Austin Group Wins Millions To Bring Community-Driven Projects To Life

Austin Group Wins Millions To Bring Community-Driven Projects To Life

Under a new program, the city will be directing $750 million to develop the South and West sides over the next three years.


AUSTIN — Under a new program, the city will be directing $750 million to develop the South and West sides over the next three years, Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently announced. And now corporations are backing the plan, too.

The city’s INVEST South/West program aims to align the city’s planning department with corporate and community partners to invest in 10 community areas on the South and West sides. The announcement coincided with the first corporate backer of the initiative, BMO Harris Bank, donating $10 million to the United Way of Metro Chicago’s Neighborhood Network program, which works to reduce economic disparity and create inclusive growth in neighborhoods.

The bulk of the donation will benefit the Austin neighborhood and will be implemented by neighborhood group Austin Coming Together. The group will use the funding to implement the revitalization strategies outlined in the Austin Quality of Life Plan that was released in late 2018.

Austin Quality of Life Plan

The Austin Quality of Life Plan is a blueprint built from community-driven strategies that aims to tackle key issues in the neighborhood including economic and workforce development, housing, education and public safety.

The cost of implementing the plan just within the central part of Austin is steep, estimated to be around $100 million. But with the new funding, Austin Coming Together will be able to implement the strategies and development projects that residents have identified as their own top priorities.

“Instead of one megaproject that an outside person says, ‘This is what Austin needs,’ we want to see dozens of projects in housing, in the business corridors, in social service programs, in transportation, in job creation… so it’s a bottom-up approach,” said Jose Rico, chief partnerships and initiatives officer at United Way of Metro Chicago.

“The city investment is really important because they’re going to be able to do some infrastructure work,” Rico said of the $750 million the mayor committed to the South and West sides.

But he said the neighborhood-driven hyperlocal projects facilitated by Austin Coming Together and the Neighborhood Network are essential for helping the community’s businesses, organizations, schools and families gear up to be able to take advantage of those improvements.

“What this money is going to be used for is to increase the capacity of residents from Austin to do dozens of economic development projects. So then there could be increased ownership and wealth generation in Austin by residents in Austin,” he said.

Austin Coming Together Executive Director Darnell Shields said the inflow of funding will allow the organization to make tremendous strides in achieving the goals laid out in the Quality of Life Plan.

Shields hopes that by focusing on some key projects, the community will be able to strategically invest their portion of the $10 million dollars and use it to “create sort of a windfall to be able to attract the other $90 [million] that is needed … to bring even more development even beyond the central area of Austin.”

Emmet Elementary redevelopment

One of the projects Shields has his eyes on is the redevelopment of Emmet Elementary School, which was shuttered in 2014. The school facility was purchased by the West Side Health Authority in 2018 and became a focal project of the Austin Quality of Life Plan as a way to revitalize two commercial corridors in the neighborhood that intersect with the school — Central Avenue and Madison Street.

The plan would transform the school into a community center that offers career development programs, vocational training, entrepreneurship resources and apprenticeships for high-demand fields like health care and manufacturing.

“It would actually create opportunity around employment and training and access to different supports that would help individuals really start to change their economic situation,” Shields said.

Austin Coming Together is also looking at other projects that would reinvigorate Central Avenue, along with Chicago Avenue, one of the major east-west business corridors in the area. Shields said developing those avenues is key for improving the commercial viability of Austin, but also for fostering a unified identity for the community with a new streetscape.

The goal is to have the corridor “be a central draw for everyone in the community,” Shields said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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Introducing José Rico, Director of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Greater Chicago

Introducing José Rico, Director of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Greater Chicago

Racial inequity is one of the most destructive remnants of an anachronistic tradition in this country, resulting from the implementation of policies and systems of oppression that have adversely impacted individuals and communities of color for generations. There are few places this inequity is more rampant than in Chicago, a place that has consistently and completely maintained that inequity through racially unjust policies and targeted disinvestment. An assessment and acknowledgment of this truth, coupled with racial healing and transformation is needed to begin to dismantle the systems that uphold racial inequities.

Woods Fund Chicago invites you to join us on a journey to eradicating these racial inequities.

Since June 2017, Woods Fund Chicago has been serving as the administering and lead organization for a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) effort called TRHT Greater Chicago. The TRHT is a comprehensive, national and community-based process to “unearth and jettison the deeply held, and often unconscious, beliefs created by racism”.  Support for the effort was provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF).
TRHT Greater Chicago is anchored by a group of individuals representing diverse sectors and backgrounds who first coalesced at the WKKF TRHT summit in December 2016. Following the summit, this group submitted a successful application to WKKF to support a TRHT effort in greater Chicago. The mission of TRHT Greater Chicago is to proliferate healing and equity within individuals, neighborhoods, and communities to change the race narrative to fuel transformation, erase the belief in racial hierarchy, and drive towards racial equity.

TRHT Greater Chicago will create regional transformational change in four areas: truth and narrative; healing; law and policy; and youth. Each was the focus of an individual working group or “design team” during the planning phase from August 2017 to March 2018.

Based on the collective aspirations of the design teams, an overarching vision emerged: We envision Greater Chicago to be a region that holds promise for all; a region whose residents have embraced racial healing and equity and rejected the false construct of racial hierarchy – believing and knowing that all people have equal value and worth; and a region where equitable policies are in place. In this new reality, cross-generational, racially and ethnically diverse people of Greater Chicago, feel safe to enjoy the comforts of a peaceful, safe, supportive, and empowered existence.

View the Strategic Framework synopsis to learn more.

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