Building on our strengths

Published 8:01 am Sunday, February 15, 2015

When Vision 2020 got started back in 2011, there were some guiding principles that the Steering Committee used to start the process. One key principle was to focus on leveraging assets in the community.

Sometimes, communities come together to address a problem. The conversation starts with negatives, things that aren’t working well. We chose to start with community assets. We observed the power of this perspective in Dubuque, Iowa. The enVision project there drew new volunteers and new energy from the community by starting with a focus on assets.

Specifically, our miles of trail in the city that can be used by pedestrians or bicyclists inspired a vision to expand the system and encourage multi-modal transportation throughout our community. That has further evolved to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists and to encourage youth and adults to make walking and biking part of day-to-day life.

The daily traffic passing through Austin on I-90 inspired the Gateway to Austin vision. The Gateway committee is addressing a variety of ways to make Austin more inviting for visitors to take one of our seven exits and experience the community. Strategies range from building a Visitor’s Center to improving the visual appeal of the overpass bridges to providing more way-finding signs to direct visitors to attractions.

The Community Pride and Spirit vision captured the heart of our community — something that is vividly illustrated by the annual Paint the Town Pink events, to name just one example. The Pride & Spirit group works to strengthen that pride by encouraging volunteer service, random acts of kindness and mentoring programs such as Peer Power Partners and Science Fair Mentoring. They partnered to create CHIP which helps home owners repair and maintain their homes while connecting with neighbors and other community members.

Austin’s geography literally centers on the Cedar River because the city grew up around a mill powered by the water. The Embrace and Maintain Our Waterways vision focuses on fully leveraging the Cedar River, as well as Dobbins Creek, Turtle Creek and other bodies of water. We can enhance our own quality of life and attract visitors by improving the quality of the water and creating more opportunities to recreate in the water.

The strong business community in Austin inspired a vision for making Austin a Business Friendly Environment. We are building on our strengths and developing a stronger culture of entrepreneurship so that we can attract businesses to move to Austin and so that we can nurture local talent and ‘home-grow’ new businesses. Programs such as Austin Area Business Forum, Small Business Development Center and Community Concierge are serving businesses and encouraging new business development.

Is Austin a perfect community? No. Do we face serious challenges? Yes. But in the end, will we do better if we focus on the assets and strengths available to us right now? Yes. We are starting with a strong, healthy, proactive community with incredible resources. Some of our resources are geographic, some are financial. By far our most powerful asset is our people. We have talent, heart, energy and vision. If we continue to work together, Austin will become a better place for all of us.