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Austin Has $300K Available for Neighborhood Projects - Want to Build a Community Garden?

If you've ever taken a look around your neighborhood and had an idea for a project, this might be your chance to make it happen.

Right now, the City of Austin has a little over $300,000 for projects – and it wants to stretch this money even further by partnering with neighborhoods.

Right in the middle of the Highland neighborhood there's a sort of roundabout that is oddly shaped – it's a rather big space in the middle of the road.

For years, the space sat bare – until a neighbor bought a bench and left it there. Other neighbors contacted Justin Golbabai with the City of Austin's Public Works Department, asking if they could transform the space into a community oasis – and Golbabai hooked them up with a community partnership.

Credit Joy Diaz, KUT News
The "roundabout" the Highland Neighborhood recently transformed through a community partnership with the City of Austin.

  Walking through what's now a beautiful garden, Golbabai points to every improvement. "We've put in some of this furniture here, there's some park benches over there and, actually, this week the neighbors are going to be putting a large bird house on that utility pole," he says.

Some of the work and some of the money for the project came from the City of Austin. The rest came from the neighborhood.

Over in North Austin, Sabrina Joplin learned about these city partnerships when she wanted to start a community garden. She was also pregnant with her second child, so she figured she couldn't do this alone. Joplin was surprised to find that within about a month she had some 30 neighbors "that were really excited."

Joplin analyzes maps for a living, so she felt pretty confident she could use her skills when presenting a plan to the city for the garden. She also recruited neighbors with advertising, grant-writing and gardening skills.

Credit Adelphi Acre Community
An outline of the Adelphi Acre Community Garden.

Once the city approved Joplin's project, the time came to start writing grants. The process was long and very tedious at times – almost like having a second full time job. It took so long, in fact, that Joplin's due date was coming up. She remembers scrambling through all the requirements for one particular grant.

"We had the deadline for the grant October 1," she says. "So we turned in the grant [and] I had [my] baby seven days later."

After about one year of work, Joplin's community garden is still not finished –but it's close. She hopes it will be ready by the fall.

Public Works' Golbabai says there are lots of projects communities could submit for consideration.

"We've been reaching out to a lot of chambers of commerce and seeing if there is a way to get the business community involved, because some of these projects from a cost-sharing stand point may be a little intimidating [to] neighborhoods," he says.

The deadline to apply for the community partnerships is June 1. A second round of applications will be accepted later this year.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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