Situated between the Stevenson Expressway at its southern limits and stretching roughly along Cermak Road to the north, with Western Avenue and Cicero as its east to west boundaries, South Lawndale, also known as Little Village, was settled first in the aftermath of the Fire of 1871 by Germans and Czechs (Bohemians). Successive groups such as Poles, and now Hispanics, have followed to take advantage of employment opportunities in nearby industry. Known by its residents as the "Mexico of the Midwest," Little Village has over the past 35 years joined Pilsen as a point of entry for Latino immigrants to Chicago. A gateway on 26th Street proclaims "Bienvenidos a Little Village", making the visitor immediately aware he or she has entered into the predominantly Mexican community.
By 2000, 91,071 people made their home in the area. Eighty-three percent were Hispanic, and nearly half were foreign-born. This represented an appreciable increase in South Lawndale's Hispanic population, from 47 percent in 1980 and 4 percent in 1970. As the Hispanic population expanded, ethnic white neighborhoods disappeared as those residents migrated farther west out of the city. Over the last several decades, 40 percent of the total population has been under 20 years of age. With this youthful population, the local public schools have been filled to capacity, and overcrowding has been exacerbated by the financial collapse of parochial schools. Gang activity and violence also plagues the community.
Now home to the largest Mexican-American population in the Midwest, South Lawndale/Little Village has been home to many immigrant groups during its long history, including Italian, Polish, Czech, Irish, Lithuanian, Croatian and Slovene ethnic communities. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, South Lawndale/Little Village had a population of 91,071, up 12.2% from 1990. The area is predominantly Hispanic (83.0%) with smaller African-American (12.9%) and White (3.52%) populations. The median household income in the neighborhood was $32,320 and over a quarter (26.5%) of the population lived in poverty in 2000.
South Lawndale/Little Village is predominantly a rental market, with 61.5% of residents living in rental housing units in 2000. Vacancy and abandoned buildings are not a major issue in South Lawndale/Little Village as 91.5% of housing units are occupied. According to many real estate experts, the housing crisis of 2007-2008 hit South Lawndale/Little Village especially hard. Compared to the other 77 Chicago community areas, the neighborhood had one of the highest drops in sale prices in late 2007.
Commerce & Industry
According to the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, more than 1000 businesses generated nearly $900 million in sales in 2001. Residents and business owners are recognized for their work ethic, family and community commitment and entrepreneurship. The economic heart of South Lawndale/Little Village is 26th Street, which some claim has the second highest business revenue in Chicago after Michigan Avenue. This main boulevard is also home to Chicago's Mexican Independence Day parade in mid-September. As for major industries in the area, manufacturing is the strongest industry in South Lawndale/Little Village, employing 32.6% of the neighborhood's population.
Education & Unemployment
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, only 17.8% of the population (25+ years old) in South Lawndale/Little Village attended college or earned a post-secondary degree of any sort. The lack of higher education in the neighborhood contributes to high unemployment rates: 14% in 1990 and 12% in 2000. Fortunately, opportunities do exist for those residents who struggle to find employment. The West Side Technical Institute (part of the City Colleges of Chicago) offers job training for the 21st century and numerous community organizations of employment services.
Because of rapid growth in the area and financial collapse of certain parochial schools, public schools have become overcrowded, greatly affecting the quality of education received by the neighborhood's 18 and under population. The need for a new and better high school drove residents to partake in a 19-day hunger strike in 2001. Because of these and other factors, South Lawndale/Little Village is home to a number of Renaissance 2010 schools, a Chicago Public Schools reform initiative. One example is the former Little Village High School, which is now broken into four, autonomous small schools, all sharing one campus. Additionally, a number of charter schools have opened in the neighborhood, offering increased flexibility in educational opportunity.
South Lawndale/Little Village features a strong network of community organizations. Residents formed Enlace Chicago (Formerly known as Little Village Community Development Corporation) in 1990 to redevelop one specific industrial park, but the organization quickly expanded and now targets four program areas to improve the community. Though not located in the neighborhood, the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) is one of the most prominent organizations in Chicago serving the Hispanic community. UNO has three major branches: the original organization, a network of charter schools and a leadership institute for Hispanic professionals. Little Village also shares a community health center with Pilsen that offers a variety of services in five program areas: youth, education, mental health, substance abuse and HIV. Additionally, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization has launched a number of campaigns focused on environment, economic and social justice.