Baxter Swilley, Director of Legislative & Public Affairs, at The Oak Park Regional Housing Center, speaks to a group of AFT plan leaders in Sept. 2023 about the Austin United Alliance and their plans for reviving and redeveloping the landmark Laramie State Bank site into a functioning bank, business incubator, and mixed-income housing.

Going into 2023, the Austin community has found itself at a crucial moment. With the Austin Forward. Together. (AFT) quality-of-life plan entering its fifth and final year of implementation, many key projects and developments are rapidly advancing Austin toward a full transformation and a flourishing future. And I’m proud to see that many of these efforts are led by residents, community stakeholders, or local organizations who have answered the call to get involved in the ongoing activities laid out in the AFT plan.

Jermaine Abdual, owner of Spirit & SoulCatering Company, speaks about food access inequities at Rosie’s Peace in the Valley Garden during the post-film discussion at an outdoor movie and food event hosted by the Austin Eats Initiative in July 2022.

In celebrating the progress of the Austin renaissance, it is important to remember where we started. Five years ago, nearly 500 Austin residents and community stakeholders came together to define what they felt were the community’s most glaring needs and priorities. This profound display of community ownership ultimately gave life to the Austin Forward. Together. (AFT) quality-of-life plan, the definitive set of goals created by and for the community designed to address 23 strategies with 84 total actions across seven Issue Areas between 2019 and 2024: Community Narrative, Education, Housing, Youth Empowerment, Economic Development, Public Safety, and Civic Engagement.

Donnita Travis, Founder and Executive Director of By The Hand Club For Kids, speaks about the North Austin Community Center at the Jan. 2023 Austin Community Summit (photo by Maria Romero Luther).

Community ownership leads the way. By enabling community residents and stakeholders to leverage the Quality-of-Life planning process, they feel empowered to create permanent, dynamic change. When our community feels heard, they have power. That power then becomes motivation to get and stay involved. Quality-of- Life plans like this have been created in other communities, but they have not built the level of momentum that Austin’s plan has.

Moving forward, we must continue to work as a community, decide as a community, and act as a community. For many decades, residents of Austin have faced a collection of challenges, many of which have prevented them from gaining sufficient access to extremely basic resources. Though many leaders have stepped up and volunteered their time, more is needed for the AFT plan to be fully achieved. 

The change we’re creating together is being done by Austin and for Austin.

The Youth Empowerment Task Force of the AFT plan, representing a handful of local organizations, hosted a Youth Job Fair in April 2022.

Today, the community perseveres to stay ahead in improving its own quality of life. These days, we’re not just merely surviving but are instead moving toward stability. With all that is in the works, this moment is helping the community remain on the path to thriving.

If you or anyone you know would like to get involved in the Austin Forward. Together. (AFT) quality-of-life plan, please contact AFT Lead Organizer Ethan Ramsay at