UT Public Engagement Team Brings a Voice to Colony Park

April 19, 2014

The Colony Park Sustainable Community Initiative (CPSCI), funded through a $3 million United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Community Challenge Grant (the Grant) and administered by the City of Austin (COA), seeks to create a comprehensive plan for 208 acres of publicly-owned property in the Colony Park neighborhood of Austin. The project site, just north of Loyola Lane between Johnny Morris Road and Decker Lane, is adjacent to Overton Elementary School and the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center. The land offers a unique opportunity to meet the unmet needs of the community and provide a catalyst for economic development and growth for the Colony Park area.

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The University of Texas at Austin Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) took part in the initiative as a community steward bringing expertise in community engagement and public communications strategy to the project. In 2013 Dr. Laura Cortez (a former DDCE Graduate Research Assistant through the Gateway Scholars) was hired as director of the project to lead the Public Engagement Team (PET) and execute community engagement priorities through research, partnerships and programming.

“The work of the PET is extremely vital to making sure all voices are heard as development decisions are made,” explained Cortez. “We are tasked with informing residents of the planning process for new development in Northeast Austin and helping the community learn how to engage in healthy discourse as the CPSCI integrates its vision of converting 208 acres of prairie land into opportunities for live, shop, work and play.”

After months of surveying the community of Colony Park and the surrounding areas, the PET began efforts to provide the people of Colony Park with capacity building training to support community transformation goals and CPSCI plan implementation. These efforts have been carried out through a series of Community Planning Workshops, including, “Learn to Listen,” “Building Blocks” and “Scenario Planning.” In line with efforts to ensure all community members were engaged, the PET also provided simultaneous and culturally inclusive workshops in Spanish.

On April 14, after months of gathering community input, a draft master plan for the Colony Park project area was unveiled to the public. “Our outreach efforts have brought new participants to the table,” said Cortez. “We had the largest participation yet with 120 residents, and we saw a strong presence from Spanish-speaking, Latina/o families.” The UT Public Engagement Team guided community members through a “walkable” map to orient attendees to the proposed placement of shops, living units and green space. Residents also participated in small-group break-out sessions to answer the question: “What does this plan mean to our quality of life?”

Through continued engagement, Cortez hopes that the PET can continue to build trust, cultivate community trusteeship and keep Colony Park interests a top priority sharing that “one resident shared that they were grateful to the UT PET for inviting them to the workshop and recognizing them as residents living in Colony Park. They felt their voices had finally been heard. I feel very proud that we have found a way to bring all residents in Colony Park together and move this vision forward.”

For more information about Colony Park visit the City of Austin web site.

–Virginia Cumberbatch


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