Austin has the largest population of any neighborhood in Chicago and is located on the Far West Side of Chicago, bordered by Cicero Avenue (east), Milwaukee District/West Line (west) and Roosevelt Road (south). Its northern border extends just beyond North Avenue. Thanks in part to some of the best commuter services in Chicago, Austin grew rapidly in the early 20th century, attracting a variety of European immigrants, including Germans, Scandinavians, Irish, Italians and Greeks. Austin was nearly an all-white community (99.8%) up until the 1960s when riots, "blockbusting" and other events began to change the neighborhood's demographics. By the year 2000, African-Americans made up 90.2% of Austin's population. Currently, Austin is recognized as one of the most crime-ridden areas in Chicago. The neighborhood is plagued by illegal drug markets and high murder rates.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, of a total population of 117,527, Austin's population was 90.2% Black or African-American. According to the city of Chicago, from 1990 to 2000, Austin's population increased 3.02%, slightly less than the city average (4%). The median age in Austin was 29.5, more than two years less than the city average. The median household income in Austin was $33,663 (nearly $10,000 less than the city average of $43,223) and about a quarter (24.1%) of Austin's population lived in poverty.
With Austin's population boom in the early 20th century, the architectural landscape completely changed. Large frame homes were the norm in Austin in the late 19th century, but they would soon be surrounded by brick two-flats, small frame houses and ubiquitous brick story-and-a-half bungalows (north Austin) and rowhouses, corner apartment blocks, and brick three-flats and courtyard apartment buildings (south Austin).
Commerce & Industry
Designed as a residential neighborhood, there are not a large number of stores in the Austin area, although there were significant industrial corridors, including the current Pulaski Industrial Corridor, to the North, East, and South. Originally, commerce in Austin followed the transit lines, with business development mainly along Chicago Avenue and Lake Street, although Austin never had the volume of retailers as neighboring communities. Many of the small, family-run stores that did exist left the South Austin area during the time of the "white flight" in the 1960s and 1970s. However, along the North Avenue at the western edge of Austin (adjacent to suburban Oak Park), there is a small shopping area with mainly clothing retailers. According to the 2000 Census, the major industries that employ Austinites are education, health, social services, manufacturing, and retail trade.
Education & Unemployment
Austin has received considerable attention recently because of Renaissance 2010, the controversial Chicago Public Schools initiative to close down "failing" schools and open 100 high-performing schools by they year 2010. After the 2006-2007 school year, Austin Community Academy High School shut down and eventually three new, smaller high schools will fill the building. Also, KIPP Ascend Charter School, a tuition-free college preparatory middle school, opened in the Austin neighborhood in 2003 and remains one of the most successful schools in the city.
According to statistics from the Chicago Public Schools' lunch program, 90% of the children who attend Austin public schools are from poor families, 6% are working poor and 4% are lower-middle income. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the per capita income in Austin is approximately $12,823.
Austin has a rich history of community activism; however, for whatever reason, many residents do not access programs being offered in the community. The Field Museum's ethnographic study of the Austin neighborhood point out that the vibrant street life is one of Austin's greatest assets. Public events being run by block clubs or churches are very common. Youth fests, community gardens, gospel fests, a strong community involvement in the arts, weekly farmers markets, and the annual Taste of Austin present enormous potential for community engagement in Austin. Much of the community organizing, however, is on an informal basis. Reverend Davis, a pastor at a local Austin church explains, "I consistently see people taking charge of their community, whether on a large scale, like organizing a six-block cleanup, or something smaller, like helping neighbors carry their groceries home."
Neighborhood groups like the Organization for a Better Austin have worked to stabilize the community and prevent further disinvestment, or loss of jobs and commerce, as have nonprofit housing developers aided by South Shore Bank.