The South Austin Neighborhood Association (SANA) recently led a roundtable titled “Community Talking Circle: Our Problems/Our Solutions,” as part of their civic education and engagement initiative.
Residents gathered on the lower level of Friendship Baptist Church, 5200 W. Jackson Blvd. in Austin, with their chairs aligned in a circle, to talk about their concerns and to discuss potential solutions to their problems.
The discussion began by setting a standard of respect so that everyone’s voices and opinions could be heard and respected. Only the person with the “speaking stick,” an orange daisy, could speak. Others could provide their own opinions and feedback only when the speaking stick was passed to them.
Among the topics discussed, many residents brought up the trash that lines neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
“We need more cleanliness and pride in our streets,” community resident Seccoyah said. “We also need more trash cans along the main streets for people to use.”
Others agreed that the presence of trash along business corridors is disheartening and some called for the Department of Streets and Sanitation to service the area more frequently.
Aside from the trash concerns, other residents expressed frustration with 3-1-1, the non-emergency services hotline. Many said that requests they’ve put in with the city ranging from overgrown trees to crumbling sidewalks and curbs have gone ignored for years.
Community resident James was particularly frustrated with an overgrown tree causing damage to his home in Austin that has cost his family thousands in repairs over the years.
“We’ve had limbs fall on our home causing damage,” James said. “It’s impeding our electric lines. We constantly put in requests and we just get ignored,” said James.”
Resident Seccoyah also said that in addition to trash, getting 3-1-1 to remove an intrusive tree limb has largely gone ignored.
“The few times they did send someone out to check it out, they cut maybe a branch or two but never the whole limb,” she added.
SANA president Cassandra Norman called for civic education programs to be brought into local communities. She noted that as a volunteer polling official, she often sees folks blindly vote for elected officials, because they aren’t familiar with the candidate or their office.
“We need to start in the schools, so these kids get familiar with the voting process,” said Norman. “We also need more community education, as well, so active voters can get familiar with candidates before they head to the polls.”
The roundtable ended with many residents agreeing that there needs to be more accountability for alderpeople and more pressure should be applied to city officials.
The next roundtable date has yet to be set, but South Austin Neighborhood Association members said many more of these community circles will be held.
Editor’s Note: Many residents preferred that we not publish their last names.