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Austin has its own plan!

It’s Our Time: An introduction to how the Austin community came to create their first ever Quality-of-Life Plan ‘called Austin Forward. Together,’ a set of comprehensive strategies for a neighborhood renaissance.

By Darnell Shields, Executive Director for Austin Coming Together

Despite being Chicago’s second largest population and largest geographic area, the Austin community has struggled with a lack of investment and support, battling a prevalent image of crime and violence. But I was raised here and I know that we’re ready for change now, more than ever. The people of Austin are its greatest asset and if we work together, we can make lasting improvements to the community.

In 2010, a small group of community leaders recognized a need to harness the collective power from within the community to address issues and better coordinate efforts for systemic change in Austin. With this foundation, Austin Coming Together was formed to be an advocate for unity, commitment, transparency, collaboration, and action.

In consideration of these values, I’m proud to announce that throughout the last 20 months, over 400 residents and community stakeholders were gathered to specifically discuss how Austin can best move forward together. The culmination of all that hard work and dedication is a Quality-of-Life Plan (QLP) created and owned by the Austin community called Austin Forward. Together (AFT). We were excited to unveil Austin’s first ever QLP on Saturday, December 15, 2018 at the “Austin Forward!” Community Summit at Michele Clark High School. A performance by the Austin neighborhood Children’s Choir kicked off the momentous occasion, and the public got copies of the plan.

ACT is a backbone agency for collective impact, guiding a unified vision and value driven strategy for Austin. So when we were offered the chance to work with the community to record their vision in the form of AFT, we jumped on board.

AFT is a proven structure with a comprehensive set of strategies for improving a community, tailored to local needs and desires. The economic development organization Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has helped facilitate 24 previous QLPs since 2000 via its New Communities Program, garnering more than $872 million in new investments aligned to support community visions in neighborhoods across Chicago.

“This is how capacity building at the community level is taken to the next level. By bringing together stakeholders, residents and civic leaders, communities can define a vision for themselves in their own neighborhood, and feel empowered to take ownership over their futures,” said Jake Ament, director of LISC Chicago’s Neighborhood Network.

In each neighborhood, a designated lead agency — a local community-based organization — brings together a diverse group of organizations and residents to identify priorities. Austin Coming Together (ACT) was chosen as the lead agency for the Austin Forward Together plan due to our solid track record of community involvement.

As a collaborative of over 50 organizations, we were able to leverage current relationships and spearhead efforts to convene Task Forces comprised of community residents, ACT members, and leaders from local and citywide organizations. ACT’s unprecedented efforts to create synergy among community members resulted in a steering committee of 20 leaders dedicated to upholding core values of unity, commitment, transparency, collaboration and action. With support from LISC and ACT, the steering committee gathered hundreds of local stakeholders at three Community Summits to listen to what they felt were Austin’s needs and priorities.

With the massive planning stage now complete, it is time to release the long-awaited plan and mobilize for implementation, the structure for which is detailed on the following pages. The Steering Committee will aid the Chairs of seven Task Forces, one for each of the seven Issue Areas in AFT. Between two and seven strategies were identified for each Issue Area and specific actions have been prioritized for each strategy. While ACT will assist with project management infrastructure for the neighborhood governance of the plan, a total of 46 local leaders are being mobilized to guide the implementation of 80+ actions over the next five years.

Austin Forward. Together (AFT) is a product of brainstorming and research, conversations and outreach, hard work and growing relationships — but in order to actualize its 23 strategies, community collaboration is critical. We ask that you join us as we move forward together and transform our community into a new Austin for us all!

LEARN MORE: To get updates on AFT progress, sign up for ACT’s emails by completing the form on the bottom of our website.