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Big impact: Vision 2020 set for high profile summer projects

Published 5:00am Tuesday, April 23, 2013
As summer approaches Vision 2020 is planning several things that should give the movement a higher profile. Eric Johnson/
As summer approaches Vision 2020 is planning several things that should give the movement a higher profile. Eric Johnson/

Though the weather may not cooperate now, hundreds of volunteers are ready to get to work this summer on projects large and small. They’ll clean up the island in Mill Pond, build a stage in the downtown plaza area, do various housework for a northeast Austin neighborhood, help landscape the ditches and areas along the Interstate 90 corridor, and more. They’re Vision 2020 committee members, and they’re ready for arguably the first of many high-profile summers.

“That’s going to be some really exciting times,” said Sam Jewell, co-chairman of the Vision 2020 Waterways Committee.

The 10 committees that make up the community improvement initiative were officially announced on April 17, 2012, a little more than a year ago. In that time, committees have laid the groundwork for a lot of projects and goals through research initiatives and focus groups. Yet this summer will bring a lot of smaller projects into the limelight.

The Waterways Committee has committed to adopting Eastside Lake for the next two years, which means volunteers will walk the shoreline and clean up debris, along with organizing efforts to pull excess garbage from the lake. Jewell said there’s a possibility the group could partner with organizations like Rotoract to clean the Cedar River, as well, though the committee is more focused on policy-related issues.

One of the biggest projects could be cleaning up the island at Mill Pond. Waterways volunteers cleaned up most of the little patch of land this winter, and Jewell said committee members will likely go back later this spring to finish the job and plant native shrubs. There’s even a possibility volunteers will run utilities out to the pond, in order to light up the island with Christmas lights in the winter.

“We think that’s definitely something that will bring pleasure to the community and make it something that is more appealing to the public,” Jewell said.

Though the Waterways committee is working on even more projects, other committees will make splashes of their own:

—The Gateway to Austin Committee will organize a volunteer landscaping project to beautify the area around the Interstate 90 corridor, specifically the seven exits running through Austin.

—The Community Pride & Spirit Committee is planning a neighborhood clean-up project, called the Community Home Improvement Project, for homes at the 900 to 1000 blocks of Second, Third and Fourth Avenues Northeast. Volunteers will coordinate with Habitat for Humanity and do exterior home improvements, from painting houses to yard work.

—The Downtown Austin Committee will hold a stage dedication for the much-hyped downtown plaza stage at the end of May. Riverland Community College carpentry students are expected to start construction on the stage as soon as the weather permits.

Other committees will do more behind-the-scenes work. The Community Recreation Center Committee is conducting market research and focus group surveys to find out how best a recreation center could serve Austin residents. The Education Leaders Committee is planning to create an organization to help schools and the private sector connect in more ways. And the Community-Wide Technology Committee is planning for a feasibility study, to figure out the costs, funding sources and interest in bringing high-speed data fiber infrastructure to Austin, which could increase technology capabilities and Internet speeds a hundred-fold, according to committee chairman Chris Holt.

Holt said the project could turn Austin into a “Gig City,” meaning the project would allow residents, schools, businesses and local government to access technology at a gigabit-per-second, far faster and stronger than current online capabilities. That sort of work could cost millions of dollars, however, and Vision 2020 wants to make sure the community is behind the project.

“You’re talking a multiple-million dollar endeavor to bring fiber into every home in Austin, and it may be expanding into the county, as well,” Holt said.

Throughout the process, Vision 2020 volunteers have repeatedly been asked how they expect to accomplish such lofty goals. Though no one local organization is taking the lead, the committee process is showing strong results, according to Laura Helle, director of creative vision for Vision 2020.

“If you want to do something you haven’t done before, you have to have a new approach,” she said. “I think it’s served us well so far and has given the signal that this is not the same-old, same-old.”

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