Residents discuss their vision for future of 29th Ward (Courtesy of Joanna Klonsky)

CHICAGO — Ald. Deborah Graham has convened the first in a series of community-based strategic planning sessions for 29th Ward residents to create an Austin-Galewood Sustainability Roadmap to foster healthy business districts and neighborhoods for the Austin and Galewood communities.

A crowd of 100 residents from the Galewood and Austin communities on Chicago’s West Side gathered in the Columbus Park Refectory the evening of September 4 for a two-hour “visioning session” to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future of the Ward. The meeting was facilitated by representatives from Accelerate 77, a program of the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the U.S.A. to encourage sustainable economic development throughout Chicago’s 77 community areas. The 29th is one of the first wards to embrace the program.

“We’re doing things a little differently in the 29th Ward,” said Ald. Graham. “Our communities don’t want or need a top-down plan developed and imposed on the residents. Instead, I wanted to help facilitate a grassroots, community-driven process that could yield a plan that everyone could feel deeply invested in and committed to.”

Meeting attendees were asked to envision what they wanted to see for the 29th Ward by 2015, and to discuss the common community values that united them. As part of this process, they were first asked to take an inventory of community strengths and assets, and then to list areas of concern and how things could be improved.

Among assets mentioned were improved street paving, parks and the addition of new trees.

Areas of concern included crime, drugs, too many liquor stores and a need for additional extracurricular options for youth.

Moving forward, residents expressed a desire for better community schools with modern technology, full service grocery stores, a community youth center, a new library, DIVVY bike stations, African-American history monuments, a Metra station and more.

Before adjourning, members volunteered to join committees that will strategize around focus areas such as jobs and industry, community beautification, schools and peace and safety, among others.

Two additional planning sessions are scheduled. The next meeting, which will focus on action planning around the Road Map, will take place on Wednesday, October 2 at 6:30pm at Shriner’s Hospital, 2211 N. Oak Park Ave. The third session will again be at Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd. at 7:00 pm, and will include a report on the Road Map. Future sessions will be scheduled to ensure continued community engagement in this grassroots effort to develop a shared vision for residents of the Ward, whether they live in Austin or Galewood.

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