Austin and Galewood residents gathered at Shriner’s Hospital in Galewood Oct. 2 in their next step toward creating a more sustainable 29th Ward.
The second of three community meetings hosted by Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), residents brainstormed on how to improve the ward. Fostering businesses and educational opportunities are among their ideas. Residents met in September to create “a vision” for their community.
Jobs and industry, transportation, and community beautification, were among the topics discussed Oct. 2. The round-table format has residents breaking off into smaller groups to tackle specific topics. The goal is to identify what the community already has going for itself and also support new improvements. On the topic of cultural resources, residents said Austin needs a “destination point” — something that attracts people from other neighborhoods.
“Most people come to Austin to go to funerals or church. They need another reason to come here,” said Malcolm Crawford, owner of Austin’s Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center.
One idea residents had been places people could go for, say, weekend trip, like a nature center. Concerning transportation, residents would like to see the city’s Divvy bike program in Austin. The bike-sharing program, where people can sign up to ride a bike at designated stations for a fee, has no stations in Austin, which has more residents that any other neighborhood in the city.
In fact, the program doesn’t stretch further west than Humboldt Park, and city leaders haven’t made it a priority to include Austin. Safer intersections, particularly on busy North Avenue, are also needed — especially for elder residents — residents said. Other ideas included more countdown timers at intersections and more visible paint at crosswalks.
According to the city’s crash analysis report, Austin had Chicago’s second-most fatal intersection in 2011.
The residents said more full-service grocery stores are needed. Concerning the youth, residents said that teens should be included in these discussions. That, they said, would help youth identify with the community and allow them to join something proactive. Identifying “male and female adult leaders” for kids is needed, they stressed, to better understand what youth are facing, such as gangs and violence.
Crawford, who’s also executive director of the Austin African-American Business Networking Association, said he appreciates Ald. Graham’s efforts to organize but hopes these visions stick. Crawford recalled attending similar meetings in the past for Austin but never saw any real change happen.
Barbara Spencer, who’s lived in Austin 35 years, agreed.
Austin, she recalled, used to be beautiful when she first moved in. She wants to see the community look like that again, and she’s willing to take part in the transformation process.
“We don’t want to just run away from here,” Spencer said.