagement, economic development, youth empowerment, housing and community narrative. Each issue was assigned to a task force run by Austin community leaders.

The second summit was held in December 2017. By that point, the seven working groups had come up with over 400 action items, which were narrowed with the help of community feedback to just 74.

On Saturday, the committees presented further distilled plans of action that will be again revised with the feedback they received from the residents in attendance. Austin Coming Together hopes to publish the final quality of life plan in September.

Crafting the plan is just the first step in a long process. Reaching the stated goals will require the help of many community members and organizations, as well as outside investments of capital and labor.

“In community organizing, there’s organized people and there’s organized money,” said Jose Abonce, a community organizer with Austin Coming Together. “The planning process itself, what’s that doing is organizing people.”

Some residents who have been working for years toward the development of Austin said many challenges lay ahead to make the plan a reality, though they’re hopeful there will be success.

Robbie Moultrie, 78, has lived in Austin since 1968. It’s where she bought her first home and continues to run a block club. However, she left Austin briefly while raising her daughter, though maintaining her residence, because she was afraid to let her daughter play outside.

“I want to see Austin in a better light. I want other people to see it in a better light … I want to see less of our people leaving the community to go shop elsewhere, to go to a movie elsewhere or rent a venue for a social event elsewhere.”

Moultrie said she has more faith in the quality-of-life plan than she’s had in past community organizing projects because “they’re involving more of the civic leaders … You have some organizations who are putting some interest in it.”

While Austin Coming Together doesn’t provide direct services, the group facilitates organizations and individuals that do; it has 60 member organizations that they hope to engage in the implementation of the quality-of-life plan.

“Once we have a plan, we can leverage the plan and provide them with an avenue to support us with their resources,” Abonce said. “So instead of having an agency come in and say, ‘Hey I’m gonna do this,’ we can go to them and say, ‘Hey, we have a plan already. How can you support what the community has said they wanted?’”

Al Stinson, 45, also expressed hope the plan will succeed where other efforts have failed.

“A lot of things still remain the same,” said Stinson, who’s lived in Austin for over 20 years. “I’m not a real big hope person because there’s a lot of false hope … but this is an opportunity to create hope for a better community.

“We need a plethora of resources, and it takes a village to move what we’re doing.”

Abonce said Austin Coming Together is “looking to build on the work that’s already been done … It wouldn’t be possible without them.”

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