When I type into Google Images “Austin Chicago” to find out what are the most popular pictures of my in-laws’ old neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, here’s what I get:
The suggested subtopics are “Ghetto, Gangs, Crime.”
Here’s a Chicago Tribune post from 2013 on “Street Photography in Austin.” (Photographer Alex Garcia’s notes below his pictures on the technical challenges of photographing a neighborhood known for its homicide rate are instructive.)
From the Chicago Tribune on Austin in 2017:
Austin is the city’s largest community area geographically, and was the most populated for 45 years. But as the West Side neighborhood’s gun violence has increased, so too has families’ realization that at any moment the shootings can creep into their blocks — even the good blocks. Austin’s residents are leaving, with some saying goodbye to the place they’ve called home their entire lives. …
Home to nearly 118,000 people in 2000, Austin has seen its population drop to 97,600, according to an average of census data collected between 2011 and 2015.
Here’s a Google Images recommended photo of Austin.
It has been overtaken by the North Side’s Lakeview neighborhood, whose population has remained steady since the 1980s and currently has about 98,200 residents.
Lakeview is home to Wrigley Field. I lived within a couple of miles of Wrigley Field from 1982-2000.
Chicago’s violence is at its highest since the drug wars of the 1990s, and Austin is center stage to many of the shootings and homicides: As of July 13, there were 258 shootings in the area in 2017 and 44 homicides, according to Tribune data. More than 1,900 people have been shot in Chicago so far this year.
The number of homicides in Chicago in the first half of 2017 was up one from 2016.
The city as a whole is losing residents, and Chicago last year was the only city of the country’s 10 largest to lose population. Residents who’ve packed up and left Chicago have cited a variety of reasons — high taxes, the state budget stalemate and the weather. …
But in a neighborhood where retaliatory shootings mean unending violence, many residents say safety is the biggest issue.
Just 8 miles west of the Loop, Austin was a suburban gem when it was annexed to the city of Chicago in 1899. The Lake Street train line was extended to the neighborhood to make it reachable from downtown, and the area prospered from the development of Columbus Park and several Victorian homes, some of which still stand today in areas like the 5900 block of West Race Avenue, where U.S. Rep. Danny Davis lives.
By the 1930s Austin was wealthy and populous, with more than 130,000 residents, according to census estimates.
This is not to say that Austin didn’t have gangs. Mobster Sam Giancana lived in Austin, and the Austin High School Gang, led by Jimmy McPartland and Bud Freeman, was an early non-New Orleans Dixieland jazz band that, as the name says, coalesced at Austin high school in 1922:
They were an early incarnation of the young white guy urge, now associated with the Ramones, to play faster.
The Austin community area, which comprises South Austin, North Austin, Galewood and The Island, was predominantly white until the 1970s, when middle-class black families moved in. They were eager to leave the South Side, where the African-American community for decades had been sequestered by segregated housing laws. Austin’s racial makeup flipped in an instant: White families, panicked by real estate agents’ insistence that their property values would plummet as more black families moved in, left quickly.
Here’s a denizen of the New Austin, photographed in 2013, so you can see it was pure racist panic that led white homeowners to fear for their property values.
Brokers spread flyers and rang doorbells, trying to get white families to sell to them so they could sell the homes to African-Americans for a higher price. An Austin broker told the Tribune in 1971, “We don’t care if (white families) run all the way to Hong Kong, as long as they run.” Others boasted of tricks to reap high profits from buildings they had purchased for a few thousand dollars.
Older residents living in the neighborhood recall how many white families left at night, hoping their departures would go unnoticed by black neighbors. …
By the 1980s, Austin was a majority black neighborhood. But discriminatory housing persisted in the form of predatory lending, a practice in which brokers directed homebuyers, often African-American, to subprime loans or other financial products with high fees or hidden expenses, said Maria Krysan, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who specializes in racial residential segregation.
These high cost loans were obviously unjustified because property values were shooting up in Austin, so there was no danger of foreclosure.
Oh, wait, that actually didn’t happen.
Obviously, unlike the current Black Flight, violence had nothing — nothing, I tell you! — to do with the White Flight between 1967 and 1980.
Anyway, a question I’ve never seen investigated is the extent to which African American influxes eventually lead to depopulation and desolation. We’ve seen it in East St. Louis, Gary, and Detroit, all of which are less than half as large today as at their peak. On the other hand, Atlanta’s fall was much less and now appears to be growing again.
This would seem like a really obvious question for academic social scientists to study: what happens to the trajectory of population chance when large numbers of blacks, whether in absolute or percentage terms, congregate in a municipality? All the data are available from the Census Bureau and Wikipedia.