Building Strong Communities
From restaurants to barber shops, clothing stores to a travel agency, an antique shop to event spaces, beauty/nail salons to insurance companies, custom shops to shoe shops, convenient stores to gas stations, the Austin Chamber is on the move! Located on the West Side of Chicago, Austin is the largest (by population) of the city’s 77 officially defined community areas. Its eastern boundary is the Belt Railway located just east of Cicero Avenue. Its northernmost border is the Milwaukee District/West Line. Its southernmost border is at Roosevelt Road from the Belt Railway west to Austin Boulevard. The northernmost portion, north of North Avenue, extends west to Harlem Avenue, abutting Elmwood Park. Other suburbs bordering Austin are Ciceo and Oak Park.
Austin is also one of Chicago’s largest community areas by land area. Several distinctive areas within Austin include Midway Park, a historic district of restored 19th-century single-family homes in the core of the original Austin subdivision; Galewood, the northernmost section of Austin along the northern border with Oak Park but south of Galewood railyards; and The Island, a square mile in the extreme southwest corner of Austin which is bordered by Cicero to the south and Oak Park to the west.
History of Austin
Henry W. Austin, a businessman and real estate speculator, created the 280-acre Austin subdivision in 1865. Austin included wide, tree-lined streets and a park originally named Holden Park. Originally Austin was within the Township of Cicero. Cicero decided to place its seat of government in Austin, and in 1870 a town hall opened in Austin. In 1898 Austinites had a majority of Cicero’s town council and used the political influence to approve an extension of the Lake Street elevated line into the community. People from other parts of Cicero Township, including Berwyn and Oak Park, resented the influence and the dominance of Austinites and began an election to have Austin annexed into Chicago. In 1899 the annexation succeeded; Austinites opposed the annexation.
Austin was a predominantly white neighborhood until the late 1960s (99.83% white in the 1960 census). It faced numerous infrastructure problems before the arrival of black residents. While white residents of Austin in the early 1960s generally thought negatively of leaving their neighborhood for the suburbs, a combination of events occurred in the years after to change this. City of Chicago officials were not responsive to the neighborhood’s demands for improving neighborhood infrastructure. The suburbs gradually became better supported through an increased transportation system between Chicago and its suburbs, and many jobs left the city for the suburbs and overseas locations. Significant riots began to occur on Chicago’s West Side starting in 1965, and an especially damaging riot in 1968 (after Martin Luther King’s death) prompted many white residents to leave. The west side experienced a further declining infrastructure and lack of local jobs after this.
Not all emigrating residents moved into suburbs – many moved into other areas of the city, especially the Northwest and Southwest sides. Not all emigrating residents were white – some black families, especially after the riots, began to leave the area as well, as it declined, to better perceived locations elsewhere.
By 1970, southern Austin (south of Lake St) was mostly black, and the neighborhood overall was 66% white and 33% black. Nearby neighborhoods such as East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, and North Lawndale, were experiencing white flight before Austin did. Decay and a declining population in these neighborhoods led to an influx of black residents in Austin. By 1980, North Lawndale was 96.50% black, West Garfield Park was 98.85% black, East Garfield Park was 99.00% black, and Austin was 20.76% white and 73.78% black. The population of these neighborhoods seriously declined in the 1970s (approximately 30-40% decline), except Austin, which increased from 128,000 residents in 1970 to 138,000 in 1980. The Neighborhood is part of Chicago’s West Side which consists of Austin, West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Near West Side. The area has a population of about 250,000 and is over 87% African American.
Chicago Austin Chamber