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History

Austin has a long history as a residential community near Chicago, as its own development, as a part of Cicero township and finally as a Chicago neighborhood. Austin’s history can be seen in the buildings, infrastructure and people who live here today.

Early Austin

Henry Austin bought 470 acres of marshland in 1865, and between 1870 and 1920, “Austinville” became “Austin.” An extension of the Lake Street train line made Austin reachable from downtown Chicago, and it began to thrive. Thus began Austin’s heyday, and for the next 50 years, it experienced a social and economic evolution from small town to bustling borough of Chicago. During this time Columbus Park, Austin Town Hall, and mansions in west-central Austin were envisioned, planned, and built. Austin continued to grow and flourish for the next 45 years. The prosperity began to attract families of all ethnic backgrounds and races, including middle class black families looking for better neighborhoods than those segregation had sequestered them to.

CBL Protest

As these families moved to Austin, a dramatic change occurred that reflected the struggles of America, and changed Austin in the eyes of many residents, practically overnight. As racial tensions reached a new climax in the mid-1960’s, whites flew at the sight of upwardly mobile black families moving into their neighborhoods. Austin became a victim of the times, a fate that Austin is still struggling to escape today. Racist and predatory housing speculators, banks, and elected officials used such practices as “blockbusting” and “red lining” to drive down real estate value and systematically turn Austin from a thriving social and industrial hub to a depressed economic area.

 

Austin residents are proud to be from the Westside of Chicago and are deeply connected to their families, neighbors, churches, and other community institutions. During the past 30 years, Austin’s history is marked by battles between Austin civic groups and broader economic, political, and social forces that have challenged community development.

In 2009, a group of community stakeholders saw the impact the many social service organizations were having in addressing growing needs like affordable housing or quality education. However, they saw an opportunity for greater impact. By forming relationships with one another, these organizations were able to supplement the services in the area, share best practices, and grow their offerings together.

Austin Coming Together (ACT) was formed in 2010 to provide backbone support to the network of social service institutions essential to residents. The first years were filled with gathering information and understanding how best to serve the community. Research like that described in books like ‘War on Neighborhoods: Policing, Prison, and Punishment in a Divided City,’ clearly showed ACT that supporting the punishment system has not been effective. So instead, ACT began focusing on building a strategy to support the infrastructure and services that help Austin heal its trauma and that will bring opportunities to improve quality of life in the long-term.

In 2016, ACT created a 10-year strategic plan called Thrive 2025 to improve four areas proven to be indicators of community well-being:

  1. The quality of early learning
  2. Careers that pay a living wage
  3. Neighborhood safety
  4. The stability of Austin’s housing markets

Click here to read more about Thrive 2025.