Ald. Deborah Graham

Abandoned buildings, scant public art and a lack of viable businesses were among the concerns raised by Austin residents at a recent community development forum hosted by Ald. Graham (29th).

Austin and Galewood residents gathered Sept. 4, at Columbus Park Refectory, 5710 W. Jackson for the first of three planned forums to craft a development plan for the 29th Ward.

Residents discussed what they’d like to see improved in the neighborhood, but also what they currently like. Accelerate 77, a Chicago initiative to develope sustainable communities, is helping facilitate Austin’s effort. Sponsored by the Institute of Cultural Affairs, Accelerate 77 entails long-term economic and environmental planning for all 77 Chicago communities.

Graham said she was inspired by this effort and decided to jumpstart it in Austin. Coordinators for Accelerate 77 attended the Sept. 4 session. Austin is one of the first communities whose plan thy’re helping to develop, coordinators said. Community sustainability, they said, focuses on social, economic and environmental dynamics of a neighborhood.

“It’s like my grandma used to say — leave it better than you found it,” said Nina Winn, program coordinator for Accelerate 77.

Participants discussed what they are proud of, which issues are most critical and their vision for the year 2015.

Gathered at a table in the back of the refectory, residents said they were proud to get the city’s recycling program this summer, noting, however, that neighboring 37th Ward has had recycling for years. The neighborhood garden at Frederick Douglass Academy High School is another source of community pride, residents said.

But concerns about the ward were also raised.

The abundance of abandoned buildings in the neighborhoods was one. The strong sewer smell on some blocks was another, as well as the lack of public art in the community. An absence of viable businesses was also noted. These concerns echoed that of other residents in attendance, many of whom have lived in Austin for decades.

This first meeting involved creating a vision for the ward. The concerns fell into eight categories: jobs and industry, health, youth, peace and safety, cultural resources, transit, schools and community beautification.

“As we continue to see the plan come together, when we see the first draft of the document, we will be proud,” Graham told the group.

Once the city’s new ward map takes effect in 2015, Galewood will become part of the 29th Ward — it’s currently in the 36th Ward. Graham encouraged the group to stick together to see the plan through, since this is “just in the beginning stage.”

At the upcoming October forum, Austin and Galewood residents are slated to create a road map for achieving the goals laid out at the Sept 4, session.

If you go

  • The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Oct. 2 at Shriner's Hospital, 2211 N. Oak Park Ave.
  • The final planning session is scheduled for 7 p.m., Nov. 6, at Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson.