The Story of Austin
In 1865, a developer from Oak Park named Henry Austin had a vision for a quiet temperance community. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Austin bought the land and dubbed it “Austinville,” which became part of Cicero township. After a bitter dispute with Oak Park and Cicero township over the Lake Street ‘L’, the community was annexed to Chicago and became a middle-class community of immigrants.
According to non-profit Austin Coming Together, by the 1950s and ’60s, middle-class, African American families looking to escape racist housing policies began to move into Austin. As was the story with many other South and West Side neighborhoods, whites fled to the suburbs or other neighborhoods. Redlining drove down property values, and Austin, once socially and economically prosperous, took a downturn.
Today, data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning shows that Austin is the second-most populous community area in the city with more than 95,000 residents, second only to Lakeview. Some blocks experience high crime and violence, while the community at large suffers from disinvestment. But many nonprofit groups are organizing in the neighborhood to address the larger economic and social issues in an effort to boost development.
The Green Line makes stops in Austin at the Cicero, Laramie, Central, and Austin stops. The Blue Line also runs through the southern portion of the community area, stopping at Cicero. You can see the Austin Town Hall building, which never actually served as a town hall and is now a park field house, from the Green Line near the Central Station. Read more about the town hall building and Austin’s rivalry with Oak Park in this Ask Geoffrey Segment.
Watch: 100 Men
Spotlight: 100 Men 100 Homes
The West Side Health Authority, a nonprofit based in Austin, spearheads a program called 100 Men 100 Homes. The goal is to revitalize the community––and teach important job skills.
Austin has many abandoned properties, many due to foreclosures and people leaving the community. So, 100 Men 100 Homes has been fixing one vacant home at a time. The program hires people from the community to do the fixing, providing job training in a neighborhood that has a 15.4% unemployment rate for those in the workforce, according to 2019 CMAP data. An additional 44.6% were listed at not in the labor force.
Watch the video above to hear more about the people behind the program.
Things to Do
Get a taste of soul food at MacArthur’s on Madison and take in the beauty of the Columbus Refectory, located in Columbus Park.